Quandary on ice safety and winter survival skills
January 23, 2015
How thick must the ice be on Lake Dillon to be considered safe?
Iceman, so glad you asketh before you fall. Ice conditions vary greatly depending on a lot of factors, so in any situation always be vigilant and use good judgment. However, there are a few general rules that can help keep you above the ice.
First, let's look at when you should just walk away and maybe try a shore-based activity instead. If the ice is less than 2 inches thick, it's not meant for you. Also, don't travel on a frozen lake when it is snowing or at night; it's just too easy to lose your way and end up in a bad situation. This old goat likes his beauty sleep and those pesky search-and-rescue helicopters can be quite annoying late at night, so please don't make them come running. Also, if you see an ice ridge, the ice for up to 20 feet can still be compromised, so try to avoid it.
Well now, if it's daytime, crystal clear and you have shiny new auger you're dying to test out, let's make sure you get to play with your toy more than once. If the ice is 4 inches thick you should be able to walk on it, but look for blue clear ice; it's by far the strongest. The newer the ice the stronger, so avoid the gray stuff. Much like goats, the older it is, the meaner it is to people. Try to avoid ice that's covered with snow if possible, and if you can't, do drill testing as you go. This means drilling into the ice in at least 30-foot intervals to ensure the thickness.
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If you have bigger toys with you, you're going to need thicker ice. To snowmobile or take an ATV out, look for ice that is at least 6 inches thick; 8 to 12 inches should be enough for a car or small pickup and at least 12-15 inches are needed for a full-size pickup. Again, use your judgment. Wind and temperature changes can weaken ice, so just be aware that while one spot on a lake might be safe, a few feet away may not be.
Deeper lakes also freeze over more slowly than shallow lakes.
There is some important equipment you should carry with you if you venture out. Spikes or cleats on your shoes will help with navigating the ice. Trust me, as hooves are just not that beneficial. Also, carry two picks tied together. When you ignore all of my advice, and fall through, these can be used to anchor to the ice and help you climb your happy butt back out of there. If you are going fishing, try putting some vegetable oil on your auger. It will keep snow from sticking to it and lessen your chances of slicing yourself open trying to clean it off.
As Quandary has shown, numbers evade me quite often, so I consulted Colorado Parks and Wildlife to ensure I'm not mixing up any of those tricky numbers and sending you where we shouldn't.
Have a question for Quandary? Send an email to email@example.com.
I know I'm not supposed to eat snow but, if stranded, how do I get water? Any clever ideas my friend?
Being stuck in the snow in Summit can feel like being stuck in the ocean; abundant water but not a drop to drink. Luckily, here you have options. While it is a bad idea to directly eat snow, if you warm it up, it's fair game. This can be as simple as filling your water bottle with snow and tucking it into your jacket until it has melted, or as complex as building a raging fire with two stones if you're so inclined. If these options aren't clever enough for you, you're welcome to grab your glasses and a waterproof tarp and make the sun melt some for you; the end result is still the same no matter how you get there: warm it up to drink it down.
It's a bad idea to eat snow because it will lower your core body temperature, and hypothermia can off you very quickly. The energy required by your body to try and keep you warm after consuming snow can actually also push you to dehydration even faster, according to our friends with Survivor Magazine. This probably goes without saying, but ice is the same way. Both can also cause blistering and sores on your lips and mouth which brings in a whole new set of problems you don't want to deal with.
Also, much like finding water, be vigilant as to the appearance and odor of the snow you choose to gulp, and the surrounding area. All of us varmints can carry disease that will put a serious damper on your day, so make sure the snow isn't yellow and there are no dead animals close by. Dead animals can be a signal of many issues ranging from a disease that caused the death, bacteria that's gathered at the funeral site or the presence of larger animals, which just means to get your butt out of there.
Your body loses water at a very rapid rate, and these fluids need to be replaced to keep you upright, but it is important to ensure you don't put yourself in a bad situation by drinking the wrong thing. In normal conditions people lose fluid at a rate of 2 to 3 liters per day, and this of course increases in a survival situation where you are likely to exert more energy. Try to keep calm if you get lost somewhere because panicking and trying to do more than you are capable of is a sure way to get in worse trouble. I'm not sure what you and Iceman are planning, but good luck you adventurous souls, and don't blame the goat if it doesn't go well.
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