Plungers get jump on 2016

A young scout gasps from the cold after jumping into Lake Pend Oreille as part of Troop 111’s Polar Bear Plunge on Friday. More than 50 people, including 15 or so scouts, took part in the event. (Photo by CAROLINE LOBSINGER)

SANDPOINT — There may not have been as much ice on the lake, but the water was just as cold.

Just ask the 50 or so intrepid souls who kicked off 2016 with a jump in the lake as Boy Scout Troop 111 hosted a Polar Bear Plunge for the second straight year.

“We wanted to do a tradition with the troop so we were going to do again regardless,” said Troop 111 Scoutmaster Phil Voelz. “Then we thought, hey, let’s get the community involved, too.”

Voelz said an estimated 50 people took part in the plunge — about double last year — and another couple dozen showed up to watch, offer encouragement and enjoy the fun.

Among those who decided to brave the ice-covered waters were Sabina Milbrath, whose nephew took part in the plunge last year. That prompted all of the cousins — four in all — to come and try it this year, she said. Coming along to cheer everyone on were all of the grandparents.

“It was a whole family affair,” she said.

While she is glad she did it, Milbrath said it was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing.

“Maybe it’s like childbirth and I’ll forget about how bad it was but I don’t know,” she laughed. “It was fun doing it together.”

While she knew the water would be cold, Milbrath said it still caught her by surprise.

“I used a bad word as I hit the water, but it was fun,” she said.

When Amy Clark’s parents mentioned they were headed down to City Beach to watch the event, she asked if she could go and take part in the plunge.

While she had fun and is glad she did it, like Milbrath, Clark said it was unlikely she would do it again.

“It was worse than I thought,” she said of how cold the water was. “I couldn’t even feel my body and it was hard to even get up the ladder.”

Which was colder, the lake or getting out afterward? Clark said both.

“It was colder in the water, and cold when I got out, so pretty much both were the coldest,” she said with a laugh. “It was colder than I thought it would be.”

While there were a few challenges in getting everything set up — they couldn’t walk on the ice, so creating the hole in the ice took a little more planning, among other logistical challenge — overall Voelz said things went smoothly.

Voelz said he was pleased by the turnout, and the troop is already planning ahead for 2017’s jump into the freezing waters of Lake Pend Oreille on Jan. 1.

“Everyone is already asking if we’re doing it again next year,” he said. “Yeah, we’re doing it again next year so it’s going to be our thing.”

The scouts’ adoption of the Polar Bear Plunge began last year after the troop heard stories about how Voelz would waterski on New Year’s Day in California. Since it’s too cold to waterski in North Idaho on Jan. 1, the scouts decide to adopt the traditional jump in the lake.

More than 15 scouts took part last year, and about the same this year.

Voelz said he sees troop members, both present and future, gathering each year for the Polar Bear Plunge. He would also like to see other troops take part as well as officials in the community.

“We are issuing an official challenge to the other troops, the fire department and the Sandpoint PD for next year,” said Voelz, adding that none showed up for this year’s event.

While local officials did a drive-through of the beach, and an invitation issued to join the fun, none took the scouts up on the offer.

“The chief told us to ‘have fun, don’t hurt yourself,’ “ said Voelz. “Now it’s an official challenge for next year.”

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