Safety on Ice

I grew up given a ‘fear’ of the ice.

“Stay off the ice, you’ll fall through and die!”, my mom would always tell me during the winter months when I’d go outside to play with neighbourhood friends (that was during the days when video games existed and people knew what ‘outside’ was all about).

I adhered to that advice up to only a couple of short weeks ago, when I ventured out onto a frozen lake by foot, and then just a few days ago with the Jeep.

On foot, I ventured out only when I had seen many others safely venturing out and returning. I was also in the company of experienced ice divers, some of who were already wearing their dry suits and I knew that they could perform a water rescue if necessary.

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The ice was very ‘chatty’. You could walk along for several minutes, and then hear a very loud ‘crack’, from somewhere close by. It’s a very unnerving experience, but in the back of your mind you do know that this solid lake can’t go anywhere. Those cracks form like jigsaw puzzle pieces still locked firmly together.

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Fast forward another week, and I’m out on a frozen lake – driving across it with the Jeep.

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This was only done under the direction of a guide, who was already out on the lake with his pickup truck that is heavier than the Jeep. Myself and a small group of friends ventured out for a day of ice fishing. Once again, the frozen lake was quite talkative with the cracking of ice, but I was much more comfortable in knowing the sounds it would be making.

On my return, I did get to wondering what might be safe levels of ice for being ‘on foot’, and by vehicle. A bit of running the idea through the Google machine resulted in what seems to be the following standards – assuming your on a solid pond or lake ice. Flowing rivers and streams are a lot different.

(oops, I forgot, a couple of weeks prior to walking on the frozen lake, I was walking on frozen river in Maligne Canyon).

Safe ice thickness – assuming solid (not slushy) ice on a frozen pond or lake:
3 inches – single person – on foot only
4 inches – group of people – walking single file, about 3 feet separation
8 inches – small passenger car
10 inches – medium to light truck
12 inches – heavy truck
15 inches – 10 tons
20 inches – 25 tons.

Apparently, slushy ice would get you roughly 20 percent less strength – so stay clear of 3 inch thick slushy ice!

Remember, this is simply a guideline. What could be 10 inch thick ice in one spot, could be a lot thinner a few hundred feet away based on the climate, wind, and flow the of water underneath. Check with local experts on the area you’re planning to venture out on and if in doubt, just don’t risk it!

If on the ice with your vehicle, don’t park together – stay roughly 50′ apart, and move vehicles every couple of hours. Better yet, auger a hole near the vehicle and watch for water coming up – that means the ice is sinking!

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Deep down within the frozen brook I hear a murmur faint and sweet,
And lo! The ice breaks as I look, and living waters touch my feet.
–Jane Goodwin Austin

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