I fell through the ice at Holmes Lake in Lincoln last winter. Actually, I jumped through it. On purpose. All so I could give you, our readers, a first person account of how to get yourself out of just such a situation. I'm not sure if that makes me dedicated or stupid. You be the judge.
So here's the one insightful bit of news that I gleaned from my little experiment: Don't get yourself in that situation. The water under ice is cold, and your body won't like it.
Other than that, there's not much I can tell you about my experience that holds up in the real world with any degree of certainty. I had hoped to tell you in detail how easy or difficult it was to pull myself out of that hole. I even carried the ice picks that are recommended gear for ice anglers and others who venture onto frozen pond in the winter months. But I didn't use them. I hit the 38-degree water, crawled out, jumped into the Zodiac raft that waited to ferry me back to shore, slipped into a trailer, stripped off my wet clothes, dried off, put warm dry gear on and was done. In the real world – your world – it won't be that easy. Because unlike myself, you probably won't be wearing a life jacket when you fall through. My plunge took place under the watchful eye of the Lincoln Fire and Rescue Department's Dive-Rescue Team, which was conducting an ice-rescue training exercise and wouldn't let me have my fun without a PFD. That PFD kept me from going completely under when I broke through, reducing the shock that comes when cold water hits your head. It also held me higher in the water, making it easier to get my torso on the ice and crawl out. So I guess I can tell you that wearing a life jacket on the ice is a good idea.
The other thing I had going for me, which most of you won't, is I was only wearing jeans and a light, insulated jacket. Most ice anglers and hunters will be decked out in coveralls and a heavy parka that will soak up 50 pounds or so of water when submerged. Some people won't be able to pull their own weight out of the water, much less the extra.
And once out of the water, I didn't have far to go to dry off and warm up on this warmer-than-average February day. If I'd had a half mile walk through sub-zero wind chills, things might have been much different.
A video I saw on the Web a few years back inspired my experiment. You want to talk dedication? Go to YouTube, search for Gordon Giesbrecht, and watch “Survival in the Ice – Part 1.” This Canadian professor skis into a hole in the ice, pulls himself out and then gets back in and stays there, talking about each step his body is going through until he's about to pass out from hypothermia and his safety crew pulls him out. Now that's dedication.
Before my “Polar Plunge” day arrived, I'd thought about going in a second time with coveralls on to compare the difference in difficulty. I'm sorry to say that while I certainly appreciate all of you readers, I'm just not as dedicated as Giesbrecht, and I can live with that. Shoot, my feet started getting cold when I got to the lake and my thoughts shifted to “What have I gotten myself into?” When I hit the icy water, all I could think about was getting out as fast as I could (think moving like a cat with its tail on fire). Once out, I just wanted to go home. I expected worse … much worse, in the scale of both difficulty and coldness. But I had the deck stacked in my favor. Will you?
Eric Fowler is Regional Editor for NEBRASKAland Magazine.