What It's Like to Dive High Altitude | Scuba Diving

What It's Like to Dive High Altitude

The adventure begins at the bottom of a mountain. It takes as long as three hours walking — sometimes in snowshoes — to reach dive sites in altitudes of 7,000 feet and higher. 

My favorite time of year for ­diving in the Swiss mountains is late May through June, when ice melts and icebergs bob on the surface of lakes like Sassolo and Nero. You would otherwise have to go to the Arctic or Antarctica to see these wonders. So for me, this is the easiest way to be with ice.

Diving High Altitude

Diving a high altitude mountain lake has its own risks and rewards.

Stephen Hughes

Timing is crucial. You can’t predict when the snowmelt will be enough that you can dive the lake. This is why these lakes aren’t really heavily touristed. To check if conditions are right, we hike up every weekend in May. Recently, we have used drones to avoid the last hour and a half of walking.

Of course, timing isn’t the only ­challenge. You have to take precautions. There is the danger of an avalanche ­occurring, so it helps to have a little bit of knowledge about mountains. I grew up here, so these are basic things for me. Local knowledge is key.

Why do we do this? Because when you reach an alpine lake, there is not a soul there. It is very quiet.

In the water, we sometimes see trout. But the beauty is the icebergs, atop the clearest water and surrounded by sun.

While diving, there are a few potential hazards. If you get too close to the border of the lake and there is a sheer rock wall or mountain above you, there could be snowmelt running into the lake. You don’t want to be caught under that. 

Then, after the dive, you must do ­everything slowly. Your movements must be relaxed. You can’t go to higher altitudes, so you stay where you are or descend lower. We always choose to stay and camp for at least a night so we can dive again the next day. After all, the hardest part is getting there. 

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