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The Ultimate Polar Plunge: Ice Diving

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

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It sounds crazy, but winter is the ideal time for taking a polar plunge in Black River Fall’s Wazee Lake. The water clarity is unmatched at this icy time of year – reaching nearly 60 feet, compared to the 30-40 feet that can be achieved in summer.

The most important requirement for ice diving is, of course, bravery. For most, the thought of slipping into the depths of a frozen lake is terrifying. Water temperatures range from the upper 60s on the surface to a bone-chilling 30 degrees in deeper depths. But for scuba divers, it is the greatest of challenges. With a quality dry suit and plenty of training, there is a world of adventure waiting to be explored.

At 355 feet, Wazee Lake is the deepest lake in Wisconsin, and its history is nearly as deep as its water. Once the site of the Jackson County Iron Mine quarry, it took massive, high capacity pumps expelling nearly 800 gallons of water per minute, to keep the mine from becoming submerged. For nearly 20 years, from the early 1960s to the early 1980s, the mine supplied as many as 850,000 taconite pellets annually, the bulk of which was used for steel production in East Chicago. When the domestic steel markets crashed, the mine closed and the water pumps were shut down.

The quarry, complete with roadways and a small forest, immediately began filling with water. The result is the deepest lake in Wisconsin – and an ideal destination for divers throughout the Midwest. Gradually descending roads ease divers in and many still often encounter artifacts like chains, pipes and taconite pellets. More experienced divers will enjoy the challenges of huge boulders and sheer cliffs. Four platforms have been added and are used to train new divers, but also serve to improve the habitats of the main fish species living in the lake – including trout, bluegill, catfish and small mouth bass.

The Wazee Sports Center in Black River Falls holds ice diving classes where divers learn to plan and execute an ice dive as well as how to handle the potential dangers of this exciting sport. Their annual February ice diving social is also very popular, gathering more than 30 divers to brave the icy waters each year. Wazee Sports Center also offers affordable equipment rental for anyone ready to take the plunge.

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