The last in my series (for now at least) on wild swimming locations around the world is all about ice swimming. In recent years here in the UK, around our shores and in inland lakes and rivers ever-increasing numbers of mainly middle-aged, slightly batty women, as well as a few brave men, are regularly taking to the water. I took part in my first ever Boxing Day swim in 2021 and as winter progresses, I’m still swimming in the sea without a wetsuit once or twice a week. The water temperature is around 8 or 9°C so it’s still far too warm to be classed as ice swimming. So what is ice swimming?
What is ice swimming?
Generally, swimming in water with a temperature of below 5°C (41°F) can be said to be ice swimming. Here on the south coast, it is rare for the sea to get that cold. Even in most of Scotland, the sea rarely drops below 6°C. However, inland lakes and rivers are considerably colder than the sea in winter so somewhere like Loch Lomond in Scotland is a likely spot for ice swimming here in the UK.
Is it safe to ice swim?
Swimming in cold water does come with some risks and I strongly recommend that you research the subject thoroughly before considering any of these swims. People with medical conditions should also consult their doctor.
Advice is strongly against jumping into cold water due to the cold shock response. This can be triggered even in the summer here in the UK and is one of the major causes of drowning.
It is also not advised to get into hot water after being immersed in cold water as this can cause fainting.
Some sources of useful information on cold water swimming:
Open water swimming – safety and risk assessment
The risks and benefits of cold water swimming
Outdoor Swimming Society – Getting Started
And you’ll find all my posts on swimming here.
Right, having got those boring bits out of the way, let’s get to the fun part, where in the world can you throw yourself into a body of water cold enough to be called ice swimming?
Ice swimming around the world
The temperatures of lakes and seas in the UK can occasionally get low enough, particularly in the far north of Scotland, to be classed as ice swimming. Further afield, there are plenty more exciting possibilities. As I’ve yet to swim in temperatures this cold, I asked my fellow travel bloggers about their ice swimming experiences. I hope I get the opportunity to visit at least one of these places one day. Will I be brave enough to go in? I’d like to think so. How about you?
Hooker Lake, Canterbury, New Zealand
by Tom, Craving Adventure
Mount Cook is New Zealand’s highest mountain, and right under this mountain lies Hooker Lake, where you can swim amongst the massive chunks of ice.
The water in the lake is, of course, freezing cold, but still, a surprising amount of people choose to take a dip, because it is just so blinking cool! Pun intended. How many people can say that they’ve swum in between mini icebergs with New Zealand’s most majestic mountain towering right above them?
To get there, you’ll have to walk the Hooker Valley Track, which for me only makes the whole thing more appealing. It’s an easy and incredibly beautiful 3-mile long path that takes you over boardwalks through tussock fields, along a gorgeous mountain valley, and over swing bridges, crossing a rumbling river.
Make sure to shop for food and drinks beforehand, because once there, you can’t get any along the track. The route starts from the White Horse Hill Campsite in the middle of Mount Cook National Park, a destination that is an absolute must-visit in any New Zealand South Island road trip!
Root Glacier, Wrangell St Elias National park, Alaska, USA
by Mike Still, LiveTravelTeach
The wildest place I’ve ever swum was in a bright blue glacier pool on top of Root Glacier in Wrangell St. Elias National Park.
Root Glacier is one of the most popular attractions in what must be one of the United States’ least visited national parks. It’s about a 2-mile hike from Kennecott. When I visited, the weather was perfect for jumping into one of the pools so when our guide brought us to this stunning natural pool I was the first one to jump in.
The truth is, I swam out again almost immediately because, as you might have guessed, it was ice cold! It was the coldest water I’ve ever felt, which is no surprise since it’s surrounded by glacier ice.
When I climbed back out of the water the summer sun warmed me up with a burning/tingling sensation that lasted for longer than I did in the water. A few seconds later, I was just warming up and full of adrenaline. It’s such an incredible place to swim.
While it was great for the story and the photo, it’s not somewhere I would come to have a relaxing swim and you definitely want to do this with a guide, such as St. Elias Tours.
Silfra, Thingvellir National Park, Iceland
by Cristina, Honest Travel Stories
Swimming or rather snorkelling in Silfra is unlike anything else in the world, as it’s the only place where you can snorkel or dive between two tectonic plates.
The water here comes from a glacier many miles away. By the time it reaches Silfra, the water has spent 30 to 100 years filtering through a lava field. It is the clearest water in the world.
With the water temperature, just a few degrees above freezing all year round, hiring a wetsuit is required. You can enjoy this experience any time of year, but it’s better to do it in the summer or at least on a clear day, as the visibility is at its best in these conditions. Try to schedule your snorkelling experience in the morning or midday so you can have the best possible light.
There are no places to purchase food or drinks here as this is a protected area, so do bring what you might need with you. if you are on a guided tour your guide may offer you biscuits and hot chocolate to warm you up after the experience.
The Polar Plunge in Antarctica
by Bella Falk, Passport and PIxels
For many people, the idea of jumping into the freezing sea in Antarctica sounds like insanity. But for others, it’s a dream bucket list activity. After all, what greater bragging rights could there be than being able to say you’ve jumped into the icy water just off the 7th continent, surrounded by whales and icebergs?
If you want to do the Polar Plunge, the only way is as part of an Antarctica cruise. It’s an activity offered by some, but not all, of the expedition operators, so if it’s something you want to do, make sure you check before you book.
The Polar Plunge usually takes place on one of the last days of the trip, in the calm waters off the shore of the Antarctic peninsula. Exact details may vary, but it usually involves you putting on your swimsuit, being attached to a safety rope, and then taking a deep breath and jumping off your expedition ship into the sea. With water temperatures hovering around 1°C. it’s far too cold to spend long in the water, but after you’ve splashed about for a bit you’ll be rewarded for your bravery with a hot drink, maybe a shot of alcohol, and possibly a dip in the hot tub. But even better than all of that, now you’re part of an exclusive club of people who can say they’ve taken a dip in Antarctica. And ice water swimming doesn’t get much ‘cooler’ than this!
Are you brave enough to take the polar plunge?
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