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Know your ice and travel with caution

December 21, 2016
By JOE HACKETT - Outdoors Columnist ( , Lake Placid News

The fresh snow squeaked under foot as I walked briskly toward the trailhead. In the nearby forest, trees popped, moaned and groaned as the frozen tree sap expanded, condensed and buckled under multiple layers of tree bark.

In the near distance, I could hear similar groans and cracks occurring on the ponds as their icy cover grew thicker and wider to eventually seal the waters in a frozen hardtop.

The intensity of the cracks and groans continued to interrupt the early morning stillness and echoed like gunshots off the nearby cliffs.

Article Photos

Ice picks, like the one pictured, are essential safety tools for traveling on ice.
Photo — Joe Hackett

It was a bitterly cold morning, and with each breath the air crystalized before my eyes. It had the consistency of pixie dust, as it floated in the dim morning light. Fortunately there wasn't a breath of wind in the air as I pointed the long boards down the trail and pushed off.

It was my first full day out on the long boards, and with the rising sun on my back I set off down the trail. Before long, I had settled into the steady shush, hush, shush sounds of my wooden skis gliding over fresh, new snow.

Although temperatures were forecast to remain in the single-digit range, the opportunity to travel on trackless trails covered with fresh powder was simply too good to pass up. So I pressed on, well beyond my original plan.

While the snowcover proved to be more than adequate on many of the old truck trails poplar with backcountry skiers, cover was somewhat scratchy on many of the singletrack trails, especially in the lower elevations.


Know your ice

Although the backcountry ski season is already underway and on track, it may be a while before the "hardwater anglers" are able to "wet a line" without getting wet in the process.

While an old adage claims, "first ice is the best ice," it is also the most dangerous. Know your ice and stay clear of inlets, outlets and shoals.

There is no fish that's worth risking your life - or the life of a first responder. Wait until there is safe ice before venturing out.

And when you do get out, take the necessary precautions. Carry ice picks, a throw rope and wear a PFD, which offers extra insulation against the cold.

There are also a variety of new, lightweight inflatable PFDs that fit under your coat and are triggered when immersed in water.

When you venture out on the ice be sure to dress properly in layers and consider wearing a life jacket or vest. Avoid wearing cotton.

A lot of anglers do not understand the physiology of cold water immersion. It is much different than drowning in warm water. Your heart gets cold in icy waters, and you have only about a five-minute window. There's a massive increase in blood pressure and breathing, along with muscle cramping and spasms.

If you can keep your airway out of the water, you have a chance. However, it is difficult because it requires extreme physical exertion to swim in such conditions as the cold saps the body's energy. There are also muscles cramps, breathing becomes difficult and while your mind is racing panic often sets in.

In the panic to get a breath it is easy to inhale water into your lungs and aspirate, which is a term for "dry drowning" or "secondary drowning."

Dry drowning occurs when someone breathes in small amounts of water during a struggle, which triggers the muscles in the airway to spasm. Fluid builds up in the lungs, and if left untreated it may result in a pulmonary edema which can be fatal.

Know your ice. While 3 inches of black ice is considered enough to support an angler, no ice is truly safe ice.

Always come prepared with a throw rope, ice spikes and a hockey stick. Remember to be especially careful around docks, straits, shoals, inlets and outlets.

Avoid large gatherings of both cars or sleds, and don't be afraid to share your knowledge. There are always a lot of rookies on the ice. When in doubt, speak out. Don't wait until it happens to you.

Clear, black ice is generally stronger than white with snow or bubbles in it.

If you do fall in the water, do not try to stand up. Rather, walk on your forearms until the majority of your body is on solid surface and roll across the ice away from the hole.

Don't go out alone. Share the experience and take along friends or family. Bring a fully charged cell phone and let someone know where you will be fishing and when you will return. Avoid travel in areas that are not familiar and don't travel at night or during reduced visibility.



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