Ever wonder what it feels like to be under a frozen lake? I was lucky enough to find out this past weekend while taking an ice diving course up in June Lake, California under instructor Darrell Walker. To answer your question, yes, it's cold!
After our first day of "acclimation" to June Lake's freezing water temperatures, I was confident in my dive gear (including my brand new OMS San Diego dry suit!) and introductory ice diving skills. We spent the entire morning and most of the afternoon practicing each ice diving position: diver, tether, and bucket. Unlike most other forms of SCUBA diving, I found diving under the ice to be a perfect team-building experience; each diver was reliant on surface support and gear assistance before, during, and after each dive. With spirits high, we ended the first day by struggling, yet succeeding in sawing and shoveling open a triangular hole in the 36 inches of ice over Gull Lake, just down the road from June Lake.
Day two was all about displaying our skills in a true ice diving environment (and having fun, of course). Three divers dove at a time under Gull Lake's ice, each diver on his or her own line and respective corner of the triangular hole. Using a "wheel" design we had carved into the snow, navigating was as simple as following lines of light on the underside of the ice. The creation of this wheel pattern is summarized in a timelapse at the beginning of the video above. As the last diver of the morning and with camera in hand, I dove into the black triangle of 36 degree lake water and performed my final three dives. The experience was unlike anything I've witnessed before.
Upon completing my certification course, my dive buddy Justin and I decided a grand finale was in order. After stripping off our dry suits, we both marked the "polar bear plunge" off our bucket lists by cannonballing half-naked into the icy water. I'm sure the video will be circulating on social media sooner or later...
For anyone who is interested in ice diving, I highly recommend it. Even though there are some potentially miserable situations, the reward is much greater than the risk. Darrell teaches this course every February in June Lake, so don't hesitate to reach out.