I met up with Mikala, Mary Ellen, and Tim out at L1 this morning for our last winter swim of 2016. The lakefront was a bit more turbulent than last week, but the water temperature came in at a surprisingly tepid 42.4F – just what we were hoping for. So we donned whatever neoprene we had at our disposal and hopped into the drink.
I played it a bit more conservative this week and added a neoprene top to my shorts, hood, gloves, and boots. But I could probably have gone without the top as the water was quite tolerable. And by “tolerable” I mean that it no longer generated that searingly painful sensation on one’s exposed skin that it did just a few short weeks ago – a welcome change.
The 2 to 3 foot swells added an element of challenge to the swim, and the bicep tendinitis in my right arm was squawking a bit more than usual thanks to the extra exertion. So I decided to turn around just shy of the 1/4 mile point.
The inevitable afterdrop made its grand entrance about 10 minutes after exiting the lake, and it had a stronger bite thanks to a complete absence of sunshine. But there was plenty of good conversation to pass the time before we all finally “broke through” the shivering.
And while I’m sure we’ll have some more chilly mornings over the next month or so, it looks like we can finally say goodbye to the sub-40F lake. At least until next December!
Our world famous swim site was completely enveloped in a curtain of fog at 6:15am on Saturday morning. Given that the lake temperatures had been hovering in the 35F – 36F range in recent weeks, I was not expecting much when I fished the thermometer out of the lake. However, I admit being taken quite off guard when the mercury read 43.5F – a jump of six degrees since last week!
Given the more favorable lake reading and the 44F air temp, I decided to ditch the neoprene top altogether and just go with the shorts, hood, gloves, booties, and a healthy slathering of petroleum jelly. And since I was feeling particularly ambitious that morning, I sprinted down to Oak Street Beach so I could do a point-to-point 1/2 mile.
The lake entry was actually quite tolerable, and that extra 6F really made a difference during the swim. There was a bit of a southbound current that produced some mild chops on the way to L1. I found myself steering off course every now and then due to the intermittent jostling around. But it was more annoying than exhausting.
I finished up after around 20 minutes (I am a slow swimmer), and began the now infamous process of furtively changing back into dry layers in anticipation of the inevitable afterdrop. And while it came on rather sharply and lasted a bit longer due to my limited swim gear, it was not nearly as menacing as it had been in February.
I met up with Tim out at L1 just before “sunrise” on Saturday morning. Unlike last week, we did not have the benefit of a bright sunny morning. So we suited up quickly in the 35F air and gritted our teeth as we climbed down the ladder into the 36F lake.
As with the last two weeks, I had opted to “burn my ships” and leave my wetsuit at home. So my swim apparatus consisted of a short sleeve neoprene rashguard (1.5mm), neoprene shorts, hood, gloves, and booties.
Given the complete lack of sunshine, the first few moments in the lake were nothing short of bracing. Nevertheless, we got horizontal as quickly as possible and started pounding out swim strokes on our way south.
I made it just past the 1/8 mile mark before turning around. I was very comfortable in the water. However, as in the past, the real deal breaker was my fingertips – which had gotten quite numb by that time.
I stepped up the swim pace on the way back to L1, and got out very quickly. As expected, the afterdrop was much more vigorous given the overcast skies. But our recovery time keeps getting quicker every week.
Dave was out at the lakefront yesterday and took this photo over by Diversey Harbor:
He sent me the pic along with these comments:
The break wall straight ahead is the Diversely Harbor wall where the 18 year old boy was washed off by the huge waves into the lake last Thursday. The police and fire department dive team gave up looking for him on Sunday morning.
The crowd you see still out there are the family members of this young man. Can you imagine the agony they must be going through right now?
The stark reality is that Lake Michigan is dangerous and merciless, particularly during the winter months. If you or a loved one falls into the sub-35F lake, you’ve got about a minute or so before your system completely seizes up and you sink to the bottom.
Whenever we come out for a lake swim during the winter, we are very deliberate about it, and we prepare extensively for the conditions we expect to face. And even with all these precautions, we will sometimes nix the swim entirely because the lake conditions are just too perilous.
Bottom line, unless you are fully prepared for a sudden immersion into these extreme temperatures, stay away from the lakefront this time of year.
And what’s more, don’t let any friends or family members get anywhere near the lakefront – especially if there are waves or swells!
Remember, Mother Nature has unlimited energy she can throw at you. You won’t win.
Other than the colder than expected air temperature, this morning’s L1 adventure was pretty much a carbon copy of last Saturday.
Four of us made it out to the lakefront and were greeted by sunny and calm conditions. The forecast called for 15mph wind gusts, but they were fortunately nowhere to be found. So we waited for the sun to reappear above a stubborn line of clouds and got geared up for our entry into the lake.
As with last week, I went with the short sleeve top along with neoprene shorts, boots, hood, and gloves. Plus I had a secret weapon with me that turned out to be a game changer.
A recurring issue has been cold water circulation in our gloves during the swim. This time I added some neoprene cross training wrist bands over the edge of the gloves and tightened the seal using the attached velcro straps. As it turned out, I had very little cold water circulation and was able to swim the entire 1/2 mile quite comfortably!
The real challenge was definitely the afterdrop. Because of the chillier air temperature, it came on much stronger and stuck around much longer than last week. So I ended up doing several sets of wind sprints to help expedite its passage.
Yet even with all these challenges, it was still a fantastic morning. And the swim – as always – was as amazing as ever.
I almost wish we could have a late Spring this year!
I’ll keep this brief since it’s so nice outside right now, and I don’t want to spend any more time inside if I can help it!
Mary Ellen, Tim, and Danny showed up at L1 at 6:30am – just in time for another magnificent sunrise. I came out a bit earlier so I could get my now routine pre-swim coffee at the cool Old Town Starbucks on Clark Street (versus its more pretentious cousin a few blocks away). And as luck would have it, I managed to snare rock star parking on Astor Street!
The swim area around L1 was flawless. Friday’s strong west winds had blown all the ice out from the shore, so we had a clear space to indulge in our winter outdoor aquatics. Plus we had a completely cloudless sky which made a HUGE difference while out in the lake.
The surface temperature reading of the lake came in at 35.4F. However, the final in-swim thermometer reading came in slightly under at 34.8F. Nevertheless, this crisper lake temperature was more than tempered by a 46F air temperature.
Given these conditions, I went with the hood, boots, shorts, and gloves along with a 3mm short sleeve neoprene top. It was slightly uncomfortable on the exposed parts of my arms and legs for about a minute, but that soon subsided once I got moving.
In contrast with our previous swims this winter, I didn’t have any discomfort in my fingertips while in the lake. This was due to the higher air temperatures which kept my fingers from reaching the freezing point. So absent this barrier, I was able to do a 1/2 mile swim in total without having to make a premature exit due to glove failure!
In sum, another lovely day out at the lakefront. And if you didn’t get in a swim, I hope you at least got up early to enjoy the morning!
Steady eastern winds almost kiboshed our early morning swim outing on Saturday. Fortunately for us, we had a reserve swim spot!
L1 was as picturesque as ever at sunrise – but entirely unswimmable. While the swim area was relatively ice free, the shore and ladders were all completely encased in ice thanks to constant 4 foot swells. And while these would have been swimmable (and quite fun) during the summer, they were too perilous to try navigate given the extreme cold. So after taking a few shots of the photogenic horizon, the Ice Monster caravan headed north to Montrose!
We were preparing for the south wall to be a total bust as well, but our spirits lifted once we rounded the curve by the harbor mouth. The lake seemed fairly ice free in this area, and it was mostly protected from the swells – all good signs!
After parking our cars, we went out to the south wall to scope out the scene. As luck would have it, the swim area was calm and clear, and the ladders were mostly ice-free! So we returned to the sanctuary of our heated vehicles and suited up for the swim.
As bizarre as this sounds, it was actually quite a joy to get into the 32F water. That was because the 6F air temperature was really quite uncomfortable. So once we were able to clear most of the ice off of the ladder, we wasted very little time starting our swim.
I swam due west towards the harbor mouth and made it about 100 feet before running into an impassible area of slightly submerged ice. So I decided to do long laps between there and the swim exit ladder.
As typical this time of year, we had ice crystals form on our hood, gloves, and boots during the swim. This added an element of mirth to the activity, but it also hastened the brutal chill onto my fingertips. So even with the new 7mm gloves, I could only stay in the water for about 10 to 12 minutes before it became too unbearable on my hands. Apart from that, I was quite cozy in the rest of my winter gear.
So if any of you glove manufacturers can come up with a product that can keep our fingers warm for longer than 15 minutes, please let us know!
This time of year is typically a “break through” point for us. Since we’ve been coming out to the lake fairly consistently, we’ve finally managed to acclimate to the point where the whole winter swimming thing is now quite tolerable – or at least it’s not the shocking ordeal that it was in late December or early January!
Bottom line, we are officially “over the hump” and now easily coasting towards Springtime – which is a wonderful feeling!
Mary Ellen, Tim, and Fred all met up with me out at L1 where we had practically ideal swimming conditions. But for a slight ripple, the lake was perfectly calm, and the cloudless sky allowed for plenty of life-enhancing sunshine during our journey out into the open water.
Because of these more favorable circumstances, I chose to go with just a neoprene short sleeve top and shorts along with my hood, gloves, and boots. The 34.2F water was at first a bit painful on the exposed parts of my arms and legs, but I fully acclimated by the time I hit the 1/8 mile point. My hands, however, were frozen clubs the entire time I was in the lake.
I was wearing new 7mm slip on scuba gloves that, for the most part, worked great. But since I had no sleeves to tuck them into, I had a constant stream of cold water circulating through my fingers. So while these gloves will be ideal for use with my wetsuit, I am still seeking the “holy grail” of winter swim gloves!
Nevertheless, even with this equipment glitch it was still an amazing morning out at the old swim site. And now that the days are getting longer and Spring is just a few short weeks away (so sayeth the groundhog), I suspect that we will soon be waxing nostalgic about our winter adventures while overheating in a 60F lake!
Three of us met out at L1 earlier this morning just in time for yet another magnificent sunrise. And even better, the ice floes that had been at the shore had now moved out about 100 feet, forming a thin breakwater sheltering a perfectly calm swim area. So we suited up as soon as the sun peeked out from behind the clouds and got into the lake.
My three-year-old wetsuit had started to show some wear over the last couple of months, so I decided to try out a brand new one that I had in reserve. And what a difference that made!
Other than the cold water on the exposed parts of my face, I was completely comfortable during the swim. And even the initial cold shock on my face wore off after a couple of minutes. Of course, having abundant sunshine and perfectly calm water helped out a lot…
I made it out to the 1/8 mile point until I ran into an impassable mass of ice floes. So I started back and decided to navigate outside of the ice flow breakwater into the clear areas of the lake. I swam there for most of the way back to before “punching through” to the inside area of open water.
We finished up our swim and had just changed back into our civilian garb when the sun disappeared again behind some clouds that came in from the west. Lucky for us, we got to take advantage of all of the day’s sunshine!
L1 at daybreak
Navigating the shore hazards
Swim start with Fred and new Ice Monster Mary Ellen (congrats!)
While L1 is still the finest swim spot on the planet, it’s always a treat to see “how the other half swims” during the winter months…
I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to return to Kauai earlier this month, and I wasted no time getting back into the water. The ocean temperature at Shipwreck Beach was a uniform 79.1F, and the buoyancy factor of the salt water made swimming a breeze compared to Lake Michigan.
There were some funky swells near the shore, but things were quite calm about 150 feet out. So after getting out there, it was a fairly textbook out-and-back mile swimming parallel to the shore. Plus I was able to scope out the area underneath the cliff for reasons which are quite obvious in the video.