Ice swimming in Red Tarn - Sarah Gerrish
Adventurer Sarah Gerrish describes herself as a jack of all trades. As well as being a mum, architect, runner and an all year round swimmer, Sarah is also the founder of Wonder Wild Women - an awesome community that’s passionate about adventure and aims to inspire all women to get active and into the outdoors.
This made Sarah the ideal person to help us put the new Black Camo dryrobe® Advance through its paces. Alongside fellow adventurer Jacob Tonkin, she hiked up snowy fells and smashed through the ice to go swimming in Red Tarn - a breathtaking mountain lake high up in the Lake District.
We spoke to Sarah, about what sparked her passion for the outdoors, the adrenaline rush of ice swimming in Red Tarn and her tips for anyone getting into open water swimming...
Red Tarn looks like an incredible place to go outdoor swimming! What was it like hiking up there in the snow and breaking through the ice to go for a swim?
The area around Red Tarn is a very special place and it's somewhere I come back to time and time again. I've never been up there to swim in winter though so there was definitely a mix of excitement and nerves for what we would find.
The conditions hiking up were absolutely stunning and the landscape was just spectacular. I was in awe every which way I looked. I really love the Lake District in the snow! We weren't sure what was going to greet us at the water's edge, but we were prepared for icy conditions. I was relieved to find there wasn't a breath of wind and felt extremely content basking in the sunshine despite the minus temperatures.
Breaking the ice to immerse in the cold water, kicks in a bit of adrenaline for me. It was a huge privilege and I felt extremely grateful to have the experience in such a beautiful location, with great company and the conditions came together perfectly. It was definitely a day for the memory bank.
Where did your passion for the outdoors and adventuring come from?
After having my daughter in 2009 I started competing in triathlons as a way of being active and getting fit. This was when I discovered outdoor swimming and got back on a bike for the first time since my teens. When we moved back to Cumbria a few years later I gradually uncovered the joys of the landscape around me. This was largely in part to those who were willing to share their time and knowledge with me. I guess I just caught the bug and it's become a huge part of my lifestyle since.
Wonderful Wild Women is an incredible community that brings together women who are passionate about the outdoors, what inspired you to start it?
To be honest I never anticipated the community would take off in the way it did. It all stemmed from a difficult period where I was looking to create something positive.
The outdoors can be a pretty intimidating place and people can find themselves up against a lot of barriers when trying to access outdoor spaces and activities, whether they are physical or mental. My main aim with the community is to try and break down some of those barriers and provide a safe friendly space to help grow confidence, encourage those first steps and provide an opportunity to network and build friendships.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your life?
Life is constantly throwing up challenging times, three in particular that stand out for me were having Cancer at fifteen, becoming a parent and studying for my Masters in Architecture Degree. They all impacted on my confidence and made me question my identity.
It was whilst studying that I set up the Wonderful Wild Women community. Although a sleep-deprived blur, it instilled in me a sense of resilience which is pretty transferrable in my outdoor pursuits.
In terms of outdoor pursuits, I try to regularly push the boundary of what I consider my limits. It's all relative to where you are at that given time and I value each challenge whether it was my first skins dip right through to my last ultra run.
Who has been your biggest inspiration when it comes to adventuring?
My biggest inspirations are primarily those friends and family I have around me. For me, a role model is someone who is just a couple of steps ahead, doing things that could be achievable for me too. I get a lot of inspiration from that and drive to keep getting out there. For me it's not about the big feats of adventure or exploration, it's about everyday choices to live more adventurously in your own small way.
When did you first get into outdoor swimming and what benefits do you feel from getting into the cold water?
I first got into outdoor swimming when I started doing triathlon back in 2010. For the first few years I approached it from a training and racing perspective. More recently I have spent the past five years building on my cold water exposure, ditching the wetsuit and swimming all year round.
Personally, for me, I have noticed a huge improvement in my circulation and immune system. Suffering from Raynaud's Syndrome I used to have a real fear of the cold, but since embracing the cold water I now recover so much quicker, and my Raynauds symptoms have reduced significantly.
One of the most instant benefits from cold water swimming is the improvement of mood and the natural high that you get post-swim. The sense of achievement and shared experience you have with fellow swimmers is really special.
Where’s your favourite spot in the Lakes to go wild swimming?
Gosh, so many! I have a couple of relatively local tarns that I love to visit. We swim most frequently in Windermere primarily due to its central location and accessibility. We've had so many stunning mornings and memorable swims here that as a result, it will always be one of the favourites.
Another all-time favourite area is the Buttermere Valley where you will find Crummock Water and Buttermere, however, these are two of the last pristine bodies of water (along with Wastwater) in the Lake District. Biosecurity has become a really important issue and non-native invasive species have become a real threat to the natural functioning of our waters. It's really important to do your research on locations and make sure that kit is cleaned thoroughly between swims.
How has the pandemic and lockdown affected your adventures and what are your plans for the year ahead?
I'm fortunate to have access to a great landscape from my doorstep, but my more coastal location (on the edge of the Lake District) has meant that much of the year I have had to stay away from the fells and tarns. The biggest impact has been on my hill fitness, so for the year ahead I will be focusing on getting back out there as much as possible and building that back up. I had planned to make an attempt last year on the Bob Graham Round, a fell running challenge based here in the Lake District. I had to put that goal on hold in 2020, but I'm hoping that it's something I can set my sights on this year.
What advice would you give to anyone who’s looking to get started outdoor swimming?
Some of my top tips would be:
Never swim alone and buddy up with an experienced swimmer.
Know where you are swimming. This includes knowing your entry and exit points so you can get out of the water quickly and efficiently, knowing the currents and understanding the access rights and biosecurity issues of the body of water.
Check the weather. Windchill and high rainfall can all impact on the swim location and experience. Windchill can increase the rate at which your body cools down after a swim accelerating the afterdrop.
Get in slowly. Take your time and let your body get acclimatised.
Get out feeling like you could have stayed in longer.
Dress quickly and take a hot drink. Lots of easy to put on layers are recommended and a hot drink will warm you gradually from the inside.
Do your research. There is a wealth of information out there and you don't need to look too far to find it.
Photos and film by James Appleton