The High Country Takes a Plunge

Article Published: Jan. 20, 2011 | Modified: Sep. 19, 2011
The High Country Takes a Plunge

A diver takes the plunge at Chetola Lake for last year's Winterfest. Photo courtesy of The Blowing Rocket

Twice a year, jumping in a frozen lake is a High Country tradition.

For more than a decade, there have been two annual polar plunges: the Polar Plunge in Chetola Lake in Blowing Rock and the Appalachian State University Polar Plunge at Duck Pond.

"The High Country is the perfect place for a polar plunge," Tracy Brown, executive director of Blowing Rock Tourism Development Authority, said. "If we didn't get out doors and do something a little insane, we might certainly go crazy."

Brown, who emcees the polar plunge at Chetola Resort, has jumped in the frozen lake 10 times over the years. He described the experience as "extreme ... brutal ... and bone chilling, to say the least."

The impact of the ice cold water is intense, and the anticipation of jumping is daunting. Dawn Shepler-Hamilton, of Boone, remembers the first time she plunged a couple years ago in 34 degree temperatures.

"It's very exciting when you are walking down and people are cheering and you are nervous because you don't know what it's going to be like. You just do it and jump," she said. "When you are in the water, you think I have to get to the ladder, and your body refuses to move. That was the strangest sensation."

Though, her body didn't move initially, within seconds she swam to the deck and climbed up the ladder without any help. In case of an emergency, rescue workers are present at polar plunges. At Chetola Lake, for example, members of the Blowing Rock Rescue Squad tread in the water near the jumping area.

Some people plunge for the adrenaline rush and the adventure, while others jump because of the goodwill associated with the event, as did Shepler-Hamilton, director of services for the Hospitality House.

Proceeds from the ASU Polar Plunge at Duck Pond go to the Special Olympics of Watauga County, and those plunging in Chetola Lake choose a local non-profit beneficiary for their registrations fees to go to.

Dick, 80, and Joan Hearn, 76, of Blowing Rock, participate in both plunges each winter. This year they are jumping for the High Country United Way.

Part of the polar plunge tradition is the costumes plungers wear. Each year, Joan designs a different costume for her and Dick to wear. They were a mermaid and a sailor a couple years ago. Eleven years ago, they dressed up as penguins for their first plunge.

Joan recalled that first time she ever plunged into the cold waters.

"Everybody is scared to death the first time," she said. "I stood there, and I thought, 'Am I really going to do this?" she said.

Shepler-Hamilton remembered that feeling, too, and she recalled her thought process as she watched the Hearns' plunge.

"You see people there who are like 75. If they can do it, then I can do it," she said. "It is kind of intimidating. Its not something that I would want to do on a weekly basis, but it's way cool to be able to say I did a polar plunge."

The Polar Plunge in Chetola Lake is on Saturday, Jan. 29, in Blowing Rock, and the ASU Polar Plunge in Duck Pond takes place on Thursday, Feb. 17, in Boone.

For more information, call (828) 295-4636, click to, or call (828) 264-9511.

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