|Facility closed; lake wide open.|
|Cold-weather kit includes items we always carry -- food, water, first aid, boat repair, cag, blanket, VHF radio, cell phone, spare paddle -- as well as tea, hot water, spare clothing, emergency shelter, pogies, and a deck light.|
After assessing the risks and doing a calorie-to-fun calculation--a mode of decision-making we learned from Scott Fairty of Geneva Kayak Center--we got on the water and paddled out onto the lake. As soon as we were moving, we kept warm. The winds were more or less at our backs, so we planned to turn around less than half way through our four or so hours of time on the water. The rocky breakwall was just beginning to ice over for the winter.
|Rock meets ice meets water.|
We reached the power plant just west of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, where the warm water outflow raised the temperature of the nearshore water from the high 30s to what felt like about 70 degrees. Steam rose eerily from the surface.
|Steam rising where warm water from the power plant meets cold air.|
A few wave sets rolled in, allowing us a rare warm-water surfing opportunity on an otherwise cold day and lake.
|Keith paddles back out after a ride to the shore.|
We turned around here, expecting a longer trip back to Portage. The winds had picked up, gusting now to 26 knots. Although the air temperature was at its peak -- about 23 degrees -- the wind chill was about 10 degrees, and we felt it. Our gear began to ice up. Our spare paddle blades, short tow and deck lines, and spray skirts were coated with ice. Icicles hung from our hat brims; ice clumps dotted our drysuits. Things that were formerly pliable became stiff. We were confident in these conditions, but we talked about how hard it would be to execute an efficient rescue with our slippery boats, chilly fingers and ice-encrusted safety gear.
|Things that are usually pliable, like this neoprene spray skirt, were stiff with ice.|
|Dry land and cold fingers.|
Over dinner, we reflected on our day. We were glad we went out. The lake was beautiful. We had assessed the risks and planned accordingly, allowing us to push our limits without getting into trouble. But we decided this was as cold as it would be safe for us to paddle. Between the hazard of hypothermia and the difficulty of doing otherwise simple rescues, even benign conditions are potentially hazardous when the weather gets this cold.