Snow chest high and near freezing water were certainly not what we were expecting on our ‘summer’ holiday in the Canadian Rockies. Nonetheless, we took advantage of the weather; did a bit of ice climbing, summited a few mountains, threw snowballs around and tested our limits swimming across a glacier lake.
We enjoy cold water swimming and do a fair amount of it, especially now that Samuel is training for his solo Channel swim next year. Swimming in truly ice-cold temperatures, however, was new to both of us.
Always looking for new adventures and testing our limits we joked around about crossing Lake O’Hara. The distance was certainly not going to be an issue as the Lake is only half a km long; the temperature, however, was going to be the challenge. With ice melting into this lake we could only guess the water temperature was just above freezing.
The coldest water we had ever swum in was 8 degrees Celsius and we only lasted about 10 minutes in those temperatures. Once the water temperature increases to above 12 degrees Celsius, swimming becomes a lot friendlier and the time we can stay in the water increases dramatically. With near freezing temperatures in this glacier Lake a crossing would be a real challenge.
Having jumped in for a dip on two consecutive days, allowing our bodies to get a better feel of the water, we felt ready to attempt the crossing. We borrowed a rowing boat from the lodge so that we could row next to each other crossing the lake swimming, just in case. Safety first!
Standing in the snow while taking off my Gore-Tex jacket, down jacket, fleece and base layer to strip down to my swimsuit felt rather unusual. I enjoyed standing in the wet snow while focusing on my breathing and calming my mind and body in anticipation of the crossing. Having studied cold water swimming a fair amount I knew that focus and calm are incredibly important when exposing your body to the stress of the cold water on your central nervous system.
I entered the water and did a little bit of breast stroke before it felt right to put my head into the water to start swimming front crawl. I continued focusing on my breathing while enjoying the feeling of the water, the calmness of the lake, the beautiful surroundings and seeing Samuel right beside me in the rowing boat. Before I knew it, I had crossed the lake successfully.
Despite feeling slightly dazed and disorientated while getting out of the water, I felt fantastic having ventured into new waters.
Besides the incredible fun factor to swimming in cold water, scientific research shows that immersing yourself into cold water supports optimal health and longevity. I’ll delve into the benefits of cold water immersion in the next post!