People walk on the ice at Mendenhall Lake, Saturday, Jan. 11. Despite a recent cold spell, the ice is not yet thick enough to support people in some spots. The U.S. Forest Service and Capital City Fire/Rescue both advise staying off the ice. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

People walk on the ice at Mendenhall Lake, Saturday, Jan. 11. Despite a recent cold spell, the ice is not yet thick enough to support people in some spots. The U.S. Forest Service and Capital City Fire/Rescue both advise staying off the ice. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

Despite subfreezing temperatures, frozen lakes around Juneau still dangerous

Forest Service, CCFR say stay off Mendenhall Lake ice

Shawn Lovell wants to know when he can feel safe crossing the frozen surface of Mendenhall Lake toward the ice caves, so he decided to take some measurements.

Lovell, an outdoors enthusiast, said in a phone interview Tuesday that earlier in the day he used a chainsaw to cut the ice at the lake near Mendenhall Glacier and measure its thickness. Despite a spate of subfreezing temperatures in Juneau starting Jan. 3, according to National Weather Service observed weather reports, Lovell said the ice doesn’t yet seem safe to him.

“It’s still pretty thin,” Lovell said. “A lot of people want to go out there, and I thought, ‘Eh, not yet.’ I wouldn’t want to tell someone it was safe to go out there.”

Lovell said he accessed the lake from the parking lot just past Skater’s Cabin. Near shore, he measured the ice’s thickness at 7 inches, so he proceeded with caution to take another measurement. About 300 feet away, Lovell said the ice measured about 3 3/4 inches.

The National Weather Service recommends staying off ice that is thinner than 4 inches.

The thickness of the ice at the lake may be monitored by interested locals, but it is not monitored by the U.S. Forest Service, which never condones walking on the ice at Mendenhall Lake.

“The Forest Service never says that the lake ice is safe,” said Carol Lagodich, public affairs specialist for the Forest Service.

Capital City Fire/Rescue Assistant Fire Chief Ed Quinto said most of the calls CCFR receives regarding someone falling through ice come from Mendenhall Lake.

[Man safe after falling through ice at Mendenhall Lake]

“We always recommend not to go on the ice,” Quinto said. “There’s too many currents. There’s too many variables.”

Ice is thinner at the face of the glacier, the mouth of Steep Creek, near Nugget Falls and near any running water or icebergs, according to past Forest Service releases.

Quinto said if someone is going to trek on the ice, they should be aware of the risks involved and take precautions.

“If you’re going to be on it always travel with somebody,” Quinto said.

He said people walking on the ice should do so with rope, which can be thrown to someone who falls through the ice, and some sort of ice awls —d owels connected by a string with a nail at the end — that can be used to dig into the ice and provide a handhold.

If someone does fall in, Quinto said the first step toward a safe outcome is calling 911. The person who fell through the ice should remain calm, kick with their legs and pull with their arms to get as much of their body on ice as possible. At this point, Quinto said someone should roll away rather than stand up. That’s to keep weight distributed rather than focused on one point.

“Roll toward the area that you came from because you know that ice was able to support you going out,” Quinto said.

People walk on the ice at Mendenhall Lake, Saturday, Jan. 11. Despite a recent cold spell, the ice is not yet thick enough to support people in some spots. The U.S. Forest Service and Capital City Fire/Rescue both advise staying off the ice. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

People walk on the ice at Mendenhall Lake, Saturday, Jan. 11. Despite a recent cold spell, the ice is not yet thick enough to support people in some spots. The U.S. Forest Service and Capital City Fire/Rescue both advise staying off the ice. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

State of skates at Twin Lakes

Quinto said the ice at Twin Lakes is generally safer than the ice at Mendenhall Lake because of an absence of flowing water, icebergs and a glacier.

However, the ice at the popular spot for hockey and skating might not yet be adequate. The thickness of the ice there is not monitored by City and Borough of Juneau Parks and Recreation, said parks and rec director George Schaaf.

“We do encourage folks to exercise caution and understand condition and the risk involved,” Schaaf said.

Quinto said he’s already seen some people out on that ice, so it does seem to be supporting people, but it would be more prudent to give it more time.

“I would give it a few more days, but it looks like it’s getting thicker,”Quinto said.

The next few days could help the ice thicken. Juneau’s run of cold weather is poised to continue, said Brian Bezenek, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Juneau.

[Capital City Fire/Rescue responds to emergency at the ice cave]

“The clear and cold conditions are expected to persist through most of the rest of the week,” Bezenek said.

The National Weather Service expects a high of 15 degrees tomorrow, according to its forecast.

Wind is also expected.

A National Weather Service high wind warning was in effect until 6 p.m. Tuesday evening, and a high wind watch is in effect from late Wednesday night through Thursday evening, according to the NWS.

As the weekend approached, so will clouds and the possibility of precipitation, Bezenek said.

“With the cloud cover in the area, the temperatures will start to climb,” he said. “We’re probably going to be moving into the teens and the 20s for highs.”

• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.

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