A view of Kachess Lake, looking out from the tiny island

A humble lesson on Lake Kachess

Posted on: BY: Saga Svensson
Tags: rough conditions | safety | Swim-it-Yourself | wild swimming

Sudden and unexpected rough swimming conditions turn a perfect wild swimming adventure into scary lesson about danger and preparedness.

It was a beautiful sunny day at Lake Kachess. This was the perfect peace we had in mind when we packed the car and left the city three days before in search of a circadian world of books and campfires. We’d just explored a little island a mile and a half up the shore far from the campsite, and now we were in our element; the lush forest rising up from the lake on all sides, the snowcapped Cascades in the distance; the blue water that seemed to drain the last residue of stress from our souls.

The swim out had seemed so easy, and the water was like glass, so we decided to cross to the other shore to make a circuit back to the campground. We would follow the opposite shore and cross level with the campground because the crossing there was just a few hundred meters.

Half-way back, a little tired, we changed the plan for a more direct route, straight to the campground across the middle of the lake. It seemed like a risk-free decision. The water was still pretty calm and we hadn’t noticed any uptick in the wind. When we reached the middle of the lake however we noticed a marked line approaching us on the horizon.

It was frightening just how quickly the conditions changed. The wind, barely noticeable at the island, began to gain strength with an unexpected ferocity. The calm surface quickly became wavy, and we realized that the line in the distance had been the approach of whitecaps which now broke around us, buffeting us side-on as the wind drove down the valley with the change in the afternoon heat.

I struggled to read the swell and found myself at times lunging down into the trough of the wave, at others on the crest. The swinging sensation disoriented me more, and even tough i was trying to time my strokes and my breaths i was getting hopelessy smacked around, missing breaths and taking in mouthfuls of water.

I was worried for Henrik, knowing he was less confident in the water than i was. Looking behind me I found him struggling. Thank god we had our safety buoys that day. It was the sort of calm day you might opt to leave them behind, but they ended up saving us from a bad situation. We clung to them in a bear hug and floated out two or three waves, catching our breath and regaining our composure.

We made a plan to swim to the nearest shore, opting to breaststroke (which neither of us is very good at) so as to stay on the surface and ride the swells. We chose an angle facing away from the waves, and even though they took us away from the campsite, we were soon past the worst and able to change direction and swim freestyle again for home.

The conditions that day out on Lake Kachess were not even close to the worst that either of us have experienced, but they are definitely among the most scary, and bar none the most unexpected. To a seasoned open water swimmer no doubt it would be laughable, but to us at that time it was a wake up call we still refer to from time to time.

Talking on the way home in the car, we vowed to learn everything we could about rough water swimming, and to improve our rough water swimming technique. We started the following week with controlled sea swims along the beach where we could be exposed to waves and still feel safe.

Gradually, through a combination of improved knowledge and experience, better technique and preparation, we grew stronger and more confident in rougher water and even came to relish being thrown around like a frog in a cement mixer.

Disclaimer: Our swimming adventure content is not intended to take the place of specific, current, local advice from qualified experts. We strongly recommend that you consult with professional safety experts and take all necessary precautions should you undertake any adventure activity, especially in open water. Swimming is a HAZARDOUS activity. Never swim alone or beyond your ability. There is the possibility of physical injury, emotional distress and/or death, and you assume the risk and responsibility for any such results.

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