The January Horsetooth dive is one among many experiences to come.
A Pact Among Friends
Over 20 years ago, it was a pact among friends to ski once every month regardless of where the snow fell. We hiked glaciers, snowfields and mountain passes to get our skiing in every month, for several years. Time passed and we eventually went our separate ways. We have since lost one of our fellow skiers from the original group and it reminded me that it was time to remember the good moments and create new traditions.
A New Pact
The new pact came with another group of friends - some from years ago and some new. This time, we would scuba dive locally, once a month, for a year straight. We began our pact last year, but due to video malfunction of our December dive (or, the videographer accidently deleting footage due to 5mm thick gloves), we lacked visual proof. January now marks the beginning of a new (better documented) era.
Diving at 5,430 feet above seal level presents challenges in itself in the convenience of summer: 7mm wetsuits, hoods, gloves, 50+ lbs of equipment and more. There is also the obstacle of hoofing all of that gear over rocks, sand and mud with fluctuating water levels. Once you make it to the water on the few breaths of air you have left in your lungs (with less oxygen than sea level), you encounter 3-5 foot visibility on a good day. The walk back up the shore can be a 50 foot to 200 yard climb back up to the parking area while carrying the required buoy, reel and dive flag and dodging dogs, children, paddleboarders and fishermen.
Taking diving into the cold months amplifies the challenges of diving with lower water levels, and thus a much longer climb to and from the parking area. During the winter months, the general access area is closed to vehicles, which makes the hike 200-300 yard longer with a higher elevation climb. With the added insulation, dry suit, extra weights for buoyancy and the cold air, winter diving can be simply exhausting.
But wait, there's more...
The visibility of the lake does not increase during the winter months. The 3-5 foot visibility still goes to zero when divers flop around on descent or within 3 foot of the bottom. The additional insulation and thicker gloves make maneuvering just a little more challenging. Lastly, the heightened heart rate caused from exertion of the hike to the water combined with the exertion of swimming out to a depth where a diver can descend, increases the risk regulator icing.
Icing on the first and second stages is a risk that must be managed properly. Breathing heavily due to exertion, excitement or nervousness can lead to a dangerous situation. Because a regulator is designed to fail in the "open" mode, or free-flowing mode, the diver can experience an overpowering cold blast of air directly into their mouth, while hoping they make it back to the surface before the air supply is diminished. Add in the complications of dry suit air management, and things can get ugly, fast when underwater or far from shore.
"Your Pact is Insane".
I've heard this 20 years ago. I hear it again today: "You must be insane". "Why would you ever make a pact like that"? "Are you crazy". The list goes on. I find it difficult to explain the benefits of my perceived insanity to those who lack a similar passion for living. My ski friend's memory is sealed. No longer will we hike the mountains in July and hope to avoid a fall on a glacier while wearing shorts. No longer will be sink knee-deep in powder in the trees of January. But I will forever remember the fun we had and the challenges we faced together as a group. The memories will continue on to remind all of us that life is short, but it is truly amazing.
The Pact Lives On
A pact is an agreement of those who understand the risks, do their best to manage them and challenge themselves to better their skills. This particular pact is an opportunity for camaraderie and shared experiences of a deeper magnitude. Shared experiences create bonds. Bonds grow all of us as humans. Humans must experience life to truly live, and living is what we were born to do.