It began the morning of September 7th 2013, my attempt to being the first person to scuba dive the highest named lake in the Continental United States; Pacific Tarn Lake, 13,420 feet above sea level. We arrived before dawn to Spruce Creek Trail-head. My destination was less than 2,400 feet above us, but little did I know how far away that would soon seem.
Leaving the trail-head, I adjusted my backpack for the last time and began my journey alongside my hiking partner, Mike Renner. Mike packed light for his personal journey, while I hauled 62 pounds of scuba gear, fins, mask, exposure suit, regulators and a 50 cubic feet tank; my only air supply. It didn’t take long before I realized the difficulty of carrying extreme weight while hiking miles above sea level with limited oxygen.
A few minutes into the hike, we came to plateau from which we could see an incredibly steep hill ahead. We took a breath and braced ourselves to continue our journey and began our ascent into the rigged Rocky Mountains. Along the way we were reminded that others too, have made this trek as we came across abandoned log cabins and broken down cable cars. Exhausted from the climb, we rested on the structure before continuing on to the first stop; Lower Mohawk Lake, located at 11,800 feet.
We began to question the safety of our journey and realized we were really pushing our adventurous limits. Despite the risk, we continued on the trail climbing quite steeply to Mohawk Lake at 12,180 feet. The trail quickly began to vanish into what looked more like piles of rock, and we only hoped our navigation was spot on. Two more hours of jagged terrain and extreme altitudes and we finally reaching our final destination; Pacific Tarn Lake.
We made it. We finally made it, but according to experts, the US Navy recommends waiting 12 hours following arrival at altitude before performing the first dive. However, with my experience and adventurous attitude, I ignored the risk and began to gear up. My air supply would hold me for about 30 minutes, just enough time for a short underwater exploration. Mike helped me stuff my BCD pockets with stones as I mentally prepared for a record-breaking dive. “It’s time,” I told myself.
Geared up yet still exhausted from my hike up, I made my move. The water at the shore was incredibly clear at first, but like most mountain lakes, it became murky and green as I immerged to the bottom. Too cold and high for fish and other water creatures, I was alone in the water, not another creature in sight.
The length of the dive was a total 18 minutes, including a three minutes safety stop at nine feet below water. The maximum depth was 24 feet and the water temp was about 52 degrees. Short on time and a long hike ahead of us, I wrapped up my exploration. Through the physical and mental challenges of my journey, I successfully achieved this once in a lifetime adventure. The dive into the highest named lake in the Continental United States is mine.