Russ’ Ice Diving Class, Thursday January 25, 2018

The course included six students: Karl, Jim & I along with Eric, Erica & Daniel.

I left work early today to get things ready before heading for class. I put together a list of needed/wanted equipment then hauled everything I could think of upstairs to stage my equipment and modify the list, OK, cull the herd… Quite the load. Ice diving (or cold water diving, for that matter,) takes a lot more equipment and effort.

The class was very technical but needed to be. A lot of safety redundancy and common sense. We wound up the class around 9:30 PM and all headed home for a good night’s sleep as tomorrow would be a LONG one… Good Night!

Day One: Ice Diving, Friday January 26, 2018

Up as usual to make coffee and breakfast I started “re-thinking” my list after looking at the pile of equipment I was contemplating loading in my car. It was TOO MUCH so I began to look at each item to be sure it was needed. I ended up leaving a lot of items I didn’t need. I needed to leave room in the car for Karl and Jim’s gear. As it turns out I made some good decisions as everything I took I used and I didn’t miss anything I didn’t bring.

It was a BEAUTIFUL morning. Sunny and 38 degrees headed for 45 degrees if we were lucky. A great day to go ice diving…

We met at Karl’s (I was 15 minutes late after the “re-thinking” project went long) but I arrived and Karl was in the same quandary. Too much stuff and not a big enough vehicle. It was decided that both Karl and I would leave Jim’s SUV at Karl’s so Jim loaded up his stuff in my Acadia and we followed Karl to Square Lake, MN.

The course is all inclusive. In other words, we had to do all of the work BEFORE we could dive. This included cutting the hole, removing the blocks of ice that were cut, shoveling around the hole and getting the ropes tethered to the ice so they didn’t fall into the water by mistake. A big Oops!

Once this fairly ambitious project was completed we found out which order we were scheduled to go diving. On our first dive we were at the end of the rope as “trainees” while a support staff/dive master was next in line on the rope to “talk” back and forth to the “Tender” who was on his platform above the hole directing traffic and controlling the rope. Very elaborate but very necessary as it turns out…

The dive order was Karl, Eric, Erica, Daniel Russ & Jim. So I was 5th out of 6. Actually I was OK with that as I’d prefer some others to have the experience so I could gauge what the hell I’d gotten myself into… All of these “first round” dives were Tender to Divemaster to Trainee. My dive ended early as I had a frozen regulator that began to free-flow. In other words the air was escaping in all of the wrong places. Luckily for me Mark (my Divemaster ) was there to assist by offering me his spare AND giving the tender the “high” sign to get us back to the surface. It all worked as planned… I made it without any other issues other than the usual adrenaline rush after the “incident.”

Once finished we reviewed all of the highlights (and glitches) and began the second round of dives. In this scenario the Trainees became the “Divemasters” controlling the rope while the Divemasters were at the end acting as the “trainees” to give us trainees experience using the rope and signaling the Tender. 

Karl was up first again and in he went.

By the time Karl went in it was getting dark and you don’t want to be on the lake after dark (for one thing I think it’s against Park rules) so we started packing up and calling it a day. This included throwing all of our wet stuff in the vehicle, throwing most of the ice blocks back into the hole then surrounding the hole with a snow fence along with signs to warn others that there was a hole in the ice (snowmobilers and other vehicles probably wouldn’t appreciate it if they ended up in the hole or running into any remaining ice chunks we’d removed from the hole).

That’s it for the very LONG first day except for the 3 of us stopping at the Gasthaus Bavarian Hunter for a beer and an appetizer to celebrate surviving the first day. 

In this picture Russ (that’s me) was in his dry suit and keeping his feet off of the ice to see if they’d warm up a bit while the others took their turns diving. Sunglasses and 45 degrees. Not bad!

My second dive as the “Divemaster” (#733):
Phil (the Divemaster who was with Jim just before us) was still near the water warming up as much as possible, probably wondering if we were actually going back in after all of the excitement. I maneuvered toward the hole and rolled in with my BC inflated. Phil also dropped in the water and was ready to go. Both of us looked at each other and wondered… but decided, we’re here and all was well… We discussed our dive plan then deflated our BCs and dropped to the platform below. I descended to the platform and settled in checking y buoyancy while checking my gear very aware of any anomalies. Phil watched as I checked things then gave him the “OK” sign and began to move off of the platform in the direction of the next platform, the “F” Bomb platform.

We arrived at the platform and drifted above for a bit. I was still checking everything to be sure all was well. I can’t speak for Phil but I have a feeling that he was checking himself and me while we moved along. We compared notes and decided to head back to the primary platform where we stopped again and compared notes.


All was going well so we headed to the “chainsaw” platform and arrived a few minutes later. I stopped and checked my gear, charged my pony and checked in with Phil. We looked at each other and decided to head back to the primary platform once again. We headed back to the primary platform and stopped again to check things over and discuss our next step. I looked at Phil and he looked at me. My hands were cold so I gave him the “surface ???” sign and we slowly ascended to finish our dive a bit early but unscathed… 🙂


My third and final dive (solo) for this course (#734):
This dive, at first, seemed to be my most difficult yet. The idea that I’d be scuba diving all alone in Square Lake in the middle of winter in very cold water with a bunch of things that could (and sometimes did) go wrong didn’t give me the confident feeling I was used to in most of my previous diving experience.

With that said I was eager to get through this course and there was only one way forward so I relaxed, did some breathing exercises and calmed myself down for the “grand finale.” As Erica was finishing we went through the usual preparation and double-checking. My support people (I think it was Karl, Daniel and Mark) helped me to the edge of the hole and sat me down for the final plunge. Again, I calmed myself and breathed until I was settled in then in I went.

I rolled into the hole and floated for a short time finding and checking everything one last time. Once sure I was “proper” I deflated my BC and descended to the platform below holding on to the rope. I made sure my buoyancy was good the headed off to the first platform.

As it turns out I really didn’t plan which way to go so I just headed for the first platform at the left-front corner and headed out. It turned out to be the “F-Bomb” platform. I reached it and stayed there for a moment then turned and headed back to the primary platform. After returning I went to the next corner and followed the string to that platform all the while checking everything and making sure my buoyancy was proper. I found the next platform (toilet) and descended to it for a short time. I checked my gear, charged my pony tank and looked around then headed back to the primary platform.

Returning I settled in for a short period before choosing the next corner to head out from. This time I hit a cloud of silt where the visibility was bad so I stopped, turned around and headed back. Once back to “home base” I choose the fourth corner and headed in that direction. I came up on the boat but didn’t get much passed it until I ran into the silt cloud again so I turned around and headed back Well, I’d been to all four corners and my dive had only taken about 15 minutes so I hung around the platform for a couple more minutes before ascending and finishing my dive.

I hit the hole and was hauled up and out of the water for the typical removal of gear. I stood up and headed for the tent to warm up my hands.

This was my best dive of the three as it went without a hitch as well as being very much like a “normal” dive. No malfunctions, no mishaps, just a regular dive. It was actually pretty good.The time seemed to pass quickly and the visibility was limited but OK except for the silt blooms I ran into. All in all a good dive…


Wrap Up:
By the time I was warm again the team was preparing to pack up. A very coordinated effort I chalked up to these guys had done this before. Ice cubes back in the hole, snow fence with “Thin Ice” warning signs placed around the hole, fold up the shelter, collect all of our equipment and gear then loaded up the cars/trucks.

A final course summary with Scott thanking everyone for all the effort and assistance during the “incidents” as well as a “Team Picture” or three. As we finished the sun came out and the wind died just in time to say our goodbyes and head for the hills.

We headed back to the shop to drop off tanks and rental equipment then headed for the Twisted Cork for a celebratory beer and cheese curds. The course ended well but we discussed and reflected on the problem areas we had and what we could have done better. Once the beer was gone we headed back to Karl’s place to drop him off and unload Jim’s gear from my vehicle in to his. We said our goodbyes and headed our separate ways.