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Thread: Ice Question

  1. #1
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    Ice Question

    Towards the end of last week I had the chance to do some hiking in the western half of Mass. At one point, I wanted to take a shortcut across a fair-sized lake. Having been in southern Vermont the previous weekend, I saw how similar-sized lakes still had a good amount of ice on them, so I thought I'd still be in good shape (especially since it hadn't warmed up since then). At the lake's edge, I could see that the ice was at least five inches thick, and I presumed that it would be even thicker towards the center. From the water's edge I could hear some distant, infrequent, low thumping noises, which I assumed was just the sound of the ice breathing. The ice surface itself was bare and white, and seemed very solid. Walking across it, at around the midway mark I came to an area of clear ice that stretched off in both directions. The shape it took as it passed through the white ice made me think that this was perhaps where the main channel of the lake flowed through. Being overly cautious, I crossed this clear ice at a narrow section, even though it did seem really solid. At around the time I crossed the clear ice the low thumping noises gradually picked up in frequency and noise level. Plus, on the western half of the lake I noticed many more cracks and fissures in the ice. I even started to see some cracks forming a few meters away, although the ice underfoot still seemed really solid. Finally, when I was about 3/4's of the way across, all the ice noise freaked me out enough that I turned around and retreated cautiously back to the eastern shore. It wasn't until I was decently close to returning to the beach when the ice noises died off again.

    Since then, I've been wondering, was I right to turn around when I did? Or did the noises being emitted by the ice have nothing to do with me, but was merely the ice reacting and contracting due to the late morning sun beating down on it? (as this was the day that ended up getting into the forties) After all, there was a more pronounced effect on the western half of the ice, which would have been exposed to the morning sun longer than the eastern half. Any insights on this would be greatly appreciated.

  2. #2
    Senior Member TCD's Avatar
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    Well, I'll start the opinions. (Obviously, all replies will just be opinions, because none of us were there.)

    I am VERY conservative about crossing ice. The penalty for failure is WAY too large (like: Death) to fool with. I only cross ice if it's well known, well traveled, documented to be very solid, and the only practical way to get where I'm going (like Chapel Pond in the dead of winter to get to Chouinard's Gully). Other than that, I stay off it. If it costs me 45 minutes to walk around, so be it. Probability of falling through .01 X "Death" > 45 minutes of inconvenience. YMMV.

    So my opinion is if in ANY doubt, stay off.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Tom Rankin's Avatar
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  4. #4
    Senior Member Scubahhh's Avatar
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    I remember a friend falling through the ice playing hockey at Long Pond in Concord NH when I was about ten. Scooted out on my stomach until close enough that he could grab my hockey stick, then kind of crawled backward, pulling him out with me (and breaking a lot of ice as we went!). Scared the h-e-double-hockey-sticks out of me, and now I'm wicked careful.
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    Ice safety picks and a reliable way to start/maintain a fire (carried on your person) might be prudent.

    I will travel along the edge of lakes and ponds but I do not venture out more than a few feet away from shore unless I know there has been a sustained, uninterupted period of below freezing temepratures.

    The other danger in the early spring is ice dams letting loose on rivers and streams.

  6. #6
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    Once any melting occurs in the streams running into a lake or pond, its time to clear off as the ice starts to erode from underneath. The heavy rain this weekend is such a case. Generally the ice in the center of the pond is far more reliable than the shores but underwater springs can also erode out under the ice. Generally when the ice is "talking" in warm weather its time to stay on shore if you dont know the pond. Folks with long experience on a particular body of water sometimes risk the ice far later in spring.

  7. #7
    Senior Member nartreb's Avatar
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    When you're watching cracks form, it's a good idea to get the heck away.

    Ice can melt out very suddenly. On my local lake a week ago, I walked out on Saturday morning but didn't go very far. Some visible weaknesses here and there, melting around the rocks on the shore, but there was solid enough ice to walk on much of the lake. Saturday night was cold, and there were some fishermen on the ice early Sunday morning. Sunday afternoon, about a third of the lake opened up. By evening essentially all the ice was gone.

    Weak spots aren't always visible, you need to know where the streams flow in and out, whether the water level has changed recently, and the recent weather. As you saw, it's often the case that one side of a lake is more solid than another.

  8. #8
    Senior Member iagreewithjamie's Avatar
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    Good thread. There were ice fishermen out in Worcester Saturday morning before the rain. There were areas where the ice had melted, and the entire pond had standing water puddles on the surface... yet the fishermen persist. No way I'd go out there in that frozen swiss cheese pond. No way.
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  9. #9
    Senior Member DayTrip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by peakbagger View Post
    Once any melting occurs in the streams running into a lake or pond, its time to clear off as the ice starts to erode from underneath. The heavy rain this weekend is such a case.
    My thought exactly. And without knowing the structure of the lake its hard to know where submerged rock humps, feeder creeks, sandy areas and other features that heat up quicker might be. I agree with Tom too that I won't go where I know it is shoulder depth or deeper. If I should fall through I want to hit bottom with my head out and at least have a fighting chance of hauling myself to shore. If the ice is anything less than solid white I don't go on it. I would never walk on clear ice regardless of its apparent thickness.

    Too many stories every year about mishaps on the ice. Don't want to be on that list.

  10. #10
    Moderator Peakbagr's Avatar
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    Nate,
    I went through a period of ice fishing for a number of years. Out on the ice at 5am, cut holes, fish and freeze all day, back across the lake, into the woods for the hike to the car late in the afternoon.
    Late in the season the sun melts the snow near the shore and the warm soil warms the ice and ice disappears, usually from the shoreline out. We'd carry 40 lbs in frame packs, so late in the day he'd often have to find a place to run and jump across the open water to shore. No big deal in shallow water with a short walk to cars.

    My rules of thumb:
    Always unbuckle waist and sternum straps when crossing ice you are unfamiliar with or not positive it's thick enough to carry you.
    Unless positive of conditions, carry picks around your neck ( 2 thick dowels with cut nails driven into their bases )connected by a piece of nylon cord.
    Look at topographic maps. They'll give you an idea where the water flows into and flows out of the body of water. Moving water means thinner ice or barely any ice. Stay well away and don't cross or near those areas. This is where trucks, snowmobiles and people fall through ice in the dead of a cold winter.
    Always go with a partner and don't walk near each other.
    A lot of the groaning and noise you hear is the lake making ice if the temp is below freezing.
    Remember, ice is not like a frozen pane of glass. The air in it makes it less dense than water so the ice is floating on the water underneath.
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  11. #11
    Moderator bikehikeskifish's Avatar
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    You wanna get freaked out by ice, try ice fishing smelt on Great Bay or the rivers that feed into it - tidal ice - goes up and down with the tide. On the rising tide, water starts coming up through the holes, and then the whole sheet floats up and the water drops back into the whole. On the falling tide, the entire sheet drops 1/2" with a "whump" every 30 minutes or so.

    Tim
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  12. #12
    Senior Member DougPaul's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Peakbagr View Post
    Remember, ice is not like a frozen pane of glass. The air in it makes it less dense than water so the ice is floating on the water underneath.
    Ice floats with or without the air in it.

    Unlike most other substances, water expands when it freezes and becomes less dense. Therefore the solid form floats on the liquid form.

    Air trapped in the solid will, however, increase the flotation.

    Doug

  13. #13
    Moderator Peakbagr's Avatar
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    I'm sure we're all aware of that, DP.
    Is there any ice that doesn't have air ?
    "The fact that going off the deep end appears
    to be a requisite to doing anything of consequence
    in this life has not escaped me." Jim Harrison

  14. #14
    Senior Member DougPaul's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Peakbagr View Post
    I'm sure we're all aware of that, DP.
    Is there any ice that doesn't have air ?
    Yes-it is pretty easy to make ice that contains virtually no air.

    Also the clear ice described by the OP has very little air in it.

    Doug

  15. #15
    Senior Member TCD's Avatar
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    People who go through the ice float too, becasue they have air in them...

    ...that is, until their lungs fill with pond water; then they sink...

    ...but a few weeks later they will float again...

    Moral: Stay off questionable ice, unless you are wearing a drysuit and a pfd.

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