How Are High-Altitude Swims Defined?

How Are High-Altitude Swims Defined?

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

Most recently, South African Madswimmers Jean Craven, Juandre Human, Hardi Wilkins and Megan Harrington-Johnson crossed the highest water body in Africa, Lewis Tarn at 4700 m above sea level high up on the slopes in Mount Kenya in 6.5°C water.

There have not been many of these high-altitude solo swims and even fewer races, but these types of swims do exist from the 10-mile Olympic Club Trans-Tahoe Relay, the cold-water Gar Woods Polar Bear Swim, and the solo 34.1 km 21.25-mile Lake Tahoe crossing, all conducted at 1,897 meters (6,225 feet) in altitude to the original ice mile (Speedo Ice Swim Africa) held in Fraserburg, Northern Cape in South Africa at an altitude of 1,400 meters and the new Mountain Swim Series (Solstice Swim at 1,524 meters or 5,000 feet), Carter Lake Crossing at 1,755 meters or 5,760 feet), Chatfield Classic at 1,654 meters or 5,427 feet).

In addition to the Madswimmers‘ planned Ojos Swim in December on Mount Ojos del Salado in Chile at nearly 6400 meters above sea level, there have been a handful of high-profile solo swims held at high altitudes:

* Lynne Cox became the first person to swim across Lake Titicaca from Bolivia to Peru at 3,812 meters (12,507 feet) when she swam 10 miles from the resort village of Copacabana in Bolivia to the village of Chimbo in Peru in 3 hours 48 minutes in 13-14°C (56-58°F) water in 1992.
* Cristian Vergara did a 7 km swim from the Isla de la Luna to the Isla del Sol in Lake Titicaca in May 2015.
* Lewis Pugh swam 1 km in 22 minutes 51 seconds in 2°C water at 5,200 meters (17,060 feet) across Lake Pumori, a glacial lake on the Khumbu Glacier on Mount Everest in 2010.

So how are these high-altitude swims defined by the open water swimming community?

Some may define a high-altitude swim as a swim in an open body of water at a minimum of 1,000 meters (or 3,281 feet). Others may define high-altitude swims as a swim at least at 1 mile (or 1609 meters or 5278 feet) in altitude. But there are other questions to be answered and will be defined by future generations of high-altitude swimmers:

* Is 5,000 meters to be defined as ultra high-altitude swims?
* Are there set minimum swimming distances for these high-altitude swims? What is reasonable: 250 meters or 1 km or 1 mile and more?
* If a swim is not at a marathon distance (e.g., 10 km), are wetsuits encouraged or acceptable [for safety purposes and since the rules of marathon swimming do not apply]?
* What safety protocols are established or encouraged (e.g., are oxygen tanks made available or are safety lines around the waist recommended)?
* How is training at sea level best accomplished?
* How do you logistically prepare for a 1 km swim at 1,000m, 2,500m or 5,000m in altitude, especially in isolated bodies of water?

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