By Dimitry Sharomov
I’ve discovered that New Zealand is one of the greatest places for adventure. From June until October is the ski season and as well as skiing, in the South Island mountains you can also do ice diving in the icy, crystal clear waters of the lake at the Remarkables ski field.
Sounds very exiting? It is, especially if it is your first ice dive.
It took us five hours to drive from Dunedin to Queenstown in Dive Otago’s two vans complete with all our diving gear. After spending the night in Queenstown we’d planned for a 7 am start to the ski field. Having loaded our dive gear into the snow groomer transports we took the first chair’-lift up to the mount. Another snow groomer collected us and took
us to the frozen lake Alta. It’s 1850m above sea level and the lake is 70m deep.
We were here to celebrate the 21st annual ice dive for the local Cromwell underwater club. More than 30 divers from New Zealand’s South Island had come to do this dive. For some of them, including me, it was a first ice dive. We were very lucky with the weather. The sun was shining and there was no wind.
The hole was cut through the 50 cm thick ice. The water temperature of +1 degree C was so cold, it burned my face. The safety line was only attached to my buddy which made me a little nervous but there was no time to think about it because the next divers were waiting for their turn. As we started to descend I found I was overweighted and descended too fast. A few minutes later I was stuck in the thick silt bottom at 15m. I looked up to see only ice above my head.
‘Stop and think. Don’t panic’, I told myself. ‘Where is the exit? Where is my buddy? How long I can stay in this freezing water?’ all ran through my mind. My fingers went numb, but my 7mm wetsuit did a good job.
I gathered my thoughts and slowly managed to escape the silt and ascend towards the ice. The visibility was ruined as I was the last – there was just blue ice all around me.
My frozen brain tried to remember the best navigational technique which could help me find my way back. I started to move forward and counted my kicks.
‘How soon will they start to look for me? What should I do now? How long I can survive?’ I had maybe another 20 minutes of air remaining in my tank and then what will happen?
The grey plain bottom under me suddenly changed colour and became lighter. Instinctively I went down to check this light spot. The relief I felt at this moment when I saw light coming straight to me at 30 degrees through the ice – a hole! A few minutes later I was back with my buddy. We’d made our 21 minutes ice dive as we planned and safely returned back to the surface to tell of our adventure.
But the dive was not finished yet. The big portable tub filled with hot water was waiting for us next to the ice hole. Still in our wetsuits we jumped in and made a warm descent. It was great to finish the ice dive in the hot tub with a glass of wine and reflecting on surviving another first!