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Safe swimming-distance from lake-outflux?
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Tor Sjogren
( - F
Safe swimming-distance from lake-outflux? on 09/03/2012 07:11:06 MDT Print View

I plan a solo-trip along the most rugged part of the Norwegian/Swedish border, north of the arctic circle, in October when the winter sets in. The border follows a mountain-range, and I plan to walk on the Norwegian side, since this is where the mountains are most prominent. The trip includes some glacier-crossings, and a swim in glacial water, to avoid crossing the river below. It is regarded dangerous to cross (plus its on the Swedish side). Only one man has crossed it, and he almost died.

I do not plan to use a Pacraft or similar, and wonder how far from the outlet it is advisable to swim, in order to not get caught by the outflux? The water is approx. 3 km long and 1.1 km wide.

I know the water will be cold! :)

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Safe swimming-distance from lake-outflux? on 09/03/2012 07:25:08 MDT Print View

That's a pretty long swim in cold, cold water. Can you wade a part of the way or is it all swimming? Sounds like a bad idea in general, even more so solo.

What alternatives are there for crossing the river?

Andy F
(AndyF) - F

Locale: Ohio
Re: Safe swimming-distance from lake-outflux? on 09/03/2012 07:49:44 MDT Print View

1.1 km = 0.68 miles

Depending on the wind and lake currents, you might actually be swimming longer, or exerting more effort.

That's a long swim in freezing glacial water! I'd say the only way I'd even think about trying it is if I trained for months ahead of time by swimming the same distance at least twice a week in freezing water. (Although I'm not a good swimmer at all.) You could use your sleeping pad strapped to your chest to help, but I wouldn't rely on it in case it gets a leak or comes loose.

Willie Evenstop
(redmonk) - F

Locale: Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
Safe swimming-distance from lake-outflux? on 09/03/2012 08:37:01 MDT Print View

You are looking at a 40+ minute swim, probably longer.

Can you walk around the lake ?

Tor Sjogren
( - F
Safe swimming-distance from lake-outflux? on 09/03/2012 10:42:35 MDT Print View

Thanks! The swim does not necessarily have to be 1.1 km. I plan to shorten it by swimming around the outlet, as close as possible without being drained into Sweden. :)

I´m aware of the cold and fatigue-dangers. I wonder if its possible to infer a minimum distance from the river that is safe to swim, without getting caught by the flux leading to the river, based on lake-size (aprox 1.1 X 3 km)? I think I could swim pretty close.

The water in Google-maps:

Its not impossible to walk around the lake. It involves a crevassed glacial crossing, which I might fear even more, solo in October, when snow-bridges are at their weakest, and open crevasses might be covered by new snow. I also want to follow the border to a certain degree.

Willie Evenstop
(redmonk) - F

Locale: Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
Safe swimming-distance from lake-outflux? on 09/03/2012 12:11:50 MDT Print View

what about one of the klymit 24 oz light water boats ? pretty light and packs tiny.

or, for swimming the lake, your legs will be dead weight unless you swim like an olympian swimmer. Don't waste the energy kicking. if you could inflate a drybag with air and tuck it between your legs (or rolled up foam pad), it would provide buoyancy and make it much easier to pull yourself along.

steven franchuk
Re: Safe swimming-distance from lake-outflux? on 09/03/2012 12:43:52 MDT Print View

There is no way to know how far away from the outlet you have to be. It all depends on the current of the water below the surface which may be faster than at the surface.

Cold water causes your muscels to get very weak very fast. Some people can swim in freezing water for up to about 10 minutes. Most won't be able to swim after 5 minutes or less. The only wzay to know how far you can swim is to actually do it (with a boat nearby to rescue you). Also mote cold water has been known to cause heart attacks in healthy people.

In my opinion this is way to risky. If you cannot do the swim do to the effect on your muscles you could get caught in the current and die. If you don't get caught in the current you you could die from hypothermia before you get to the other side. And even if you make it accross you could have a heart attack and die.

Take a raft!

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
Safe swimming-distance from lake-outflux? on 09/03/2012 13:08:24 MDT Print View

You can take a pack raft and row or you can take a wet suit and swim. I suspect they will weigh about the same (certainly after the wet suit gets wet!).

Tor Sjogren
( - F
Safe swimming-distance from lake-outflux? on 09/03/2012 13:29:14 MDT Print View

Thanks for all the feedback. I did guess that the thread would revolve around the dangers of swimming in the cold. I was just curious whether anyone had any thoughts on what should be a safe distance, so that I could determine the length of the swim, and then focus on the necessary precautions with regard to the cold. I am aware the dangers of muscle-fatigue that could lead to drowning/hypothermia.

Also any thoughts on how to handle a relatively heavy pack during such a swim would be appreciated? Cameron did mention that legs are dead weight. Maybe the pack could be positioned in such a way that the legs rest afloat in conjunction with the pack, also alleviating frictional drag from the pack?

Richard Lyon
(richardglyon) - MLife

Locale: Bridger Mountains
Raft or wetsuit on 09/03/2012 13:34:12 MDT Print View


If you are crossing with your gear, it'll have to be a raft. And I doubt a wetsuit would keep you from freezing for as long as you'll be in the water. A drysuit maybe, but I doubt that also. I realize that you are fit but your proposed swim sounds like a suicide mission to me.


Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Safe swimming-distance from lake-outflux? on 09/03/2012 17:14:31 MDT Print View

"I was just curious whether anyone had any thoughts on what should be a safe distance, so that I could determine the length of the swim, and then focus on the necessary precautions with regard to the cold."


None of the people who have responded to your post so far have any direct experience with the kind of conditions you describe, as far as I am aware. I would suggest you send a PM to Roman Dial(romandial), who is a true expert on the subject. He will be able to advise you on how to go about this, if anybody can. Also, if he advises you not to attempt this, I would strongly suggest you listen to him very closely and take his advice. Good luck!


Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Safe swimming-distance from lake-outflux? on 09/03/2012 17:17:24 MDT Print View

Frankly? My idiot brother swims daily in the bay below his home. It is in the upper part of the Pacific Northwest, in barely sheltered water. Maybe a degree or two warmer than the open ocean give or take, he is near the open water (he lives on an island). Anyhow, it is very, very cold, even in the dead of summer. He has his blood tested often due to his thyroid issues. What they found is due to his swimming, his body has a higher count of red blood cells now. Which is common in athletes who do high endurance. Even with that he freezes quickly in winter. Granted, he doesn't wear a suit, only booties and gloves. My point though is that a over a year later, 2X a day, most days, he still is frozen after every swim. Even with crazy training and better working blood...he still freezes.

Just my 2 cents.

Jim Colten
(jcolten) - M

Locale: MN
Re: Safe swimming-distance from lake-outflux? on 09/03/2012 17:30:03 MDT Print View

I crossed a small lake in Jasper National Park on a leaky air mattress (I was much much younger and invulnerable then). It was not a glacial lake though and I doubt it was 1km wide. I've never been tempted to repeat the experience.

Hey Andy F ... do I recognize the scene in your avatar?

Andy F
(AndyF) - F

Locale: Ohio
Re: Re: Safe swimming-distance from lake-outflux? on 09/04/2012 08:56:21 MDT Print View

Jim: Yes, that's our Lost Lake campsite. (Which reminds me that I have trip photos to share with you!)

wander lust
if in doubt don't do it on 09/04/2012 09:52:25 MDT Print View

As they say for every tricky water crossing:

If in doubt don't do it. Especially if you are out there alone.

Bring a raft or take another route.

You will not survive in really cold water for a long time unless you use special diving gear like dry suits. Which will probably weigh more than a decent packraft.

Andrew McAlister
(mcalista) - F
depth at outflux on 09/04/2012 10:03:39 MDT Print View

I think the depth of the lake around the outflux is going to be key. Deep water will be a very slow current even close to the outflux. Shallow water will be moving quite quickly some distance away just to transfer the necessary volume.

But I'm not sure this helps you, as the depth and slope of the bottom of the lake is the big unknown

spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
you are dead meat on 09/04/2012 10:49:34 MDT Print View

I have done open water swims up to 5K in various seasons and in anything less than temperate (~68F and above) water, the body's heat output cannot keep up with the conductive heat loss from the water. There is some wiggle room here if you are a trained swimmer in good condition, like Sarah's brother. It is clear you are not, however, or you would not be thinking of attempting a solo 1K swim in water that is at best in the high 30s Fahrenheit with neither insulation nor flotation. I don't see any point in sugarcoating this: if you attempt this the way you propose--no insulation, flotation, raft, or safety boat--you will die.

I should add that I also scuba dive and that water in the low 40s/high 30s is d*mn cold within ten minutes, and that's with a full 7mm wetsuit, hood, booties, and gloves, with a 3mm shorty layered on top my core. Ten minutes is at minimum a quarter of the time you would be exposed to water in that temperature range.

Edited by spelt on 09/04/2012 10:59:26 MDT.

Ben Crocker
(alexdrewreed) - M

Locale: Kentucky
Bad idea on 09/04/2012 11:41:38 MDT Print View

I have to agree that this seems like a really bad idea. I am a very experienced swimmer and pretty experienced in flowing water too. I would consider a swim of maybe 200 meters with my pack. But you are talking about a longer swim, in very cold water, that is moving enough to drag you into some bad river flow, it sounds, and you're north of the arctic circle. I just wouldn't consider it. Sounds worse than a Bear Gryls stunt.

That said, if I was going to do it, I would use a big inflatable pad as a raft. It will be a bit of a struggle to efficiently swim with a pack in tow.

Tor Sjogren
( - F
Safe swimming-distance from lake-outflux? on 09/04/2012 14:27:37 MDT Print View

Thanks for many great tips and warnings. I have not said that I will use no insulation, Im not that stupid. But the insulation part I will figure out when I know how long the swim has to be around the outlet. I have great respect for cold water-swimming, up to the point of anxiety, but think its doable with proper amount of insulation and flotation. The ideal is to mostly use stuff I still carry, amongst other things some custom clothing that consist of lightweight foam (which I also wear during e.g. a sleet-storm), in combination with shell-clothing, wet-socks, klymit-Inertia-X-lite (as PFD), maybe NSR-swimming-gloves and tape to seal off everything. I have also been thinking about a regular bathing-ring to sit in, to get more of the body out of the water, while swimming backwards.

I was hoping to swing along the border (600m), but think I have to shorten the distance by "just" swimming around the outlet. Thats why I wonder how far the current could reach into the lake. I have noticed when wading around a shallow outlet to a river, that was way to dangerous to cross, that the current posed no problem to walking, close to the outlet, but swimming might be another matter?

I do kite in the ocean and have been stuck in bittercold water for longer times. With a good wetsuit I know I can keep warm for a relatively long period, contrary to some suggestions above.

spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
Well okay then on 09/04/2012 15:10:27 MDT Print View

If you have a death wish, no one here can stop you. I maintain you have no comprehension of the physics of what you're suggesting, but if you're convinced you can backpaddle a pool floatie over half a mile through near-freezing, moving water with little-to-no purpose-specific insulation while towing a "relatively heavy" pack, I'm not going to interrupt you with silly facts about heat transfer and physiology.

Edited by spelt on 09/04/2012 15:11:51 MDT.