Defined as, “an immersion in a pool of cold water, intended to stimulate circulation,” the act of alpine cold-plunging is much more than a cold dip for Claudia Bastien, an Anishinaabe and Algonquin individual from Kebaowek first nation in Abitibi-Témiscamingue Quebec. Claudia finds purpose and serenity in discovering cold-plunging destinations and techniques near and far, returning home to beautiful British Columbia and its snow-capped backcountry.
By working full-time for a medical school to help students become doctors, it is no surprise that Claudia’s medical background led her to a fascination with the health benefits of plunging, as it is proven to help with muscle soreness, depression and anxiety, and reducing inflammation in the body. Claudia experiences tendonitis in both knees, and originally started getting in the cold water to reduce inflammation while hiking, applying an all-natural ice pack.
As something that started as a cheerful, laughter-invoking arctic dip in, and hurried jaunt back out, plunging was a lively pastime for Claudia on the trail. Over the last year, the pandemic has weighed on her, and she found that leaping into cold bodies of water and sitting in their chilled temperatures helped with her mental health unlike anything else.
She found places to plunge the old fashion way- by hiking into the high alpine or summiting a mountain to simply look far and wide to find water. Another way that Claudia discovers natural pools is by utilizing Google Maps Pro, visually scanning surrounding mountains to find a lake, then discovering a way to get to it. She found ritual and community through dipping in two different ways, with two different processes.
If Claudia’s group decides to visit a water source close to Vancouver such as the ocean or glacial fed streams, meditation and breathwork techniques are used to have longer sessions in the water. The local “Cold Plunge Crew” does a few minutes of meditation to root in the area, then quickly moves into the Wim Hof breath method, breathing in air and letting out a wisp, pumping the blood full of oxygen for about 60 breaths. After practicing this, the group holds their breath, takes one more in, holds that for 15 seconds while doing pushups, and with a final exhale, they are ready to plunge! Because the group is in safer conditions, time in the water can be longer, up to 15 minutes, paired with conversation, introspection, and admiring the surroundings.
Unlike the more relaxed process in urban plunging, there is not a lot of sitting or meditating because of the possible frigid temperatures in the backcountry during an alpine plunge. On the trail leading up to a wild, frozen lake, Claudia prefers a more “movement meditation” experience in preparation for the intense arctic chill. When in the wilderness, during the snow-covered months, there isn’t much time to relax after hiking to the summit, so Claudia and her friends get to work on starting a roaring fire (in a hut when available) to find comfort and warmth after plunging. If the lake is frozen over, the next step is to dig a large hole into frosted glass with shovels and ice axes, and wade into the crisp, freezing water for mere minutes before warming back up.
Hiking and polar plunging allows Claudia to pause and reflect on the intuitive pieces of her mind-body connection, becoming more conscious of her overall health. “There’s too much distraction in civilization, you forget that something hurts, that you are not feeling well, or that you don’t have much energy,” said Claudia. “You don’t often stop to reflect on why that is, but when you are cold-plunging, you are sitting there for 15 minutes- you have committed that time to sit in the water, aware of how your body feels.”
We talked about the difference between pain and uncomfort, and how cold water has been used since the dawn of time as a way to heal and cleanse, something that we seem to be detached from today. Inspired by Claudia’s story and on a mission to connect with my body in this way, I have developed a recent habit of stripping down and dunking into water sources along the trail too, and have found it to be energizing in a way that even the strongest morning brew can’t compare to. There is something about the shocking chill of head to toe submersion that we don’t often experience in today’s hyper-sensitive world, and I am learning to reframe this stinging sensation as what it really is- a reinvigorating tool that connects every inch of us.
For those new to plunging, or those that want to give this practice a try, Claudia recommends staying close to home. “Fill the bathtub full of cold water and ice, or go to a local lake and see how your body does first before you hike miles into the Alpine and realize your body doesn’t do well with it, everyone has a different tolerance.”
To learn more about the art of cold plunging, find Claudia on Instagram at @Wandering_Claud.
“If you tiptoe into cold water, you’re missing out on the rush of plunging in headfirst.” – Simone Elkeles