Swimming Out And Back Across Lake Tahoe

Swimming Out And Back Across Lake Tahoe

Ken Harmon will attempt to become the first person to do a two-way crossing of Lake Tahoe without a wetsuit.

Given the high altitude (6,225 feet or 1,897 meters) and extreme air temperatures (ranging to 45°F or 7°C at night), in addition to the cool water temperatures (between 12.7-15.5°C or 55-60°F), this 44-mile (70.8K) marathon swim is truly an extreme adventure in an alpine lake nestled between California and Nevada.

Cold, high, long and rough (in the afternoon) – there are plenty of obstacles to overcome.

Besides Ken‘s athletic goal, he is also raising money for Best Buddies International, The Down Syndrome Network of Northern Nevada and the Karen Gaffney Foundation.

With a one-way crossing of Lake Tahoe under his belt in 2005, Ken is prepping for the greatest physical and mental challenge of his life and shared his thoughts with The Daily News:

The Daily News: What is your greatest concern about your swim?
Ken: My greatest concern is the distance in fresh water over 30 miles and the preparation I have done for the last 14 – 18 months. How will I feel? What will I have to overcome and when? Controlling emotions during the 10 hours of night swimming, staying calm and focusing on stroke technique and very efficient feedings every half hour.

The Daily News: How are you training for this swim?
Ken: Training is a delicate balance between lots of yardage and not getting any nagging injuries. Some weeks I was able to approach 40K; other weeks it was challenging to swim 20K with family, work and volunteer duties. I like to think of my training as quality and also very consistent for many years. One great barometer is swimming the length of Donner Lake several weeks before tackling Tahoe and this year was one of my best performances since 2005, my last Tahoe length.

The Daily News: What did you learn on your one-way crossing that will help with your two-way crossing?
Ken: I learned many lessons from swimming the length of Tahoe in 2005: my hydration was outstanding and my pace was surprising to me, see my website for more specific details. The water temperature during the day was not even an issue as I removed my swim cap at hour 4 because I was hot. When swimming Tahoe it is important to know upfront that you are not going to feel good for many segments of the swim. There are moments when no pain is felt at all and those are welcomed times. Pain seems to migrate all over the body at various times, but the good news is if you can concentrate on something else, the pain never lasts and then moves somewhere else. I will be strictly following the English Channel rules for a double crossing with only 10 minutes at Camp Richardson and feet in the water.

The Daily News: No wetsuit, right?
Ken: I don’t even own a wetsuit. All of my open water swims are without a wetsuit.

The Daily News: What is your expected time of completion?
Ken: The expected time of completion is between 24 – 26 hours from start.

The Daily News: What is the date of your swim?Ken: August 21 – 22nd. My plan is to leave from the Hyatt Beach at 5 pm on Saturday, August 21st. I want to swim the first length in the dark when I am the strongest and maintain a pace each half hour between 1650 – 2250 yards.

The Daily News: Why did you pick that date?
Ken: I am superstitious and the 22nd is my lucky number. I want to finish the double ‘down and back’ on 8/22 five years from my first length swim.

The number of individuals who have swum the length of Lake Tahoe in history are fewer than the number of swimmers who cross the English Channel in the peak months of July and August nowadays. According to local open water swimming historian Dean Moser who has been boating on Lake Tahoe for over 25 years, “Most of the solo swimmers start in the early morning to avoid the harsh afternoon winds which come from the south starting at about 3 pm depending on the time of the year. The winds streaming across Lake Tahoe are high mountain country winds and come up suddenly and create rolling waves on the average of 2-3 feet. The reason swimmers go from south to north [in the lake] is because the winds come primarily from the south and if they have to endure them it would be best if the waves pushed the swimmer.”

1. On August 28th 1955, 29-year-old Fred Rogers swam 19.96 miles in 19 hours and 6 minutes from Kings Beach to Bijou.

2. In July 25th 1962, 16-year-old Erline Christopherson swam 16.76 miles in 13 hours and 17 minutes from Baldwin Beach to Dollar Point.

3. On October 6th 1963, 13-year-old Leonore Modell swam 20.49 miles in 13 hours and 34 minutes from Tahoe Keys to Kings Beach.

4. On September 12th 1987, 35-year-old Dave Kenyon of Novato, California swam 20.81 miles in 9 hours and 20 minutes from Tahoe Keys Marina to Hyatt Beach. Dave has several records in San Francisco Bay to his name, including a 6-mile Bay Bridge to Golden Gate Swim in 53 minutes, a 14-mile Aquatic Park around Angel Island Swim in 4 hours and 32 minutes, a double Golden Gate crossing (over and back) in 52 minutes, the longest swim in San Francisco Bay (41 miles or 65.9K) from the Carquinez Bridge to the Oyster Point near San Francisco Airport in 10 hours 31 minutes (a distance of over 41 miles) and an Alcatraz-to-Aquatic Park swim in 23 minutes and 31 seconds.

5. On September 9th 1989, 31-year-old Grant Heck swam 21.02 miles in 12 hours and 3 minutes from Tahoe Keys Marina to Incline Village.

6. On September 10th 1989, 28-year-old Suzie Dods swam 17.63 miles in 11 hours and 7 minutes from Dollar Point to Regan Beach.

7. On September 20th 2003, 39-year-old Laura Colette swam 20.53 miles in 12 hours and 36 minutes from Camp Richardson to Kings Beach.

8. In July 2004, Laura Colette swam the lake a second time from the Hyatt Beach to Camp Richardson in 12 hours 2 minutes, which is the only north-south swim.

9. On July 24th 2003, 54-year-old acclaimed King of the Channel Kevin Murphy swam 20.66 miles in 13 hours and 56 minutes from Popes Beach to Kings Beach.

10. On August 15th 2005, 39-year-old Brucker Chase of Santa Cruz, California swam 20.53 miles in 11 hours and 16 minutes from Camp Richardson to Kings Beach. Brucker said afterwards, “I finish this feeling humbled, not invincible. I’ve never not finished anything. I thought about getting out, but I didn’t want to let (my support crew) down. I watched my dad suffer through an illness for 15 years. I’ve got this legacy of people who I admire who endured more than I did just swimming across the lake. I wanted to make sure I could live up to that and until I had given everything I had, I wasn’t about to (quit).”

11. On August 22nd 2005, then 45-year-old Ken Harmon of Danville, California swam 21.24 miles in 11 hours and 19 minutes from Camp Richardson to Hyatt Beach. Ken’s charity swim marked the longest possible route across Lake Tahoe according to the U.S. Coast Guard. With the air temperature at 4°C (40°F) at the start, Ken admitted, “There I was standing in the water, thinking to myself ‘This is nuts. You’re 45 years old, what are you doing? What is wrong with you?’ I was so nervous to get started. But once I did, it was very calming. Once I got that pace just past mile 14, I knew I was going to make it. The people in the boats were holding signs out letting me know where I was at. I thought I had a chance to break that guy’s time from last week. But then the final two miles came and I knew that was going to be tough.” Ken’s swim ultimately raised tens of thousands of dollars for the pool and Danville Aquatic Center team.

12. On August 12th 2006, 48-year-old Tom Linthicum swam 20.65 miles in 16 hours and 29 minutes.

13. On September 30th 2007, 44-year-old Catheryne Diprete, a former gymnast and two-time NCAA Division I competitive diver from Novato, California (shown on the left with Dean Moser), swam 21.09 miles in 10 hours and 14 minutes from Tahoe Keys West Channel to Hyatt Beach.

Catheryne swam the width twice to practice for her length-wise challenge and considers nutrition during a solo swim to be vitally important, “What you eat while you swim is important. Your body goes through a physical change somewhere around the fifth or sixth hour – your body has to start burning fat for energy.”

14. In August 2009, Karen Rogers did a 10 hour 50 minute 21.5-mile crossing of Lake Tahoe to be nominated as one of the Great Open Water Performances of 2009.

15. Patti Bauernfeind‘s 10 hour and 38 minute 21.5-mile crossing of Lake Tahoe in California that was also nominated for the Great Open Water Performances of 2009.

Historical information courtesy of Dean Moser.

Copyright © 2010 by Steven Munatones
Steven Munatones