Dec 13, 2007 at 10:03 am #1226280
After talking with Justin Lichter, Kevin Sawchuk and Ryan Jordan about the joys of cold water swimming, I gave it a try a few weeks ago. I hiked half a mile to a narrow reservoir, swam about 50 yds across and set up camp. I did an out and back hike to arrive back at the reservoir two days later and swam across at another spot – about 75 yds. The first swim air temp was 47, and 37 the next. I don't know water temp. It's a reservoir so not that cold, although the two days of rain before the second swim may have cooled the water. I wore only neoprene socks the first swim. I didn't shiver or even get chilled. Putting on completely dry clothes after the swim, only my toes were cold and they warmed up after about 20 minutes just from setting up camp. Great experience, but time consuming undressing and redressing. The second swim I wore all my hiking clothing. I was already wet from the waist down from a stream crossing and my car was only a half mile up a hill from the reservoir. I had on rain pants and jacket. I even kept on my rain mitts. I thought they might work as paddles, but filled with water even though the cuffs are quite tight. All that clothing definitely slowed me way down. It seemed to take a long time to cross. My feet were numb (I had on trail runners and ankle height wool socks.) I was quite cold still when I got to my car, I doubt I could have walked myself warm. (It was still raining too.) I would have had to set up camp and get into my bag I think to warm up. From this little bit of data, in the future if I had the time I'd strip before a crossing. Other wise, I think I'd wear what I was hiking in from the waist down, but only wear my base layer on top. If I had on rain pants I wouldn't bother taking them off – figuring they would quickly drain and dry while hiking and keep the wind off as my pants dried. I'd put on some kind of wind or rain jacket once I started hiking again.
What do you all wear for swim crossings?
How about swim technique? I had the very buoyant Arctic pack. It didn't work to float on top of – too hard and round, but dragged along very easily. I thought it might work to wear it (just shoulder straps). Both arms would be free to paddle and it wouldn't weigh me down. I didn't try that though. I hooked one arm through a strap and got some use from that arm for swimming and full use of the other arm.Dec 13, 2007 at 12:37 pm #1412427
Definitely no clothing. The drag is terrible, as you found out.
Usually shoes stay on as the bottom of the water can be rough and stony, but socks removed for later comfort.
Sometimes the pack in front as a hand-held floatie, sometimes the pack on back in the normal manner. Depends on the water.
Now try it in snow melt! The shock is unbelievable!
CheersDec 13, 2007 at 2:32 pm #1412444
I've been immersed in snow melt. But just to dunk in. Never had to stay in long enough to swim – and wouldn't look forward to having to do that! One thing I hadn't considered before this experiment was that the effort required to swim would help keep me warm. Is that any help in snow melt water? How long till you're shivering uncontrollably?Dec 13, 2007 at 4:05 pm #1412450
@ouzelLocale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Been there, done that…..once, long ago. As you said, the shock is unbelievable, and I haven't tried it since. I couldn't stop shaking for 20 minutes or so and would not have wanted to try and set up camp or any other activity requiring mental and physical acuity at that time. My question to you is: How much do you think body fat or lack thereof affects one's ability to handle said shock? I was carrying about 7% at the time, for what it's worth. Or is it more a mental toughness issue?Dec 13, 2007 at 5:36 pm #1412459
@djohnsonLocale: Washington State
I agree with Roger- no substancial clothing. I find that shorts and a short sleeve shirt are okay but nothing else. Shoes are a good plan.
My biggest swim was of the Colorado at the Lower Red Lake Canyon (Needles dist- Canyonlands) and Spanish Bottom (Maze dist- Canyonlands). The flow was extremely high and the rangers wouldn't approve our permit because of the risk. We had to be fast swimmers, what with Cataract Canyon just around the bend.
We crossed in shorts, no shirt and no shoes for speed. The packs were in large, partially inflated drybags and were attached to our bodies with a 20 foot cord and looped across our shoulders (under one arm). This allowed for the sprinting that we needed.
It worked very well and we made it across. Easy? No- but it worked quite well.
In more mild conditions, I've floated the pack ahead of me. I've heard of people floating gear on a pad too but I've not tried that myself.
The water in the Colorado was cold but nowhere near snowmelt. I've gone for swims in lakes with floating ice before. Be careful with that- it has to be a short swim as hypothermia sets in wicked fast.
Fun stuff! Be safe kids!!!Dec 14, 2007 at 1:38 am #1412514
> One thing I hadn't considered before this experiment was that the effort required to swim would help keep me warm. Is that any help in snow melt water? How long till you're shivering uncontrollably?
To rephrase the last question first – how long till you realise what a ghastly mistake you have just made getting in the water? Oh, about as long as it takes for the shock to travel from your skin to your brains.
Mind you, I have seen people go swimming in water with ice bergs -there are so-called 'ice berg' swimming clubs in Northern Europe. But they are mad – and they are NOT in a remote area of wilderness.
> How much do you think body fat or lack thereof affects one's ability to handle said shock?
Most of the 'ice berg' swimmers I have seen were carrying a bit of body fat – rather more than 7% I would say. :-)
> Or is it more a mental toughness issue?
Darn right! There you are, stripped off in the cold wind, and you stick your foot in the water … Eeeeccchhh!
I helped a party of four males who had swum a very small creek in the snow once. (Incompetent – there was a safe crossing nearby.) Then they travelled a few hundred metres uphill to a hut where we had a fire going. Two of them collapsed for the rest of the afternoon; the other two were in a poor way but standing. VERY dangerous stuff. If we had not been there and had a fire going, their survival rating would have been 'poor'. If the hut had not been there – survival unlikely.
We have waded across a river of snow melt once. We planned it out very carefully in advance.
1) Gaiters off, boots and socks off, trousers off, boots on, arrange clothing and gaiters carefully and strategically around neck. Socks went in zipped trouser pockets.
2) Wade as fast as possible across 10 metres, up to knees, me first.
3) Exit onto bank, throw gaiters down on snow, stand on gaiters (off snow!), grab trousers and dry legs fast.
4) Then, and only then, take pack off and put trousers back on. Wind chill just standing on the bank while wet is a serious factor too.
5) Then dry feet with socks, put socks on, put boots back on. (Nordic ski boots actually – they survived the river crossing quite well.)
6) Finally, help Sue finish dressing as well, pick up packs, and start walking as fast as possible to warm up.
Fun stuff – sort of :-)Dec 14, 2007 at 4:05 am #1412519
Being one for whom "swimming" is really just staying alive when in water I'm not sure why I even read this thread, but …
I've broken thru ice on a deep creek (wearing snowshoes). I can't say that I recommend the practice;-). Only a mile or so from the car but it was a dang long mile to walk.
Fortunately my companion knew what to do …Dec 14, 2007 at 10:03 am #1412539
@cuzzettjLocale: NorCal - South Bay
I am a big fan of Soccer shorts and/or ExOfficio Amphi pants (they come in zip offs too). They dry out very quickly (10 minutes when moving quickly). It is basically a swim trunk pant. I also find these pants stay dry no matter how hard it is raining. If they get wet and you are moving, they dry out in 5-10 minutes. I can usually avoid my rain pants. But that may just be me.
I carry a 3 liter Shasta Soda bottle and put it in my pack empty for stream crossing. It works really well to help float a bag. I learned this one in the army.
I like it better than the pad floating method. I find this slows you down. I have done it on many occasions and I think it is the worst method I have used. Securing it was a pain and pushing it was worse. I didn't trust it enough to tow it.
Letting the pack float behind you is a much faster method. Like the previous poster said a long cord around the shoulder and under one arm lets you travel fast. The colder the water, the harder you should swim. Then dress on the move. I mean this. Once you break your sweater or warmest layer out put it on right away. Move fast until you feel dry, then stop and get completely dressed. A good 20-30 minutes after you leave the water. The slower you get dressed the worse off you are. You just have to move.
I am not as much for the bare naked method as I am for getting going fast. It works. But I always seem to get that grain of sand or granite where it just doesn't belong. But that is just me.
I also agree that setting camp up in the other side would be tedious and I think exposure might be more of an issue, no matter how hard you work at it.
Some friends and I crossed the Mississipi River to one of the islands in Minnesota early one season. But we had a fire waiting for us on the other side and dry gear. So we were able to heat up quickly. More of the crazy tough guy thing going on there.
Have fun and be safe. I was a paramedic in Minnesota years back and exposure is not something to play with. You lose your fine motor skills to fast because blood flow to your limbs shut down first and fast. Movement and focus are important.Dec 14, 2007 at 10:18 am #1412540
Interesting. I wouldn't have thought to only partially dress, but it makes sense to keep moving.
The cover of BPL magazine issue 7 has Jason Geck swimming across a river in the Arctic. He has a long sleeved top with sleeves pushed up on top – don't know what on the bottom.Dec 14, 2007 at 1:57 pm #1412558
@ouzelLocale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
When I read the Arctic1000 river crossing descriptions, Roman and Jason kept their clothes on and kept on moving immediately they exited the water. I guess their operative principle was to use exercise generated heat to rewarm their bodies. Hypothermia is definitely not to be taken lightly, especially in the backcountry where you're pretty much on your own. I would add that ambient weather conditions definitely have to be considered. Lots of difference between crossing on a warm sunny Sierra summer day with hot rocks radiating heat upwards waiting for you on the other side and April-June windy, overcast, spitting rain in the Cascades, IMO.Dec 15, 2007 at 12:18 pm #1412619
@markhurdLocale: South Texas
I came across this video concerning survival in ice water. Even though it is slightly off topic it has some pearls. (It does take a little time to start, be patient)
-MarkDec 17, 2007 at 9:00 pm #1412895
Interesting to know you could survive an hour in ice water!Dec 17, 2007 at 9:54 pm #1412898
@djohnsonLocale: Washington State
That is an amazing video! I learned a lot by watching it- I had no idea you had that much time.
Thanks for sharing!Dec 19, 2007 at 6:53 pm #1413157
@bjamesdLocale: South Coast of BC
The guys who made the IceBox igloo making system have a great story online that includes an account of crossing a creek in Yellowstone in winter:
It's not quite swimming, but still pretty close to the edge. I'd hate to have pitched all that gear and my half-clothed body into the river and then tried to rewarm myself…Dec 19, 2007 at 9:45 pm #1413167
Gee – can't believe they crossed in bare feet. Guess if you're feet are numb you don't feel a thing.Dec 20, 2007 at 1:33 am #1413184
> Gee – can't believe they crossed in bare feet. Guess if you're feet are numb you don't feel a thing.
That's Ed Huesers of igloo fame – a tough guy. But it sticks in my memory that he may have been wearing a light pair of runners, or maybe some socks, while doing that crossing.
Anyhow, getting into cold water only that deep is NOTHING like getting into cold water above your waist. Trust me, I KNOW! The reason is your body just briefly shuts down the blood circulation to your legs so your core stays 'warm'. When you start walking again your legs warm up fairly quick.
Cheers, desert dweller!Dec 20, 2007 at 7:00 am #1413195
I was barefoot as the stream bed had mud and gravel and no rocks bigger than a golf ball.
One thing I've learned from using my sauna with a cold plunge in it. Hold your breath when first entering the cold water and until you get over the shock. Otherwise you tend to hyperventilate and that makes it feel that much worse.Dec 20, 2007 at 9:33 am #1413218
@bjamesdLocale: South Coast of BC
I would argue, Ed, that there were definitely "rocks bigger than a golf ball" involved.
Awesome trip report.
BrianDec 20, 2007 at 12:30 pm #1413245
> I was barefoot as the stream bed had mud and gravel and no rocks bigger than a golf ball.
Ah – I knew there was some reason that your feet were not at risk.
But the load looked awful high and at risk of overbalancing – yes?
> Hold your breath when first entering the cold water and until you get over the shock.
How long can you hold your breath? :-)Dec 21, 2007 at 9:16 am #1413383
Mr. Roger scribe:
"But the load looked awful high and at risk of overbalancing – yes?"
Yes, it almost took me into the river. The lesson learned… try it at home first, don't just assume.
"How long can you hold your breath? :-)"
Once you pass out, the shock is past.
Seriously though, it only takes some 5 or 10 seconds to get over that initial shock that makes one hyperventilate.Dec 21, 2007 at 10:24 am #1413388
Great tip about holding your breath. I'm imprinting that in my memory so I can try it next time I'm crossing an ice cold stream.Dec 21, 2007 at 10:57 am #1413391
Hot Sands Carol scribe:
"I'm imprinting that in my memory so I can try it next time I'm crossing an ice cold stream."
Well, it also stops one from screaming too making it easier to trick the other one into doing the same foolish thing you just did.Dec 21, 2007 at 12:46 pm #1413402
Ha! Good plan to fool the unwary.Dec 21, 2007 at 12:55 pm #1413405
@cuzzettjLocale: NorCal - South Bay
Carol – I found I couldn't get dry enough right out of the box and that moving and adding layers as I go, and heat up, allowed me to return to my warm state faster. Keeping the hands and head covered when exiting was really important. Wool hats still can't be beat when wet. At least not that I have found.
Thank youDec 21, 2007 at 1:09 pm #1413407
Jason, regular wool or merino wool on the hat?
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