When you think of diving under the ice in Europe, what first comes to mind is Lake Weissensee, located in the Austrian province of Karnten. This glacier lake is positioned 930m above sea level and, owing to specific local meteorological conditions, it is covered with ice from December to March. That is why the small town of Tachendorf is particularly known for this type of diving. Karolina and Ernest Turnschek run the Hotel Mosser and Yachtdiver diving center here, the ideal logistical support for diving expeditions.
We have already visited Weisensee a few times before, most often during the winter, but this lake is stunning in the summer too. Ice and snow are special and create what can be described as a 'wild beauty'. You need a lot of experience, will, and a little bit of luck to dive here. If you add underwater photography to the mix, things can get complicated.
We arrived during the last week of February. The winter season crowd was gone, and the lake and Tachendorf were both under a thick layer of snow. We had two tasks before us: scuba diving at a dive site known as “Little Canada”, a part of the lake with special protection status, and a photo shoot with Mares XR equipment. The realization of both of them was also uncertain due to challenging weather conditions.
The next day began with fresh snowfall as we awoke, but it stopped later the morning. We decided to proceed with the first ice dive, just outside of the Yachtdiver centre, which was supposed to be an easy start. With help from the guys at the dive centre we managed to carve a hole in the ice and soon we were underwater, gliding beneath the surface.
Visibility in the water at the time was around 10 meters, but the experience was spoiled, to some degree, by the thick layer of snow on the ice above us which obscured the daylight to some degree. Although we made “light tunnels” by brushing away the snow above the dive site as best we could; it was darker than usual. Water temperature was typically around 2 °C, while the surface temperature was a chilly -7 °C.
The site provided for ideal diving in real winter surroundings. We used the excellent Mares 25XR-DR and 25XR-CR Full Tec regulators, which operated flawlessly in extremely cold conditions. The thermal protection was also perfect, wearing the XR1 dry suits made our dives both very comfortable and enjoyable. The dive and equipment were excellent, and we couldn’t wait for tomorrow’s action to begin.
“Little Canada” is located only 10km away from the Yachtdiver base. Lake Weisensee is around 27km long, with “Little Canada” under special protection. That means, there are no houses, people or vehicles. It is surrounded only by woods, mountains and ice. We needed special diving permission and also a permit from the Mayor of the town for the snow to be cleared using snow blowers and sweeping machines. Both licenses were granted, so the Mares XR team was able to continue with their icy underwater adventures.
Volkswagen T6 4WD vehicles were used to transport divers and support to the site, while all the equipment was carried in a trailer pulled by trusty VW all-terrain vehicles. After becoming stuck a few times on heavy snowfalls and ice, our problems were eventually solved, and our little convoy finally reached its destination.
Written by Janez Kranjc
Photos by Ivana Orlovic Kranjc, Dejan Subotic, Vladimir Subotic and Janez Kranjc