High-Altitude Ice Kilometer Race In Lesotho

Courtesy of Great Big Story in cooperation with Ram Barkai and the International Ice Swimming Association.

The Great Big Story covered an ice kilometer event with Ram Barkai and his colleagues the International Ice Swimming Association at the South African Ice Swimming Championships, a high-altitude swim at 3,050 meters.

We could’t miss an icy opportunity to chase the best snow in Southern Africa for 20 years,” explains Ram Barkai of the International Ice Swimming Association.

Lesotho, a sovereign country within the South African borders, boast the highest mountains in southern Africa.

Lesotho is mostly mountainous and a beautiful rugged small country, placed in the northeast part of South Africa. It has its own king and government and its own tribal structure, but the most important thing for ice swimmers is its snowy mountains

Around the highest point in Lesotho’s Bathu-Bathe area lies a small ski resort called Afriski. “One of these dams was used to host the International Ice Swimming Association 1 km event,” says Barkai. “Due the severe drought in some parts of Southern Africa, the dam has been dry for three years now. Last year, the location was beautiful, but the water temperature was around 7°C (44.6°F).”

The event was one of the qualifying events for the 2017 Ice Swimming Aqua Sphere World Championships that was just held in Burghausen, Germany.

It was a very long trip,” said Roxy van Eyk, one of the organizers. “It is a 16-hour bus trip from Cape Town.

Roxy and his team were armed with chainsaws, ice axes, pick axes, axes and hammers are set to break the 20 cm ice sheet and create a big enough open water to hold a 1 km swim. They did not have lane lines or ladders like the recent World Championships. “Afriski is a very remote place. It was simply be an open water swim,” explained Barkai. “But luckily, it is a small ski resort, so we had access to ambulances, medical facilities and a helipad.”

The swimmers had two days to acclimate with experienced high-altitude ice swimming physician Dr. Sean Gottschalk looking on as the event’s medical and safety officer.

They spent most of the acclimatization period building the swimming location, cutting through the ice, and doing short test swims.

Copyright © 2016 by World Open Water Swimming Association
Steven Munatones