High Altitude Open Water Swimming In California
Courtesy of WOWSA, Horseshoe Lake, Mammoth Lakes, Sierra Nevada Mountains, California.
The world-renowned 1,897m Lake Tahoe is site of many solo swims and annual open water events. There are other high altitude locations around California to participate in and train for high-altitude swims:
“For example, two-time Olympic medalist (1928 and 1932) Buster Crabbe played the title role of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers in the movies regularly swam at high altitude,” said Steven Munatones. “The only actor who played Tarzan, Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon regularly swam across the 1,577m Lake Arrowhead, a mountain resort east of Los Angeles, California.”
Crabbe lived in a mountain lodge on the lake shore. Phil Cooper recalled, “He was swimming nearly every day. The water was close to freezing, especially in winter. But he would be there in the water…there’s Buster swimming across the lake….”
Swimming in the cold Lake Arrowhead year-round kept Crabbe in swimming shape, helping him to set a world record in the 60-64 masters swimming age group in the 400m freestyle – the same event that he won the gold medal in 1932.
In 1946, Crabbe’s continuous ice swimming paid off when he co-starred with another Olympic champion, Johnny Weissmuller, in the movie Swamp Fire. At 42, Weissmuller was no longer in great shape, but the two performed a climactic underwater fight-to-the-death scene as their competitive juices never wavered, even in the ice cold water. Crabbe’s cold water training in Lake Arrowhead helped him greatly as the water was kept cold during filming in order to keep the alligators lethargic.
Various locations with high-altitude swims, defined as open water swims held at least 1,000 meters above sea level, are listed below:
1,132 meters (3,715 feet): wild swimming in Khar Nuur in the Khovd aimag in western Mongolia’s Great Lakes Depression
1,577 meters (5,173 feet): solo training in Lake Arrowhead in Southern California, USA
1,645 meters (5,397 feet): wild swimming in Khovsgol Nuur in the Khovsgol Nuur National Park in northern Mongolia
1,897 meters (6,224 feet): 19.3 km true widthwise swim across Lake Tahoe between California and Nevada, USA
2,058m (6,752 feet): charity swim in Big Bear Lake in Southern California, USA
2,060 meters (6,759 feet): wild swimming in Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur in the Khangai Mountains in central Mongolia
2,200 meters (7,218 feet): 500m International Extreme Race of Winter Swimming (International Limit Challenging Race of Crossing Yellow River Qinghai China) in northwest China’s Qinghai Province in Tibetan Plateau
2,742 meters (8,996 feet): triathlon and open water swim training in Horseshoe Lake, Mammoth Lakes, California, USA
3,000 meters (9,842 feet): 1 km Winter Swimming Ski Portillo Chile (Festival Internacional de Natación de Invierno en Argentina) in the Andes Mountains, Argentina
3,812 meters (12,507 feet): 7 km Torneo Internacional de Natación en Aguas Abiertas (Nadando Cerca del Cielo) in Lago Titicaca from the Isla de la Luna to the Isla del Sol in Bolivia
5,909 meters (19,386 feet): Ojos Swim by Madswimmers Jean Craven, Juandre Human, Milton Brest, Evan Feldman, Chris Marthinusen, Herman van der Westhuizen and Robert Graaff across Ojos del Salado in Mount Tres Cruces on the border of Chile and Argentina in the Andes Mountains
There are most probably many more high-altitude swims and venues around the world.
National Geographic reported, “Lakes across the globe that once froze solid all winter are melting faster than ever before and, in some cases, are not freezing at all” after visiting 513 lakes throughout the Northern Hemisphere to assess how their patterns of freezing and thawing had changed since 1970.“
Researchers estimated that 15,000 lakes around the world already freeze less than they used to and lake ice could become scarce within the next generation, permanently canceling winter activities such as ice skating and ice fishing – and increasing the number of ice swimming and high-altitude swimming events, wild swims and challenges.
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