Epic(ly Cold) Cliff Jump

Lake Fontanillis is sublime. Perched above Lake Tahoe at 8,300′ the granite basin still harbors snow even though it is almost October. The water is clear in the shallows but its depths are hidden by the deep green reflection of the surrounding evergreens. Two hawks circle overhead, so slowly it looks like they’re going to stall, and in the sunlight I can make out the bones in their wings. Today is sunny, and warm if you are moving, but this rock is cold.

You’d think that snow melting into the lake would discourage me, but  I stripped down and waded out to the furthest rock I could still touch. Yes, I know it’s almost October. Wow. A gentle breeze blew, and with the air temperature in the 60’s I was already holding back shivers. Still, a 20′ jump into the pristine waters – my delible equivalent of carving my initials on a place – was too perfect to pass up, even if no one would be there to take the photo.

I stood tall and appraised the swim to the other side: it does get deep so I probably don’t have to worry about kicking rocks; it’s probably 60′ across; there’s no apparent current.

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An Irresistible Outcropping

There is a thing you do when you’re about to do something where you know you’re going to panic: you plan each step and you imagine completing it. Walk to the tip of the rock. Dive hard. Open eyes to see that it’s clear. Don’t open eyes after this, it doesn’t matter what’s down there. Now swim as hard as you can until you get to the other side. And I did.

I dragged myself onto the rocks on the far bank, my heart pounding. My body ached. I started to stand but had no balance. I was numb and dizzy and eyes-wide with shock. I sat and squeegeed water from lanky limbs. The sun burned hot on my skin. I feel warm all over and I smile, though I know this feeling is altogether wrong. It usually lasts a few minutes, so use it wisely before you start to shiver uncontrollably. I continued the plan: check depth; climb rock; deep breath; jump; swim back. Only I changed the last step: I didn’t swim back. Instead, I climbed out, dizzy with shock again, and walked around back to my clothes, exhausted. Everything had gone perfectly.

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