Bárbara Hernández Huerta, The Ice Mermaid, Crosses Lake Chungará At 4,560m
Bárbara Hernández Huerta, The Ice Mermaid, Crosses Lake Chungará At 4,560mCourtesy of WOWSA, Chungará Lake, Andes Mountains, Chile.
Bárbara Hernández Huerta, known in Spanish as la Sirena de Hielo and in English as the Ice Mermaid, lived up to her name this past week. On November 28th, she completed 7.5 km high-altitude swim across Chungará Lake in the Andes Mountains on the border of Chile and Bolivia in 10°C water.
She said of the 2 hour 11 minute crossing, “I saw the Parinacota Volcano on each stroke. It was was so so hard – only with my normal swimsuit.“
Hernández lives in Santiago, Chile. When she is not swimming in glacial lakes and in cold waters around the world, she works as a child and adolescent psychologist with a masters degree in research. Currently, she is responsible for the development of sports programs and administration of sports venues in a poor municipality of Santiago.
Hernández talked about ice swimming near glaciers in her native Chile in a previous interview.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: When did you start swimming in the Chilean Patagonia? Why?
Bárbara Hernández Huerta: I started in 2015. After swimming with Matías Ola in front of the Perito Moreno Glacier (Nado Frente al Glaciar Perito Moreno Parque Nacional Los Glaciares in Spanish) in Argentina in 2014 and getting to know the world of winter swimming, I decided to get the permits and start swimming in my country with the desire to swim the Winter Swimming World Championships in Tyumen [Russia] in March 2016.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: When you swam in Jorge Montt, Steffens, O Higgins, Calluqueo, San Rafael and Grey, how long did you swim?
Bárbara Hernández Huerta: I always remain in the water between 10 to 15 minutes, sometimes longer. The water temperature of these glaciers goes from 0°C in the Steffens Glacier on November 9th 2016, 4°C in the O’Higgins Glacier on November 12th 2016, and Grey Glacier on October 9th 2017, and 5°C in the Calluqueo Glacier on November 14th 2016, the Jorge Montt Glacier on November 4th 2016, and the San Rafael Glacier on August 27th 2016.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Do you swim from shore and then back to the start? Do you remember how far (in kilometers) that you swam?
Bárbara Hernández Huerta: This depends on how much detachment there is in the glacier. In the Jorge Montt Glacier, Calluqueo and Steffens, I went in and returned to a shore. In Grey, San Rafael and O Higgins, I was able to swim in one direction until the boat stopped me.
My big mistake was due to inexperience and I did not make sure to certify the distance immediately. So I plan to leave doubts and will return to swim again in these beautiful places and document all the information and follow the regulations.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What future swims do you plan on doing?
Bárbara Hernández Huerta: I am planning to repeat these six glacier swims and hopefully add some new ones, maybe next year. Also, during the International Winter Swimming Association 2018-2019 season, I plan to compete on the IWSA World Cup circuit in Latvia, Belarus, Slovenia and in Karelia. I have competed on the IWSA circuit every year since 2016 and swum in Latvia, Russia, Belarus, England, Finland, and Estonia.
In August 2019, I have an opportunity to swim the English Channel and I am planning on a date, maybe in June, when I can swim the Catalina Channel as there have been no Chilean swimmers who have tried it before. I am also starting to plan maybe until the year 2020-2021 to realize my great dream to swim the Oceans Seven.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Do you ever swim with other people or do you always swim alone?
Bárbara Hernández Huerta: In the International Winter Swimming Association competitions, I compete with more swimmers, but in Chile, it is more difficult because there are still not many interested in cold water. In Patagonia, I have always swum by myself based on the availability of permits, but I train in Laguna del Inca in the Andean mountain range at 2,800 meters high that has water temperature in the 1°C – 5°C range that I have been able to share with more swimmers, friends and even my father.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Do you ever teach or coach other people to swim in cold water?
Bárbara Hernández Huerta: I have tried to transfer my experience to other swimmers or interested people, especially the important lessons of acclimatization and recovery. I have been able to share and learn from great references such as Nuala Moore, Jaimie Monahan, and Cristian Vergara. But I always feel that I still have a lot to learn.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Who is on your escort or safety team?
Bárbara Hernández Huerta: My main security team is composed of my boyfriend Jorge Villalobos who usually travels with me to the IWSA competitions, Carolina Rodríguez who is a swimmer and a professional photographer, Elena Castillo who works at Ski Portillo who possesses medical knowledge and experience. In Patagonia, we add health personnel, the captain of the boat, guides of tourism companies or even authorities in the area.
Daily News of Open Water Swimming: When did you learn how to swim? Did you used to swim in a pool as a competitive or masters swimmer?
Bárbara Hernández Huerta: I learned to swim at age 6, and then I started on the competitive swimming team and have never stopped training. I was selected nationally to compete in open water races. I competed in South American Games ODESUR Pacific Cup and was captain of my swimming team in the University of Chile. I competed for them until receiving my masters degree in psychology in 2016.
During that time I crossed the Strait of Magellan, the Canal de Chacao that separates Chiloé Island from mainland Chile, 7 km in Lake Titicaca, and other swims. I currently compete in the master swimming circuit of Chile. For me, swimming is my life, and a way to motivate others to work for their own dreams.
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