Four Lakes SCUBA Ice Dive

Lake Mendota. Madison, WI

February 15, 2003

Ethan Brodsky

Underwater Photography: Jurgen Doreleijers and Isaac Gomez.

Four Lakes SCUBA Club is a non-profit organization to promote sport diving the Madison area. They were founded in 1980 and organize many dive trips, locally and elsewhere. One of the traditional annual club dives is the Ice Dive. The UW-Madison Hoofers SCUBA Club, a university outdoor recreation club, also has an annual ice dive, which is usually conducted during the Hoofers Winter Carnival.

For a time, it seemed like it might not even be possible to have an ice dive this winter. It was warm for a while, then the temperatures would drop for several days, but just as good ice was forming, it would get warm again. But towards the end of January it got cold and stayed cold, and we knew we'd have good ice this year. Unfortunately for Hoofers, this time they had too much of a good thing. The ice was so thick that they would be unable to cut it out in a single block. This meant it could not be replaced into the hole as a single block. Due to liability concerns about leaving an open hole or weak spot in front of the union during the carnival, the Hoofers ice dive was cancelled. Fortunately, the Four Lakes Club ice dive was scheduled for the following weekend.

We chose to dive on the "pontoon boat", an old boat sunk several hundred feet out from shore in front of the UW-Madison Memorial Union. In the summer, the boat can be easily located by the orange buoy tied to it, and we had GPS coordinates to choose where to cut the hole. Early Saturday morning, two guys set out to go find the spot. As one was walking around the trying to pick the exact spot with the GPS receiver, another looked down and saw the orange buoy poking through the snow about ten feet away.

With the dive site identified, we set out hauling all the gear out. An ATV with a trailer made it much easier to carry everything out. The black tubes on the ATV are flotation devices, which are required in Dane County in order to drive an ATV on the lake. I arrived around 9:15 and several trips out had already been made. The rocks near shore were covered with ice and quite treacherous, and several people fell (one several times) while carrying gear down to the ice.

We so overloaded the trailer on some of the trips that we needed to push it in order to get it through areas where there was a few inches of snow on the ice. Studded tires or a trailer with skis really would've helped here. Having to run behind and push was probably good though, since he helped me work off my "just-got-out-of-bed" morning chill. To make up for all the pushing, there were other areas where the ice had been blown clean and we could just hang on and skitch across the ice behind the trailer. I couldn't help thinking how much fun I could have on the lake with an ATV, ice skates, and some rope.

It took several hours to ferry out all the gear, put the camp together, and get ready for diving. In the end, we had a heated tent with an insulated floor and an area of tarps and plywood where we could put gear and keep it dry (I had a bad experience last year with setting a bag on the ice and having it melt and soak my drysuit underwear). We also had a grill with chili to eat and hot apple cider to drink after diving. From shore our camp looked so remote and desolate, like some sort of artic outpost. But even with the cold and the brisk wind, it was the most comfortable site for ice diving I've experienced yet.

Cutting through the ice was quite an experience. With about 24 inches of ice, it took two passes with the chainsaw. And once a hole was opened entirely through, the water began flooding up, threatening to fill the entire triangle before we could finish cutting through. Some quick cutting by Ken towards the end ensured we had a full-sized hole for diving.

Isaac (left) and Ethan (right), suited up and ready to get in.

The three of us, just before we are assisted into the water...

...and just after.

Divers sinking beneath the surface.

Ethan under the ice.

Brian under the ice.

Steve Fiene under the ice.

Steve Fiene (L) with Isaac Gomez (R), relaxing after the dive.

Ken (left) with Jurgen (right).

Credit for organizing the dive goes to Four Lakes SCUBA Club President Ken Jungenberg. He brought the ATV, built the flotation system and got it approved (in the week before the dive), brought the tent, heater, and insulation to put underneath. He brought the chainsaw, ice tools, and rope. He also arranged for the food and everything else associated with the dive. Congratulations and thanks go to him for arranging the most successful Four Lakes Ice Dive in memory.

Four Lakes SCUBA Club
Hoofers SCUBA Club

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Ethan Brodsky <brodskye at>