March 05, 18 | nobu Kawashima
Your first swim of the year is in the sea of drift ice! Drift ice walking tour
Don’t you want to make this year’s first swim the sea of drift ice instead of a tropical beach? The drift ice walking experience; walking on the sea of drift ice or diving into the sea of drift ice is winter-only experience in Shiretoko! It will surely be a memorable moment!
What is drift ice walking?Drift ice walking is a tour to walk on drift ice or dive into the sea of drift ice wearing special dry suits and with specially trained guides. It is a program limitedly available when the weather is nice and drift ice are alongside the shore.
“Shiretoko Nature Office”, which provide nature tours in Shiretoko and “MEPS (marine enterprise project shiretoko)”, the organization specialized in drift ice walking helped us for the coverage. People in MEPS are all local fishermen or divers. From 1998, they started to provide drift ice walking tour during mid-winter every year while doing their main jobs.
Isn’t the sea of drift ice cold? Is it okay to swim?People usually can’t believe diving into the sea of drift ice. Just by walking along the shore seems freezing!
However, surprisingly, it is fine more than you think! (Of course, I don’t say it is not cold at all…)
The secret is that everyone wears special dry suits made of rubbers on their clothes.
▲I took off my shoes and down jacket and wore the dry suits which come with shoes on my clothes. It felt the suit was small at first, but I got used to it after a while.
You don’t need any warm clothes. For tops, long sleeve shirt, sweater, or thin knit sweater are fine. For bottoms, I recommend a pair of denim pants or cargo pants. It is okay as long as it is not shorts or skirts. The rubber fits around neck and hands, so water almost never gets inside dry suits.
This special suit protects your body from outside air and frozen sea and keeps inside warmth. Moreover, the suit floats when in the sea so you don’t even have to be able to swim!
In the end, wear special gloves, put on your hat, and you are set! Let’s go to the sea of drift ice.
▲Let’s go to the sea of drift ice following the guide!
This tour is to walk on drift ice and swim in the sea, but you can’t do that just everywhere you want. There are dangerous places, so guides who know everything about local ocean will lead the group. The guide will choose less dangerous routes and take the group to where people can safely play with the ice.
Forget everything and just enjoy after getting used to the ice!
▲The picture may seem like a snowfield, but it is already on the ocean. Follow the guide in a line to avoid falling down.
We arrived at the playground of the day after walking few minutes from the shore. The guide dove into the sea in between ices! Following the guide, few people jumped into the sea!
▲Isn’t it freezing? Will I really float? Is it okay? People seemed scared at the first. They could not get near the sea….
It must be a frozen sea, but everyone seems to be having fun! I came all the way here to participate in this tour, so let’s dive!
▲At first, I just floated on the sea quietly. This dry suit really had a buoyancy. I did not have to worry at all.
After dipping into the sea, I had nothing more to be scared of!
I jumped few times on ice which looked very thin.
▲The ice cracked, and I was floating on a small island of ice. It depended on my balance ability how long I could keep standing on the ice.
▲I tried to keep myself above the water by holding a piece of ice, however,
The time is limited, so we have just to play, play, and play! Just forget everything and focused on enjoying the ice.
▲After getting used to the ice, adults even looked like children.
It depends on your luck what kind of drift ice you can encounterThe day I went did not have stable ocean current and wind, so we did not go to offshore and enjoyed the tour at sea near the port. However, drift ice was all over even they were quite thin. I could enjoy a totally extraordinary experience.
▲We get back to the shore after playing in the sea for about 30 minutes. Everyone seemed to become used to walking on drift ice on the way back. They were all smiling!
Drift ice is a natural phenomenon, so there are days with huge pieces of ice like mountains, days with sorbet-like surface and days when there is no ice. Drift ice changes in a minute, hour, and day. It depends on your luck how much drift ice you can encounter. I wonder what kind of drift ice you can see when you visit here!
▲A photo together with the group participated in the tour. Everyone enjoyed the tour very much!
Drift ice walking is a special experience in the sea of drift ice. Forget everything and enjoy the mid-winter in Shiretoko fully!
* It is extremely dangerous to play on drift ice and swim in the sea of drift ice without a guide. Participate in a tour with special guides.
* The photo was taken in late February in 2017 and the article describes the tour at that time.
Photo / Toru Tanaka
Text / Hokkaido Likers photo writer nobu Kawashima
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