By Matthew Clough
A year ago while studying in Sweden, University of Kansas senior Emma Anderson went on an expedition with four friends to search for the Northern Lights at Lake Torneträsk and ended up plunging into water that was 14 degrees Fahrenheit. This is what it felt like.
The first feeling that hit after diving through a hole in the frozen lake in my bikini was a staggering sort of piercing, like brief, electric bursts against my skin. My feet were the only things that didn’t feel much initially – I was wearing socks because without them your feet will freeze on the sprint across the lake before you even make it to the water.
As the cold wormed its way up my spine I thought, “Wow, this is totally voluntary. This is insane and I chose to do it.”
My whole body was numb, except for the very top of my head, which was the last thing under and only for the quickest flash of a second. You can’t keep your head underwater or you’ll very likely pass out.
The water around me was only 14 degrees Fahrenheit, and as I was plunging into it I still wasn’t sure it was something I wanted to do. We were in Sweden at the top of the Arctic Circle – my friends and I – and we’d originally come to watch the Northern Lights. But this ice hole diving business is a local tradition, and I figured, “Hey, we’re here, I might as well give it a go.”
I pulled myself back up out of the water. I could only stand to be in there for a couple seconds. Everything out there was iced over, except for these small square areas cut out of the ice for people bold enough – or just stupid enough – to give plunging a shot. I looked back down through the hole for a brief second. The water was dark blue, nearly black.
The water was miserable but the air back on the surface was worse. Somewhere around -4, -5 Fahrenheit. My completely drenched socks felt sticky against the ice as I began the 30-foot sprint back to the small saunas on the edge of the lake.
Still, this run was more enjoyable – if you can call it that – than the run to the hole. The whole process is just extreme temperature changes. You sit in the sauna first until your body warms up and you start to sweat. Then you run as fast as you can to the water. It’s only a couple seconds but it feels like minutes because the sweat literally freezes to your skin.
Back in the sauna, I caught my breath and got back into some more fitting winter weather clothes.
I’m glad I did it, but the experience was one of the most physically weird, exhilarating and challenging things ever, and it all happened in no more than a minute.