14 September 2009

Lake Pleasant Dive 9/9/09

Last week we flew down to AZ to visit our friends and families. Since one of my dive buddies (Clifford) lives in Phoenix I asked him if he wanted to jump in the lake (Lake Pleasant). Neither of us had been diving since Cozumel in January and we both wanted to get wet so I packed up my gear and brought it with me.

On Wednesday of our stay I drove up from Tucson to Phoenix and picked up Clifford. We then drove to one of the Sport Chalet's on the north side of Phoenix, rented some gear and finished driving the additional 15 miles or so to the Lake. We dove out of Vista Point, near the marina. The water in the lake is low right now and we had about a 200 foot hike down a rocky slope, in the 100 degree heat, to the water before gearing up. Fortunately this is a warm fresh water dive and not a cold salt water dive so I only had to carry 6 pounds of weights down that hill instead of 30+ pounds. Unfortunately we were just about ready to go when Clifford realized he forgot to rent regulators!! We stood there in the heat. We thought about the 30 mile round trip drive to the rental shop. We stared at the rocky slope. We thought about the 6 pack of Longboard Lager sitting in the trunk that were still cold but would not be after our dive (as we had no cooler). Then we decided we had to make the trip. Sport Chalet was not going to refund the money for the gear we already rented and I brought all my equipment from Seattle, on the plane, and made the 2 hour drive from Tucson. So we hauled everything back up the hill.

An hour later we were back in the same spot on the shore gearing up, again, to dive in a low vis lake with nothing really to see in it but a few fish and beer cans but we had big smiles on our faces and cell phone cameras taking pictures. We did our buddy checks, waded into the water, put on our fins and checked our buoyancy.

Of the 3 times I've dove in Lake Pleasant this was the most, ah, pleasant. For starters, it was 2 days after Labor Day weekend, on a Wednesday, at 3 in the afternoon in the 100 degree heat so we had the whole lake to ourselves. Second we weren't diving with any guides, instructors and were free to take our time and enjoy it. We started right in the middle of a little u shaped cove between Vista Point and the boat ramp. Looking out we faced due West so our plan was to swim out along the bottom following that bearing until a) we reached the bottom, or a maximum depth we were comfortable with, b) we used up 1/3 of our air, or c) it got to cold. Which ever came first. Then we would turn due South, up the slope towards Vista Point until we reached about 35 feet of depth and then turn right and follow the shore back to are starting point, maintaining that depth.

Upon entering the water we encountered what felt almost like a grove of dead trees. Mesquite and Palo Verde I assume. The visibility was between 4 and 15 feet making the water appear a yellowish green. As we swam these trees seemed to materialize out of no where. Their dark forms reminding me of Halloween and Sleepy Hollow.

The last time I dove in Lake Pleasant was in the month of June and the water below 25 feet was cold. This was September and the temperature was about 80 or above until we reached 45-50 feet. Here there was a thermocline but still the temperature wasn't unbearable in my 3mm wet suit. A weird misty looking layer hung at this thermocline. At about 70 feet we came to a small rocky gully where I imagined water once flowed only when it rained. There was a pool of cold water, almost like another thermocline, with in. My computer read 73 degrees. The bottom was a strange, silty, almost spongy sediment. I plunged my hand into it, feeling a bit like a robot probing Mars, and it easily sunk up to the wrist with no solid surface below. Quickly I pulled it out feeling disgusted and fascinated at the same time and also imagining that something just might be under there, ready to pull me in. I turned to Clifford and he was making gestures of being cold and pointing up and to the left.

We turned 90 degrees, South now, towards Vista Point ascending into warmer water. We came across a landscape full of 6 inch craters. I assume these are made by fish, blowing water into the sediment, searching for food. Clifford picked up a beer can and tried filling it with air and sending it to the surface to no avail. It was full of sediment. I took it and shook it a little. Then I squeezed it and clouds shot out like black ink. Then I reshaped it, scraped off all the zebra mussels (which have invaded this lake everywhere), shot some air into it and let it go. It ascended slowly for a few feet then shot up like a rocket into a blue gray abyss.

We then reached 35 feet, turned left again, according to our plan and followed the shoreline back to our starting point. We both reached 7-750 psi at about the same time, turned right (East) and ascended along the bottom to our 3 minute safety stop. We were both pretty sure that we overshot our starting position but upon surfacing we found ourselves about 75 feet short. Still, not bad.

A little note. Lake Pleasant is at an elevation of about 1650 to 1700 feet, depending how much water is in the lake and therefore is considered a high altitude dive. My Aeris Atmos 2 dive computer automatically adjusts for this but needs to be turned on at the dive site elevation to do so. I was glad I re-read the manual a few days before the trip.

Vista Point, Lake Pleasant, AZ
My maximum depth - 81 feet
Visibility - 3 to 15 feet
Coldest water temperature - 73F
Bottom time - 50 minutes

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