Lake Tahoe

From Openwaterpedia
Heidi George of the Tahoe Eleven Milers on left racing the diving Bob Placak of the RCP Tiburon Milers at the 2006 Trans Tahoe Relay in Lake Tahoe
The Mermaid Mafia at the 2015 Trans Tahoe Relay, a 10-mile lake swim across Lake Tahoe with Captain Lexie Kelly, 6-time Olympic medalist Rebecca Soni, 4-time Olympic medalist Heather Petri, Olympic silver medalist Kristy Kowal, Olympic gold medalist Staciana Stitts, and Olympic gold medalist Misty Hyman
Lexie Kelly training in Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe swim route for lengthwise crossing. Map by Dave Van Mouwerik

Lake Tahoe is a large freshwater lake in the Sierra Nevada range in the western United States and is part of the Still Water Eight and the Triple Crown of Lake Monster Swims. At a surface elevation of 6225 feet (1,896 meters), it is located along the border between California and Nevada, west of Carson City, Nevada.

It is the largest alpine lake in North America. Its depth is 1645 feet, making it the USA's second-deepest (the deepest is Crater Lake in Oregon). Additionally, Lake Tahoe is listed as the 26th largest lake by volume in the world. The lake was formed about 2 million years ago and is a part of the Lake Tahoe Basin with the modern lake being shaped during the ice ages. It is known for the clarity of its water and the panorama of surrounding mountains on all sides. The area surrounding the lake is also referred to as Lake Tahoe, or simply Tahoe.

Lake Tahoe is a major tourist attraction in both Nevada and California. It is home to a number of ski resorts, summer outdoor recreation, and tourist attractions. Snow and skiing are a significant part of the area's economy and reputation - and the water is usually considered cold or at least cool by most open water swimmers.

Approximately two-thirds of the shoreline is in California. The south shore is dominated by the lake's largest city, South Lake Tahoe, California, which adjoins the town of Stateline, Nevada, while Tahoe City, California, is located on the lake's northwest shore. Although highways run within sight of the lake shore for much of Tahoe's perimeter, many important parts of the shoreline now lie within state parks or are protected by the United States Forest Service.

In spite of land-use planning and export of treated sewage effluent from the basin, the lake is becoming increasingly eutrophic (having an excessive richness of nutrients), with primary productivity increasing by more than 5% annually, and clarity decreasing at an average rate of 0.25 meters per year.

Open Water Swimming

Lake Tahoe is the site of various high-altitude swimming events, including the annual Trans Tahoe Relay and the Myrtle Huddleston Honorary Swim, and several solo marathon swims (21.25 miles (34.1 km), governed by the Lake Tahoe Swimming Society and Lake Tahoe Swimming Association as well as the Jamie’s Swim Camp III, The Lake Tahoe Edition, the annual Gar Woods Polar Bear Swim, and the Tahoe Rough Water Swim.

Lake Tahoe is part of the Triple Crown of Lake Monster Swims or the cryptozoological Triple Crown.

2022 UltraMarathon Swim Series Events

It is part of the inaugural 2022 UltraMarathon Swim Series:

Lake Tahoe Swimming Society

A organization that governs traditional and adventure solo and relay swims in Lake Tahoe was created in 2012, the Lake Tahoe Swimming Society. The Lake Tahoe Swimming Society was co-founded by Jamie Patrick, Karen Rogers, Brian Patterson, Garrett Harley and Rob Laurie.

Lake Tahoe Marathon Swim Federation

The Lake Tahoe Marathon Swim Federation is a governing and recording body to document marathon swim crossings of Lake Tahoe in California. It was co-founded by Dave Van Mouwerik, Dean Moser, and Tom Linthicum.

Lengthwise Swims

1. Fred Rogers (age 29) on July 21, 1955 swam 19 HRS 6 MIN, 6 SEC (19.96 miles from KINGS BEACH to BIJOU)
2. Erline Christopherson (age 16) on July 25, 1962 swam 14 HRS, 16 MIN (16.66 miles from BALDWIN BEACH to DOLLAR POINT)
4. Leonore Modell (age 14) on October 6, 1964 swam 14 HOURS, 44 MIN (20.49 miles from TAHOE KEYS to KINGS BEACH)
4. Dave Kenyon (age 45) on September 12, 1986 swam 9 HRS, 20 MIN (20.81 miles from TAHOE KEYS MARINA to HYATT BEACH)
5. Grant Heck (age 41) on September 9, 1989 swam 12 HOURS 04 MIN (21.02 miles from TAHOE KEYS MARINA to INCLINE VILLAGE)
6. Suzie Dods (age 28) on September 10, 1989 swam 11 HRS 6 MIN (16.64 miles from DOLLAR POINT to REGAN BEACH)
6. Laura Colette (age 49) on September 20, 2004 swam 12 HOURS 46 MIN 52 SEC (20.54 miles from CAMP RICHARDSON to KINGS BEACH)
8. Kevin Murphy (age 54) on July 24, 2004 swam 14 HOURS 56 MIN (20.66 miles from POPES BEACH to KINGS BEACH)
9. Laura Colette (age 40) on July 1, 2004 swam 12 HOURS 2 MIN (21.24 miles from HYATT BEACH to CAMP RICHARDSON)
10. Bruckner Chase (age 49) on August 15, 2005 swam 11 HRS 16 MIN (20.54 miles from CAMP RICHARDSON to KINGS BEACH)
11. Ken Harmon (age 45) on August 22, 2005 swam 11 HOURS 19 MINUTES (21.24 miles from CAMP RICHARDSON to HYATT BEACH)
12. Tom Linthicum (age 48) on August 12, 2006 swam 16 HOURS 29 MINUTES (20.65 miles from EL DORADO BEACH to HYATT BEACH)
14. Jim Fitzpatrick on September 9, 2006 swam 14 HOURS 56 MINUTES (21.24 miles from CAMP RICHARDSON to HYATT BEACH)
14. Catheryne Diprete (age 44) on September 40, 2006 swam 10 HOURS 14 MINUTES (21.091 miles from TAHOE KEYS WEST CHANNEL to HYATT BEACH)
15. Karen Rogers (age 42) on August 12, 2009 swam 10 HOURS 50 MINUTES (21.24 miles from CAMP RICHARDSON to HYATT BEACH)
16. Patti Bauernfeind on August 28, 2009 swam 10 HOURS 48 MINUTES (21.24 miles from CAMP RICHARDSON to HYATT BEACH)
16. Clark Bird (age 49) on August 22, 2010 swam 14 HOURS 24 MINUTES (21.24 miles HYATT BEACH to CAMP RICHARDSON)
18. Dave Van Mouwerik (age 54) on August 14, 2011 swam 14 HOURS 51 MINUTES 12 SECONDS (21.24 miles from CAMP RICHARDSON to HYATT BEACH)
19. Tom Hecker (age 59) on August 24, 2011 swam 15 HOURS 8 MINUTES (21.24 miles from CAMP RICHARDSON to HYATT BEACH)
20. Brad Schindler on August 29, 2011 swam 11 HOURS 26 MINUTES (21.24 miles from CAMP RICHARDSON to HYATT BEACH)
21. Jim Fitzpatrick on September 6, 2011 swam 14 HOURS 59 MINUTES (21.24 miles from HYATT BEACH to CAMP RICHARDSON)
22. Craig Lenning on 26 July 2012 swam 11 hours 0 minutes 26 seconds (21.24 miles from Hyatt Beach to Camp Richardson)
24. Joseph Locke on 1 August 2012 swam 11 hours 40 minutes (21.24 miles from Camp Richardson to Hyatt Beach)
24. Kim Chambers on 5 August 2012 swam 15 hours 40 minutes (21.24 miles between Camp Richardson and Hyatt Beach)
25. Tom Linthicum on 12 August 2012 swam 16 hours 44 minutes (21.24 miles between Camp Richardson and Hyatt Beach)

Two-way Crossings

Sarah Thomas (22 hours 45 minutes) and Craig Lenning (24 hours 45 minutes) completed a two-way crossing of Lake Tahoe on 19 July 2014.


Completion of the Still Water Eight can be recorded in three categories:

1. wetsuit
2. non-wetsuit (i.e., FINA approved swim suits)
4. channel-standard swimwear (i.e., traditional swimming briefs for men and no arm or leg coverage for women)

If the swimmer chooses to swim one of the Still Water Eight swims in a wetsuit, they would fall into the wetsuit category. Likewise if they swim in a FINA-approved swimsuit, they fall in that category. If they swim across all the lakes in channel-standard swimwear, then they fall into the channel-standard category.

Every swim attempt must start and finish on dry land.

Stillwater 8

Lake Tahoe is part of the Stillwater 8, a solo marathon swimming challenge created by Michelle Macy:

Video of Trans Tahoe Relays

First-hand Account of Swimming Lake Tahoe

This first-hand account of swimming the entire length of Lake Tahoe was written by Dave Van Mouwerik:

On August 14, 2011, I undertook a swim to cross Lake Tahoe in the south/north direction. Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America, and this particular swim is an interstate (California and Nevada) swim. I wanted to swim the longest straight line that Lake Tahoe presented. To the best of my knowledge this longest straight line swim route was established in 2005 by Ken Harmon of Danville, California. Ken researched the previous swims of Lake Tahoe, and then he successfully swam the route that he identified as the longest straight line (e.g. from Camp Richardson in the south to Hyatt Beach in the north). Based on the historic swim records that he identified, it appears that I was the nineteenth person to swim “Tahoe-The-Long-Way”.

Many of the historic swims (the first one was accomplished in 1955 by Fred Rogers) followed various north/south routes, and these routes varied in length between 16 miles and 21 miles. Since Ken’s 2005 swim, it appears that subsequent swimmers have generally followed Ken’s route when swimming “Tahoe-The-Long-Way”. Based on this longest route, I was the ninth person to swim this distance. And rumor has it another attempt was made on August 24rd, and that yet another attempt will be made in early September. (I like the idea of being the ninth person, rather than the nineteenth person, because then I can say “hey, more people have walked on the moon than have swum the length of Lake Tahoe”….)

This swim was a great experience. The concerns I had about the swim, namely the elevation (over 6200 feet) and the cold water (lots of anecdotal and inaccurate information about how unbelievably cold this lake is) proved to have no real impact on my swim. I spent three days at the lake before the swim, and believe that I was mostly acclimatized to the elevation. Had I been involved in a sprint at a swim meet at this elevation, then, I think, the elevation would have affected my performance—but on a marathon swim….no problem. As far as the water temperature went, it held steady at 66 degrees for the duration of the swim. Wow! Balmy and excellent! When I stepped into the water at 4:00 am on Sunday morning, the air temperature was 52 degrees, and so the water felt warm when I entered it.

More about the lake water temperature… Ten feet below the surface, the water temperature holds to a constant 49 degrees, and remains at this temperature to the bottom of the lake, which in places is more than 1600 feet deep. However, the top ten feet of the water column is greatly influenced by the summer sun, and it is not uncommon to have water temperatures in August and early September, at the surface, of 61 to 68 degrees. (Thankfully, I am one of those swimmers who swims at the water’s surface.) Granted, winds can churn up some colder water, and this upwelling can make for some cold spots. However on my swim, we measured the water temperature all along the swim route, and the lake maintained a 66 degree temperature the entire way.

The first eight and a half hours were excellent—swimming under a full moon, exquisitely calm water, the escort boat running with no lights, the muted lights of glow sticks hanging off of the escorting paddleboard and (2) kayaks, watching the slow process of the sunrise off my right shoulder. Feedings happened easily and quickly; we were laying down some miles. I’d seen from internet weather reports the previous couple of days that there was some wind forecast for the late morning and the afternoon, and that it would be coming out of the southwest, so I was happy to be “making some hay” while the moon, and then the sun, shone.

Well, the winds came at about 11:40 am, and they intensified throughout the remainder of the swim. They came from the southwest, and eventually I think they were coming from the west-by-southwest. Ultimately, they pushed up to 20-25 miles per hour; had they been coming from the north I’m pretty sure I would not have completed the swim. I guess an “armchair quarterback” could say “well, gee, it looks like the swimmer got helped out by the wind, isn’t that great?”. I did not feel that way. The winds continuously pushed me off course (to the east), so I often felt like I was swimming in a northwest direction to compensate for the wind-caused drift to the east. And as I got pushed further to the east, the wind was eventually coming directly at my left side.

The kayaks could not stay upright in the swell and chop (the swells were not like in the ocean: they had short intervals and they were steep, and the chop was very chaotic; whitecaps were in great supply). With the kayaks now unmanned and being towed by the boat, it was only the paddle boarder and I in the water for much of remaining 4 hours of the swim (the kayaks were re-deployed about 45 minutes before the finish of swim).

I was growing extremely exasperated by the constant chop, and the feeling that I was not getting anywhere. I felt like I was being blown into the east end of the lake (and I was), and that I wouldn’t be able to complete my intended swim route. I was getting seasick, and called for some Dramamine. At one feeding, I was told I had 1.4 miles left; then in 40 minutes at the next feeding, I was told I had .92 miles left. Oh! That was some bad news—to have covered only .48 miles in 40 minutes. My mind groaned, as I ciphered out that I could still be in the water for 65 minutes or more.

We slogged on. My body was becoming less horizontal in the water—more upright—and my arm strokes were becoming ever shorter and less effective. I was composing my account of the swim that I would give to friends when I got back home, to explain my failure to reach the finish. Namely, I thought, I’d say something like “…but you know… it’s the journey, not the destination, that’s important…”.

The kayaks came back in the water, joining me and the paddle board. We continued on, and then very unexpectedly, and suddenly, Chip, my paddle boarder, drew attention to a buoy about a dozen feet in front of me. He said that once I rounded that buoy, I could turn to the right, and it would be a straight 200 yards into shore. I could scarcely believe this turn of events, but upon rounding the buoy, I saw that it was true.

And so I made the shore. As I reverted to a terrestrial creature, getting my legs back underneath me, I performed that silly lurching crab-walk dance of open water swimmers, when they leave the water behind. I did my best to present myself to onlookers as though I, of course, had been in control for the entire swim. This thinly veiled performance, I’m sure, was seen as an obvious masquerade.

I covered the length of Lake Tahoe, 21.68 miles, in 14 hours and 51 minutes. My on-the-water support crew had kept the swim from deteriorating, even as the weather had turned so ugly. Their own significant and ongoing efforts were what allowed me to succeed in crossing the lake. And back on shore, I encountered my wife Lisa, and others, who had supported me so much throughout my training, as well as during the build-up to the swim, and on the day of the swim itself. I was happy, but mostly what I felt was great relief at completing the swim.

Lake Tahoe has much magic in it to impart to marathon swimmers. The water is fresh, the surrounding mountains are remarkable, and you may even see some snow on the higher peaks. This swim route is grand, and is deserving of much more attention by open water swimmers in the coming years. And, maybe one day soon, there will be a swimmer who will swim this route out-and-back – a double crossing—and they will have bragging rights on being the first swimmer to have accomplished this undertaking. Who will it be?

I know that in life it is our journeys, rather than our destinations, that largely define us and provide context and meaning for us. And yet. It is unequivocally the sweetest thing, to undertake an adventure like this, and to achieve the destination—the thing that you focused on and endeavored to reach, throughout the months of training, and the long hours of the swim itself. It is the destination, and it is the journey.

Traditional open water marathon swimming. There is nothing else like it, on earth.

World's Best Open Water Swimming Towns

Lake Tahoe was selected as one of the World's Best Open Water Swimming Towns by the World Open Water Swimming Association in 2014.

Ultimate Swim-a-Thon

The Ultimate Swim-a-Thon is a 50-state, 50-swim extreme charity swim by American open water swimmers and brothers Joseph Zemaitis and John Zemaitis from Arizona (also known as the Swim Brothers). The Ultimate Swim-a-Thon requires the completion of a marathon swim of at least 10 km in distance in all 50 states. The charity swim benefits USA Swimming Foundation.

  • Day 1 (20 July 2022), Swim 1: 10.2 km from Makaha Beach to Keawaula Beach on Oahu, Hawaii
  • Day 2 (21 July 21st), Swim 2: 10.33 km in Big Lake, City of Anchorage, State of Alaska
  • Day 3 (22 July 22nd), Swim 3: 10.41 km in Lake Tahoe, City of Reno, State of Nevada
  • Day 3 (22 July 22nd), Swim 4: 10.06 km in Lake Tahoe, State of California
  • Day 4 (23 July 23rd), Swim 5: 17.16 km in the Willamette River, Portland, State of Oregon
  • Day 4 (23 July 23rd), Swim 6: 10.32 km in Yale Lake, City of Yale, State of Washington
  • Day 5 (24 July 24th), Swim 7: 10.00 km in Coeur d’Alene, City of Coeur d’Alene, State of Idaho
  • Day 5 (24 July 24th), Swim 8: 10.43 km in Flathead Lake, City of Elmo, State of Montana
  • Day 6 (July 25th), Swim 9: 10.38 km in Lake de Smet, City of Sheridan, State of Wyoming
  • Day 6 (July 25th), Swim 10: 10.30 km in Belle Fourche Dam, State of South Dakota
  • Day 7 (July 26th), Swim 11: 10.35 km in Lake Ashtabula, Valley City, State of North Dakota
  • Postponed due to Lightning: Day 7 (July 26th), Swim 12: 10.08 km in Lake Minnewaska, Glenwood, State of Minnesota
  • Postponed: Day 7 (July 26th), Swim 13: 10.05 km in Spirit Lake, City of Spirit Lake, Iowa
  • Day 8 (July 27th), Re-do Swim 12: 10.08 km in Lake Minnewaska, Glenwood, Minnesota
  • Day 8 (July 27th), Re-do Swim 13: 10.05 km in Spirit Lake, City of Spirit Lake, Iowa
  • Day 9 (July 28th), Swim 14: 10.22 km in Lake Michigan, City of Kenosha, State of Wisconsin
  • Day 9 (July 28th), Swim 15: 11.97 km in Lake Michigan, City of Waukegan, State of Illinois
  • Day 10 (July 29th), Swim 16: 10.08 km in Lake Michigan, Michigan City, State of Indiana
  • Day 10 (July 29th), Swim 17: 10.21 km in Lake Michigan, New Buffalo, State of Michigan
  • Day 11 (July 30th), Swim 18: 10.12 km in Lake Erie, City of Conneaut, State of Ohio
  • Day 11 (July 30th), Swim 19: 10.24 km in Lake Erie, City of Erie, State of Pennsylvania
  • Postponed: Day 11 (July 30th), Swim 20: 10.24 km in Lake Erie, City of Westfield, State of New York
  • Day 12 (July 31st), Swim 20: 10.24 km in Lake Champlain, State of New York
  • Days 12/13 (July 31st/August 1st), Swim 21: 10.20 km in Lake Champlain, State of Vermont
  • Day 13 (August 1st), Swim 22: 10.13 km in Lake Winnipesaukee, State of New Hampshire
  • Day 13 (August 1st), Swim 23: 10.08 km in Lake Sebago, City of South Casco, State of Maine
  • Day 14 (August 2nd), Swim 24: 10.16 km in Narragansett Bay, State of Rhode Island
  • Day 14 (August 2nd), Swim 25: 10.04 km in Buzzards Bay, Pocasset, State of Massachusetts
  • Day 14 (August 2nd), Swim 26: 10.08 km in Long Island Sound, Norwalk, State of Connecticut
  • Day 15 (August 3rd), Swim 27: 10.06 km in Silver Bay, City of Toms River, State of New Jersey
  • Day 15 (August 3rd), Swim 28: 10.18 km in Rehoboth Bay, Rehoboth Bay, State of Delaware
  • Day 16 (August 4th), Swim 29: 11.12 km in Eastern Bay, City of Stevensville, State of Maryland
  • Day 16 (August 4th), Swim 30: 10.46 km in Summersville Lake, State of West Virginia
  • Day 17 (August 5th), Swim 31: 10.62 km in Lake Wylie, Charlotte, State of South Carolina
  • Day 17 (August 5th), Swim 32: 10.43 km in Lake Norman, Denver, State of North Carolina
  • Day 18 (August 6th), Swim 33: 10.22 km in South Holston Lake, Bristol, State of Virginia
  • Day 18 (August 6th), Swim 34: 10.64 km in South Holston Lake, City of Bristol, Tennessee
  • Day 18 (August 6th), Swim 35: 10.44 km in Laurel River Lake, Morehead, State of Kentucky
  • Day 19 (August 7th), Swim 36: 10.62 km in Lake Burton, City of Clayton, State of Georgia
  • Day 19 (August 7th), Swim 37: 10.22 km in Lake Guntersville, Guntersville, State of Alabama
  • Day 20 (August 8th), Swim 38: 10.14 km in Choctawhatchee Bay, Destin, State of Florida
  • Day 20 (August 8th), Swim 39: 10.14 km in Bay St. Louis, Bay St. Louis, State of Mississippi
  • Day 21 (August 9th), Swim 40: 10.48 km in Toledo Bend Reservoir, Florein, Louisiana
  • Day 21 (August 9th), Swim 41: 10.16 km in Toledo Bend Reservoir, Fairmont, State of Texas
  • Day 21 (August 9th), Swim 42: 10.14 km in Broken Bow Lake, Broken Law, State of Oklahoma
  • Day 22 (August 10th), Swim 43: 10.26 km in Beaver Lake, Bentonville, State of Arkansas
  • Day 22 (August 10th), Swim 44: 10.58 km in Table Rock Lake, Branson, State of Missouri
  • Day 23 (August 11th), Swim 45: 10.09 km in Wilson Lake, City of Russell, State of Kansas
  • Day 23 (August 11th), Swim 46: 10.62 km in Harlan County Lake, Alma, State of Nebraska
  • Day 24 (August 12th), Swim 47: 10.30 km in Navajo Reservoir], Rio Arriba County, New Mexico
  • Day 24 (August 12th), Swim 48: 10.00 km in McPhee Reservoir, Fort Collins, Colorado
  • Day 25 (August 13th), Swim 49: 10.13 km in Lake Powell, Wahweap, State of Utah
  • Day 25 (August 13th), Swim 50: 10.38 km in Lake Powell, State of Arizona

External links