If you dream of diving unique and undiscovered places – let’s say, under Arctic icebergs – there are very few people in the world who can tell you what it’s like. One of them is Jill Heinerth, one of the first people in the world to dive underneath an iceberg back in 2002. Here’s a few bits of wisdom about the world’s coldest, loneliest places passed on from one of the sport’s most knowledgeable individuals.
It’s one of most unique experiences you can have
Diving inside an iceberg in Antarctica was one of the most remarkable things I have ever seen underwater. There were no guidebooks to prepare me for those experiences. Nobody had done it before.
It’s nothing like cave diving
Iceberg diving is actually very different from cave diving. There are odd vertical currents and surging swells created by mixing waters and bouncing masses of ice heaved up and down on waves. Most iceberg diving is done along a face or wall of ice rather then inside a cave-like area. There are significant risks from going inside a crack or crevasse. Icebergs, especially in the north, are dived at the end of their lifespan. They are fragile. They roll, crack and move in a way than crush a diver in an instant.
Wanna dive an iceberg? Head to Iceberg Alley
The best place to dive icebergs would be to head to Iceberg Alley in Newfoundland, Canada and dive with operator Ocean Quest Adventures in the early summer months of June and July. They have experience guiding groups to safely dive the icebergs and when you get your fill, you can swim with whales, dive WWII shipwrecks and even dive in a flooded mine.
This isn’t for dive rookies
You’ll need to have proper exposure protection for the cold water and advanced diver training that includes excellent mastery of buoyancy control, comfort with shooting a DSMB, using a compass and drifting for a safety stop in open ocean. You also need to descend quickly without a reference line since the most dangerous place to be is near a face of ice on the surface of the water.
And you’re going to need a helmet
In case a loose piece of ice strikes your head. I have been swept through an iceberg on a rocketing current, been inside a cave when the doorway disappeared, was pinned to the sea floor by a raging flow of water and watched an entire iceberg explode into a sea of slush.
Speaking of risk, it’s cold – really cold
Cold water increases the risk for any dive profile. How long you can tolerate the chilling temperature? Cold water can affect your mobility and comfort if you are not well dressed. You also need to consider drysuit flooding and managing thermal profiles to avoid decompression stress and gear-related risks such as regulator free-flow. You also need to get back quick – a long float on the surface while you await a pickup isn’t an option.
We’ve all made plenty of mistakes in diving. If you haven’t made mistakes, you likely aren’t diving. I’m not embarrassed to report that I have made my share. The important thing is that you plan conservatively enough to absorb the issues and come home safely.
Icebergs scare me. Always. But my careful forays into the deep chill have been incredible experiences.
You’ll literally be swimming through history
There is no doubt that icebergs are stunning visual environments. You might be shoulder to shoulder with an ice wall formed by 10,000 years of compacted snowfall or be witnessing the fizz of earth’s atmosphere erupting from some ancient timeframe. Scientists certainly have a lot to learn about sea ice and declining ice shelves around the world and in my lifetime, it is predicted that we may have an ice-free Arctic. Is it worth the risk? I’ll leave that to adventurers and scientists to consider on their own.
You can come dive icebergs with me
I will be making The Journey of the Iceberg next fall. On Sept. 23, 2017 I will be departing on Adventure Canada’s boat to make a trip from Greenland, across the Davis Strait and down the Labrador Coast to Newfoundland. We have space for ten divers to come along on this amazing opportunity to dive in places never visited with SCUBA! Icebergs calve from the coast of Greenland and make this circular journey across the strait. We’ll follow their course and have incredible diving and exploration opportunities along the way.