Amy Carroll adjusts her goggles while training with other swimmers in Auke Lake on Wednesday, June 5, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Amy Carroll adjusts her goggles while training with other swimmers in Auke Lake on Wednesday, June 5, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Serenity in the dark: How Auke Lake became a go-to swimming destination

Group of triathletes has trained regularly in lake for about 12 years

The swimmers slog through the dark waters below Chapel By The Lake, the gentle clap of feet and hands marking their passing. Distinguishable only by brightly-colored swim caps and oval-shaped visibility buoys, Jamie Bursell, Mark Neidhold and Scott Gende round a small white buoy and head to the nearby boat launch on a drizzly morning.

It’s just another day of training for these hearty swimmers.

“It’s part of waking of up in the morning,” said Neidhold, who comes out to Auke Lake for morning swims three times a week throughout the summer.

Over the last decade, locals are choosing Auke Lake over indoor pools for their morning swims, and many are preparing for the Aukeman Triathlon, which features a 750-meter swim in the popular lake. But more than just a training ground, swimming through the freshwater body can be both stimulating and meditative — with the right wet suit of course.

Kevin Sellers follows along on a standup paddle board as swimmers train in Auke Lake on Wednesday, June 5, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Kevin Sellers follows along on a standup paddle board as swimmers train in Auke Lake on Wednesday, June 5, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

“”I’ve always loved being outdoors and being able to be in the lake is a lot like hiking or running on a trail,” Bursell said. “And experiencing not just the natural beauty around you but also the wildlife — even down to the insects.I just like seeing how everything around us is changing through the seasons, to see the sunrise in Auke Lake when you go there early in the morning,” Bursell said. “Being right in the water puts you in a space where you know that you’re part of whole picture of the natural surroundings.”

[Preparing for Aukeman in 52-degree water]

Bursell said the group formed about 12 years ago as interest in triathlons picked up. Juneauites needed a place to train for triathlons which feature open-water swims, according to Bursell, and Auke Lake became a go-to destination for triathletes in the summer months.

“People alluded to this spookiness about it, some people even said there’s dead bodies in there,” Bursell said. “But we just decided to try it out and slowly but surely people started getting wetsuits and we found that it was just a really fun activity.”

Neidhold, 56, swam countless hours in pools, from his youth into his adulthood, and said swimming in the lake is very different from those experiences.

[The usual suspects take Aukeman]

“The pool is the treadmill, and this is like running Perseverance Trail on a beautiful day, even when it’s like this (cloudy and rainy) because you’re in the water,” Neidhold said. “You get the smells, you get the fresh air, you get time to laugh and smile with your friends.”

Neidhold said the physical exertion required of long-distance swims helps him temporarily forget the pressing demands of his coming day.

“All the stuff that’s frustrating at work, or anything that’s going on, you get out here, and all you’re thinking about is, ‘When am I going to take my next breath and how am I siding? Am I swimming straight?’” Neidhold said.

Amy Carroll, 52, has been another Auke Lake regular, and said it was quite “anxiety producing” starting out in the lake.

“I’d swim a little bit and I’d be hyperventilating and I’d stop and I’d be like, ‘This is so weird. It’s almost like I don’t know how to swim,’” Carroll said. “And then you just keep doing it and doing it and gets a little more relaxing, but it’s a little jarring at first.”

Danger danger

Triathlon coach Jamie Bursell swims in Auke Lake on Wednesday, June 5, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Triathlon coach Jamie Bursell swims in Auke Lake on Wednesday, June 5, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

There are plenty of known dangers that come with this hobby. There are no lifeguards on duty, and the lake attracts all kinds of watercrafts on nice days. In 2012, a Juneau teen died from injuries sustained during a collision with a jet ski on the lake.

Bursell and others the wear brightly-colored caps and swim buoys in an effort to standout against the black water. She always recommends swimming with a buddy, and letting boaters know where to expect them. In addition, she recommends staying on the perimeter of the lake, inside white wake buoys.

“There’s something about the cold and darkness that makes people panic. Even for the experienced swimmers, people generally don’t come out here alone,” Bursell said.

• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.

More in Sports

This combination photo shows all five division-winning teams from the recent 3v3 Pre-Season Tournament at Thunder Mountain High School. (Upper left) Team 7, (upper right) Hoopsters, (lower left) 3 Amigos; (lower center) Lucky Ladies and (lower right) 3 of a Kind. (Courtesy Photos)
3v3 Tournament crowns division winners

Thunder Mountain High School boys basketball and Hooprats recently hosted the 13th… Continue reading

Bree Lee Lo, June Enele, Lemoe Eneliko and Moira Anemia pose for a photo taken by Alexandra and Barron Anemia. All were on hand to celebrate Samoa's Rugby League World Cup run. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
Local rugby fans celebrate Samoa’s World Cup run

“Win our lose, we’re still proud.”

Matthew Wendel, Mike Kreis, Kasey Watts, Courtney Kreis, Tami Wahto and Todd Schur wore costumes during the 2021 Turkey Trot. Why’d they wear costumes? “Why not?” asked Schur. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Strut your speed at upcoming annual Turkey Trot

Stuff the starting line Thanksgiving morning

Glacier Swim Club finds success in Petersburg

Twenty Juneau students competed in the November swim meet hosted in Petersburg over the weekend.

The 2022-23 Thunder Mountain girls varsity volleyball team poses for a group photo during 2022 3A/4A Volleyball State Championships in Anchorage on Thursday and Friday, Nov. 10 and 11. (Courtesy Photo / Julie Herman)
TMHS volleyball wraps up stellar season

Falcons fall short of finals at State tournament

TMHS stands for team photo after state tournament at Bartlett High School in Anchorage on Saturday, Nov. 5. (Courtesy Photo / Josiah Loseby)
Juneau swim teams make a splash at state championship

“We all performed well and we all had a good time.”

Juneau Skating Club Forget-Me-Not team featured in last year’s spring event. The team is traveling to Irvine, California to compete in the Glacier Falls Classic on Saturday, Nov. 12. (Courtesy Photo / Kim Hort)
Forget-Me-Not skaters return to California

Juneau Skating Club team competes in Glacier Fall Classic.

Thunder Mountain girls varsity volleyball team celebrating their championship victory against JDHS on Saturday, Nov. 5. TMHS now heads to the state tournament in Anchorage to face Colony in the first round on Thursday, Nov. 10. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)
TMHS volleyball team advances to state tournament

Falcons will take on Colony in Anchorage Nov. 11

Large crowds turned out to support high school swimmers through Alaska at the Region V meet on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 28, 29 at in Juneau at Dimond Park Aquatic Center. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)
Prep swim teams score big at Region V meet

TMHS and JDHS swim teams score big at Region V meet

JDHS junior Mila Hargrave winds up to spike the ball while TMHS junior Ashlyn Gates attempts to deflect it. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
Volleyball wraps up regular season

Region tournament set for Nov. 4 and Nov. 5

A volleyball makes its way through the air. TMHS and JDHS are set for a pair of cross-town contests on Friday and Saturday. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Volleyball senior nights set for cross-town matches

Will there be a bump in attendance or a spike?