Much of the history from this lake comes from old newspapers, some from stories and some has evolved from legends passed on from generation to generation. Legends of the lake, that perks my interest! This is a lake that intrigues me and one that I want to get more familiar with. What better way to do that than to get into the water and swim, swim , swim!
Lake Willoughby has Many unique qualities. It has been described as mysterious, threatening and ominous. Some days you look between the majestic cliff faces of Mount Pisgah and Mount Hor and the wind is howling, the water angrily forming foamy white caps, and black clouds expelling driving rain pelting on your back as you swim. On other days the lake is like glass mirroring the reflection of the mountains that stand at attention alongside the shoreline. The thing to understand about Lake Willoughby is that it can change on a dime! One minute a lamb next minute a lion!
Geologists report that Willoughby Lake was formed by glacial ice driving down from Canada in a time long before us. The thick unforgiving ice gauged out a path of least resistance, dividing mountains and leaving only the strongest rocks in place, those of Mount Pisgah & Mount Hor. Eventually the ice melted and left behind two majestic mountains with sheer cliff faces overlooking a deep mesmerizing lake.
The mountains stand guard over the deepest part of the lake and when you swim between them one feels like they are granting you permission to proceed….or not! Here the lake is at it’s narrowest. Here is where the wind is at it’s peak as it whips between the mountains the water dancing with white caps. I call this part of the lake ” the Willoughby wind tunnel”
The North End of the Lake
The North End boasts a large sandy beach, the water is warmest at the north end it’s away from the deep colder water between Mount Pisgah & Mount Hor. It has a generously sized parking lot and easy access to the beach. The entry level is very gradual. If you are racing here it is worth practicing your shallow water entry skills and exit skills! The good news is it is all sand and easy underfoot!
The South Beach
The South Beach is smaller and more sheltered. It is not unusual for the the South end water temperature to be 3-4 F Cooler than the North End. It is closer to the deeper part of the lake and being surrounded like a baseball gloves by the mountains it seems to have less sun exposure than the North End.
THE FIRST ATTEMPT- June 28th , 2017
In 2017 I had my first attempt at a Triple Crossing of Lake Willoughby. I had been finding great bennefit in training in Like Willoughby for waves and cooler water & had been swimming double crossings, 10 miles down and back and enjoyed the challenge and beauty of the swim. Lake Willoughby tends to run cooler than other Vermont Lakes and the narrow fiord between Mount Pisgah & Lake Hor are a perfect place to find white caps and lake swells on the right day!
A Triple seemed like a fun challenge Phil White of North East Kingdom Open Water Association was on board to support along with crew Cynthia Needham. We decided to go out early in the season and make a day of it for Phil’s birthday on June 28 2017. We launched the boat and motored to start at the south end. The forecast looked less than inviting with cold air temps and winds. Yes Willoughby had got rather excited about a birthday celebration and kicked up a keen wind & white caps to match!
As we launched the boat the clouds darkened, we motored up to the south end to start the swim with the wind at our backs. I climbed out of the boat gingerly slipping my feet into the water. It was cold this was going to be hard yacker. On measuring the water at the start we discovered the water was a cool 58F. I Peeled off my down jacket, reluctantly took off my woolen hat and stood by the waters edge. In I waded the cold water warmer than the air. I waded out until it was deep enough to swim and dove under and began stroking. The wind on my back chilled me, the cold made my teeth clench, I swam on. ” It will warm up once I get beyond the cliff and cooler deep water” I told myself as I swam. It did not.
I swam on regardless staying parallel to the boat and making my way down the lake. I was finding the cold air, biting wind and 58F water draining, I was breathing heavily and I wasn’t even a third of the way down the first length….this was going to be a long hard haul.
Fighting into the wind between the cliffs
Down the lake we went. Pilot Phil White and crew Cynthia Needham kept me on course. We exited at the North Beach and faced the chilly trip back down the lake.
The weather worsened as we made our way back to the south end of the lake. By the time I made it back between the cliffs at the deepest part of the lake my hands had clawed. The heavy clouds seemed to weigh on me I was a mile from the south beach. A double crossing was in reach. I swam on feeding on warm ginger tea. Finally we reached the south shore. I swam as close to the beach as I could and then weaved my way to dry land. We called the swim and I gratefully wrapped up in warm clothes. Today’s swim was to be a double crossing 4 hours and 53 minutes. It was the earliest crossing of lake Willoughby and for me the coldest at 58F. I am pleased!