A Juneau man is warning of unsafe ice conditions after going into the water at Mendenhall Lake on Wednesday.
Scott Fischer of the Juneau Nordic Ski Club was preparing to groom part of the lake when his snowmachine got bogged down in the slushy overflow. The snowmachine sank at least two feet on a partially-submerged layer of ice and Fischer was forced to try swimming out.
“I did get about twenty-feet and, finally, I was able to scoot myself up on to the ice,” remembers Fischer.
“It broke under me a couple times, but eventually it held me. I was able to crawl on my stomach for about twenty feet, and then get to my hands and knees, and then eventually to my feet,” said Fischer.
“And then I walked ashore.”
Even though temperatures ranged from the single digits to the twenties this week, recent snowfall may have insulated the overflow and prevented it from freezing up. The snow also hindered a visual assessment of the lake ice.
Fischer recommends staying off Mendenhall Lake because of the dangerous conditions that will only get worse with rising temperatures.
Retrieving the snowmobile
Fischer, Peter Ord, Del Carnes and Don Thomas returned to the snowmachine on Thursday, with a plan to use a helicopter to hoist it out, but fog and low clouds delayed the recovery. While they were waiting for the clouds to lift, Ord and Fischer decided to try a come along winch.
“So we put in four ice screws about 100 feet away from the machine and attached kind of a very simple, cheesy little come along to the ice screws and a rope to the snow machine and just started working it forward,” Ord said. “It actually moved quite easily. So with 45 minutes of repeating and resetting the come along we had it (snowmobile) on top of the ice. ”
Ord calls the helicopter idea “over-thinking” the problem. “But in the beginning we were just too nervous about how thick the ice was underneath the machine. There was two feet of water on top of that ice,” Ord says.
The snowmobile was submerged up to the seat, with the top part of the seat, the handlebars and upper part of the cowling exposed.
Ord says once Don Thomas measured the ice under the snowmobile and found it was really quite thick, they were less concerned. When the machine was finally pulled out, it was towed to shore and taken to Carnes’ shop for repair.