As part of our IWG training we had to complete a self rescue from the ice water. With the solo trip coming up we were beginning to prepare ourselves for situations that could arise during our expedition. It wasn't something I was particularly looking forward too...
Making the ice hole
We needed to make a hole in the ice, so armed with a few ice drills and saws we set about making ourselves a nice sized pool to enjoy. We began drilling lines of holes into the ice then sawing out big cubes, and dragging them out using some rope.
At first when I could see some small cracks in the ice I worried I was heading for my ice dip a bit prematurely but as soon as we removed the first chunk of ice, and I saw just how thick it was - I relaxed a little.
However rational I tried to be about doing it, I stick felt sick in my stomach about jumping in. Water isn't my most confident of places, I prefer my feet on something more solid. But I knew I was going to do it, so I just powered through the 'what ifs' going on in my head and kept drilling holes.
You can see in the photo below just how big the chunks of ice were! The rule for walking across frozen lakes is that there needs to be at least 5cm of ice in order to support you. But in most cases you can't tell how thick the ice is until you drill into it. Areas to avoid are always streams/river mouths coming out from the lake - any narrow sections. It's always worth checking with locals though before going onto any frozen lake, because lots of things can affect the ice so always double check.
We were told to wear clothes we would be normally skiing in, so that we really understand the feeling. Although too much Gore-tex and we'd be in the water much longer waiting until the water actually soaked through. The idea of the exercise was to get a good feeling of what it was like once you were wet through and how it felt to try and get out/function once you were in that situation.
Niall went first, doing a Peter Kay style 'top bombing' move that made most of us hold our breath until he resurfaced! Lunatic...
I didn't go for any style points, I mainly just wanted to get it over and done with. As with all the small personal challenges the thought is always worse than the reality. Once I was in the water, yes it was bloody cold, and I struggled to get my words out (I was trying to tell the others that it's not so bad) but it came out as breathless mumble...which gave the opposite effect to reassurance.
But after a while I got used to it, did a few lengths, swam around for it a bit just concentrating on my breathing. Nice deep breaths, calm your mind and calm your body. It's something I'm going to try and do whenever I think I'm about to panic/react too fast. Just take a minute, and concentrate on each breathe.
Now with all that water soaked into my nice cotton hoody I was pretty heavy, so hauling myself out wasn't too easy. You can imagine if you fall in, and have nothing (like ice picks) to help you, just how hard it really is.
Starting a fire
As part of the exercise we had to try and get a fire going after we got out, because it could happen that you fall through the ice and have no way of getting to anywhere warm so you would need to build a fire to dry yourself.
I didn't feel too bad, as I started busying myself collecting firewood and finding my fire making kit, but as I had to try and use my knife to make some feather sticks I realised they were completly numb. I felt like I had no control over them. After laughing at the blobs of useless flesh at the end of my arms attempt to make delicate feathersticks, I went and grabbed some small dry spruce branches instead. I set it all up and then went to light the match, amazingly it caught first time, despite my shaky useless hands, and just as I was about to celebrate a massive wave of water ran down the sleeve of my jacket and into my small flame. Damn
2 sodden boxes of matches later I had a fire going. It wasn't easy, and that was in an almost ideal position. I have some existing firewood and my fire making kit started off dry - but in reality it would take much longer. But it felt good to understand the feeling, and how learn fast your extremities lose their feeling.
The worst part of the day was actually warming up. In my head a hot shower was all I was dreaming of when I was floating around in the lake. But in reality it was an excruciating, itchy, burning experience. But hey it was yet another little personal victory. I had done it, and it wasn't as bad as thought it was going to be.