I've never done a Polar Bear Plunge, but this was close--a plunge into the Deschutes River. This video shows one of my three friends (the one who is part mermaid, part river otter) swimming up this beautiful deep section of the river as is flows through a narrow canyon fifteen miles southeast of Yelm.
The Deschutes flows 50 miles from Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Lewis County, through Pioneer Park (the popular access point for tubing down the lazy section of the river), through Tumwater Falls Park, and then through the impounded Capitol Lake and into Budd Inlet in downtown Olympia.
On a cloudy Wednesday morning, we drove to this glorious section of the river now accessible to the public through a short trail in Thurston County's Deschutes Falls Park. The water in our first swimming hole was colder than other local lakes we've been swimming in--I'm guessing somewhere between 60-65 degrees F. I waded in up to my waist and then waited for the numbness to reach my brain, at which point I believed my body would just decide to dive in.
It didn't quite happen that way but I got in and paddled around long enough to realize I was not going to seize up or get hypothermic.
Just a short walk upstream along the river is the second swimming hole (the one in the video), though calling it a "hole" isn't accurate. It's a long, narrow canyon where you can swim the equivalent of laps. You can swim upstream to a point just below a small falls where the current is strong enough to keep you from going any further (kind of like Mother Nature's best "infinity pool" ever). You can then swim downstream with the current and--if you are lucky--with the resident American Dipper or Water Ouzel. One such bird was doing its little body-pump routine along the riverbank as it searched for insects on the surface water and between the rocks where it will dive underwater to dislodge them.
Like the Dipper, It's best to keep moving so you can stay warm enough to relax and enjoy the smooth, river-sculpted canyon walls, the bright wildflowers blooming in nooks in the rocks, the trees above the canyon, and the osprey circling and calling overhead.
You will not grow numb in the cold water. The only thing that will be frozen is the broad smile across your face.
To learn more about Deschutes Falls Park and to get directions, follow this link to the Thurston County Parks website.