Hours later I’m still buzzing from my swim today. Lake Crescent in Washington’s Olympic Peninsula is one of the most beautiful lakes I’ve ever been to and I’m giddy with the thrill of having gotten to swim in it. Also profoundly grateful that this challenge gets me out exploring places I might otherwise miss. Had I not been determined to swim this morning I would have happily spent the morning strolling around Port Angeles with Eliza until our ferry departed, oblivious to the existence of this gorgeous body of water a half-hour away. It would still have been a lovely day, but swimming in Lake Crescent was so much better.
When I reached out to the Western Washington Open Water Swim group on Facebook, Lake Crescent was the resounding favorite recommendation. I looked it up and was immediately enamored. But then I started hearing about how cold it was and got nervous. I am definitely ready to experiment with dips in colder waters after feeling quite acclimated to the low 50s (and occasionally high 40s) of the San Francisco Bay, but Lake Crescent was below 40 (how much below, I didn’t know. The report on the website just said, below 40). Was that too cold for me?
I woke up this morning to gray skies and an air temperature of around 35 and decided to forget Lake Crescent and swim in the sea instead. But then a super helpful person in the Facebook group let me know that the alternative I was thinking of was probably just as cold as Lake Crescent because it’s fed by a river and that I would be very sad to miss the lake. She was right! Also, I had finally unboxed my wetsuit for this trip and so I had that to reassure me.
Eliza and I oohed and ahhed our way to the lake; it was one of those drives where each twist in the road reveals a more breathtaking vista. Steep mountains shrouded in mist, tall pines, and everything frosted lightly like it had been sprinkled with icing sugar. When we arrived at the turnoff to the lake we were greeted by a “Road Closed” sign and my heart sank. Closer inspection revealed that folks with houses on the lake were allowed to proceed so we donned the persona of people with a local address and drove past the barriers. The question of why the road was closed and whether it might be impassable at some point niggled at me, but luckily we saw the turn-off for the beach I was planning to swim at right away.
Whatever nerves had been plaguing me about the cold fell away as soon as we took in the water in front of us. It was perfection. I leaped from the car and started stripping off clothes and putting on swim gear. I opted to wear the wetsuit and was pleased to discover it was pretty flexible and comfortable.
The intense beauty of the location was amazing enough, but the water… the water! It was crystal clear. I mean clear like looking through glass and gazing down upon the smooth stones of the lake bottom. Of course, I forgot my GoPro! I’m very sad about that—I remembered it at La Quinta’s tiny swimming pool but forgot it at a gobsmackingly beautiful lake? What the heck is wrong with me? So you are going to have to take my word for it that the water was deliciously clear.
And cold. It was cold. I wore my gloves, but they pretty much made no difference. My hands ached from the start and kept on aching through my short swim. The wetsuit was warm, though. Almost too warm. I missed the thrill of cold water immersion. I might have been able to go without, but I don’t know. I swam back and forth close to shore, soaking in the view, the mountains looming over me, the smells of the pines, and the cold. It was elating.
Eliza called me back after ten minutes. She was my photographer and lifeguard and didn’t want me to get too cold. It was a short swim but the incredible feeling of well-being that seeped into me from the crystal clear water of Lake Crescent has stayed with me all day.