Several hundred people converged on about 100 feet of lakeshore behind The Raven Brewpub and Grille on the first day of the new year to watch about a significantly smaller crowd of about 100 jump in the lake.
The temperature was warmer than the day before, but still hovered below freezing in the 25 to 30 degree range. It wasn’t sunny, but the fog had dissipated to revealthe frozen, snow-covered hillside beyond the beach and some of the islands out on the lake.
Most folks huddled around a couple fire pits that sat around the lake, some with beers and other drinks from the bar, and waited in anticipation. As the time for the plunge drew near, more and more people migrated from the fire pits down to the lakeshore a stone’s throw away.
After the announcer reminded people how cold it was and Flathead County Search and Rescue had paddled into position, those nearest the water plunged in. There were four or five lines of people, so as one group emerged from the water and began quickly rushing back to shore, the next wave strode by them and took their own chilly dip in the icy lake waters.
After two or three repetitions, the scene on the beach devolved into chaos. Some raced into the water, slipping on rocks as they tried to make it back to their clothes, while others headed out into the same scrum their brethren were trying to escape and still others were simply paddling about enjoying the water.
That water, frigid as it was, was actually warmer than the air said Yellow Bay resident Steve McCurry.
“The water is warmer than it is outside, so it was actually getting out of the water that was the hard part,” McCurry said.
This was his first time at the event, but he said he intended to come back next year.
“I will be back next year with toe warmers and maybe some hand warmers, but other than that I feel good,” he said.
The day say a dose of drama about 25 minutes before any human dipped a toe in the water. A gaggle of geese were swimming to and fro just beyond the dock while people milled about with their drinks on the deck.
The flock’s presence did not go unnoticed by one canine in attendance
The large dog took off into the water to pursue the geese, and no one seemed to think much of it at first. The dog received some cheers for being an early brave soul to venture in the cold water, but then folks turned their attention to preparing for their own upcoming dip.
Minutes passed, and the dog had yet to return. He swam near a group of geese which would honk in alarm and swim quickly away.
In this manner, the dog slowly moved out into the lake. Several yards turned to several dozen, and alarm began to spread among the congregation, some of whom were taking off their clothes and getting ready to jump in themselves.
Some on the deck commented they thought the dogs paddle was slowing, and worried he was getting too tired to stay afloat. Around that time, the search and rescue arrived on scene.
They quickly pulled out a canoe from beneath the deck and got ready to go and perform a rescue, but the canoe had frozen water in one end. For about a minute they hacked at the ice, then appeared to decide they didn’t have the time.
Search and rescue tried to board the canoe, but the it was determined that the frozen ballast in front threw off the balance too much to make a viable rescue.
They called for the man with the hatchet to continue his work and retrieved the inflatable tubes they later used during the human plunge.
At this point, a lone, heroic goose split off from the group and made his way toward a private dock where someone had walked out to call to the dog. The goose led the dog close enough to the dock where the canine turned his attention to the woman calling his name, and he crawled into shore just as the search and rescue members were set to launch again.
The dog, having had his fill of the water, instead watched the rest of the group jump in several minutes later, and stuck to the shore for the rest of the day.
Reporter Peregrine Frissell can be reached at (406) 758-4438 or firstname.lastname@example.org.