Monday, December 8, 2008

Cold, High, Long – Swimming Across Lake Tahoe

The Trans Tahoe Relay is one of America’s favorite and most competitive open water swimming races.

Lake Tahoe sits between the states of Nevada and California at 1,897 meters (6,225 feet) altitude. It is about 35K (22 miles) long and 19K (12 miles) wide.

The 18.5K (11.5-mile) Trans Tahoe Relay course is conducted along the width of the lake from Sand Harbor Beach in the state of Nevada to Skylandia Beach, Lake Forest in the state of California.

Because of the 12.7-15.5°C cold water (55-60°F) and altitude, participation in the Trans Tahoe Relay demands the hardiest type of open water swimmer, especially since wetsuits are not allowed.

In 2009, the 33rd version of the Trans Tahoe Relay will continue to grow in popularity with over 155 teams of 6 swimmers expected.

But relays are not the only open water swimming challenge conducted in Lake Tahoe. There have been 11 people who have successfully swum the length of Lake Tahoe and many more who have successfully swum the width.

According to local open water swimming expert and historian Dean Moser, most of the solo swimmers start in the early morning to avoid the harsh afternoon winds which come from the south starting at about 3 pm depending on the time of the year. The winds streaming across Lake Tahoe are high mountain country winds and come up suddenly and create rolling waves on the average of 2-3 feet.

Dean, who has been boating on Lake Tahoe for over 25 years and successfully piloted two crossings himself, said, "The reason swimmers go from south to north [in the lake] is because the winds come primarily from the south and if they have to endure them it would be best if the waves pushed the swimmer."

In August 1955, 29-year-old Fred Rogers swam 19.96 miles in 19 hours and 6 minutes from Kings Beach to Bijou.

In July 1962, 16-year-old Erline Christopherson swam 16.76 miles in 13 hours and 17 minutes from Baldwin Beach to Dollar Point.

In October 1963, 13-year-old Leonore Modell swam 20.49 miles in 13 hours and 34 minutes from Tahoe Keys to Kings Beach.

In September 1987, 35-year-old Dave Kenyon of Novato, California swam 20.81 miles in 9 hours and 20 minutes from Tahoe Keys Marina to Hyatt Beach. Dave’s record continues to stand today. Dave has swum in several Trans Tahoe Relays with several records in San Francisco Bay to his name, including a 6-mile Bay Bridge to Golden Gate Swim in 53 minutes, a 14-mile Aquatic Park around Angel Island Swim in 4 hours and 32 minutes, a double Golden Gate crossing (over and back) in 52 minutes, the longest swim in San Francisco Bay (41 miles or 65.9K) from the Carquinez Bridge to the Oyster Point near San Francisco Airport in 10 hours 31 minutes (a distance of over 41 miles) and an Alcatraz-to-Aquatic Park swim in 23 minutes and 31 seconds.

In September 1989, 31-year-old Grant Heck swam 21.02 miles in 12 hours and 3 minutes from Tahoe Keys Marina to Incline Village.

In September 1989, 28-year-old Suzie Dods swam 17.63 miles in 11 hours and 7 minutes from Dollar Point to Regan Beach.

In September 2003, 39-year-old Laura Colette swam 20.53 miles in 12 hours and 36 minutes from Camp Richardson to Kings Beach.

In July 2004, Laura Colette swam the lake a second time from the Hyatt Beach to Camp Richardson in 12 hours 2 minutes, which is the only north-south swim.

In July 2003, 54-year-old “King of the Channel” Kevin Murphy swam 20.66 miles in 13 hours and 56 minutes from Popes Beach to Kings Beach.

In August 2005, 39-year-old Brucker Chase of Santa Cruz, California swam 20.53 miles in 11 hours and 16 minutes from Camp Richardson to Kings Beach. Brucker said afterwards, "I finish this feeling humbled, not invincible. I've never not finished anything. I thought about getting out, but I didn't want to let (my support crew) down. I watched my dad suffer through an illness for 15 years. I've got this legacy of people who I admire who endured more than I did just swimming across the lake. I wanted to make sure I could live up to that and until I had given everything I had, I wasn't about to (quit)."

In August 2005, 45-year-old Ken Harmon of Danville, California swam 21.24 miles in 11 hours and 19 minutes from Camp Richardson to Hyatt Beach. Ken’s charity swim marked the longest possible route across Lake Tahoe according to the U.S. Coast Guard. With the air temperature at 4°C (40°F) at the start, Ken admitted, "There I was standing in the water, thinking to myself 'This is nuts. You're 45 years old, what are you doing? What is wrong with you?' I was so nervous to get started. But once I did, it was very calming. Once I got that pace just past mile 14, I knew I was going to make it. The people in the boats were holding signs out letting me know where I was at. I thought I had a chance to break that guy's time from last week. But then the final two miles came and I knew that was going to be tough." Ken's swim ultimately raised tens of thousands of dollars for the pool and Danville Aquatic Center team.

In September 2007, 44-year-old Catheryne Diprete, a former gymnast and two-time NCAA Division I competitive diver from Novato, California (shown on the left with Dean Moser), swam 21.09 miles in 10 hours and 14 minutes from Tahoe Keys West Channel to Hyatt Beach. Catheryne Diprete swam the width twice to practice for her length-wise challenge and considers nutrition during a solo swim to be vitally important, "What you eat while you swim is important. Your body goes through a physical change somewhere around the fifth or sixth hour - your body has to start burning fat for energy."

Two early pioneers who swam the width of Lake Tahoe are the following swimmers:

In August 1931, 34-year-old Myrtle Huddleston swam 10.48 miles in 22 hours and 58 minutes from Deadman’s Point to Tahoe City. A September 1931 article in Time Magazine on Myrtle’s swim can be read here.

In August 1952, 27-year-old William Long swam 9.34 miles in 12 hours from Cave Rock to Meek’s Bay.

Fred Rogers who blazed the Tahoe trial in 1955 recalls, "My friend had tried it before me and gave up after maybe 12 hours in the water. He said it was an impossible feat. But, I had all the confidence in the world I could do it."

And, all these Lake Tahoe swimming heroes did.

Information compiled by Dean Moser. Photo of the Trans Tahoe Relay by VKC. .


Anonymous said...

Here is a swim they left out!

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