Spud Divers Enjoy Dierkes Lake
TWIN FALLS, Jan 10, 2013 (The Times-News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
On a 41 degree December afternoon, wind licked the four divers who pulled on air tanks and did their safety checks under a picnic pavilion at Dierkes Lake.
Never mind the heavy gray cloud cover.
"We're hard-core spud divers," said Charles McClure, 40, who dives year-round in Idaho with his brother, wife and son. No need to spend big money to winter in the Bahamas. "This is actually one of the funnest dives. We love Dierkes Lake."
Even 35 degree water didn't strain that love, at least for the three divers in insulated drysuits. Michael McClure, 18, would have a tougher time in his wetsuit on this Dec. 17 dive.
Of course, Richard McClure, 45, paid a good deal more for his new $2,000 drysuit than Michael did for his $375 suit. But beginners can rent suits or buy them used, the divers added.
Weighed down by suits, tanks and gear -- Charles estimated his at a total of 200 pounds -- the four figures in head-to-toe black trudged from the picnic tables to the edge of Dierkes Lake.
"Diver down," Michael called, leaping into water already populated by dozens of ducks. He howled and chattered as his wetsuit filled with water.
He and Richard intended to look for a cold Coke in an underwater goody chest that the McClures and others stock for fun.
Charles and his wife, Kimberly McClure, 39, would search for lost this-and-that near the Dierkes dock, where swimmers splash down all summer. One mallard trailed behind as the couple's two columns of bubbles moved parallel to the dock.
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The 26-acre Dierkes Lake, nestled between the rock cliffs and walls of the Snake River Canyon, attracts thousands ofvisitors a year. Many of them never see its underwater fantasy world.
An empty propane tank as a surface buoy marks the position of an underwater platform, where diving students can kneel to do training tasks such as removing their masks, removing regulators or practicing buddy breathing. From the platform, underwater ropes lead to strange, just-for-fun installations: a metal shark, a snowman, a toilet, a triangle of hula hoops, a couple of sunken boats, a combination safe.
Divers can still see the stumps of an orchard that once grew on the site, said Boise diving instructor Mary Branchflower, who used to teach from a Twin Falls shop and has logged more than 200 dives in Dierkes Lake.
Diving buddies and business partners Kim Shelley-Hurley, 48, of Filer, and Dave Scantlin, 44 of Jerome, are in Dierkes Lake every week during summer, teaching their Magic Valley Dive Center clients, diving for fun or participating in search and rescue exercises. The lake's plentiful bluegill, accustomed to divers, gather around the minute they're in the water and stick with them, Dave said.
Sometimes bluegill nibble their ears, looking for Cheez Whiz.
"We don't overfeed the fish. We don't want to make them fat," Kim added.
Cheez Whiz Some of the McClures' underwater videos show the explanation:fish darting in to snatch short sections of processed cheese from a diver with a can. (Search "scubaidaho" on YouTube to watch the footage.)
On the far side of the lake, fallen boulders create caves and nooks for divers to explore beside a cliff face, Charles said.
Kim and Dave did that a few years ago and encountered "a catfish with a head the same size as mine," Kim said. "We ran into each other face to face."
When the Cheez Whiz runs out, the crud is cleaned off Frosty and the shark ceases to thrill, a Dierkes diver can always hunt for treasure dropped by swimmers.
"Rings, necklaces, sunglasses, money ...," Michael said, ticking off on his fingers the McClures' underwater finds. "We've probably found 30 cell phones in here."
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On the sunny, calm, 30 degree afternoon of Dec. 19, Kim Shelley-Hurley and Dave Scantlin helped each other with their drysuit zippers in a Dierkes parking lot.
"Tough zipper for a tough guy," Kim said.
"Are you trying to talk me up before I get in that cold water " Dave asked, then added that it's warm inside the drysuits.
They'd dive that day with full-face masks and diver-to-diver communication, carrying half-masks as backup.
"Everything we do in diving is redundant," Kim said.
Dave burped his suit, pushing air out of a vent. They checked each other's air supplies and -- thanks to lighter gear -- made a brisk walk to the lake, where two anglers fished from the dock.
Dierkes' underwater visibility, sometimes wrecked by agricultural runoff and algae blooms, was good that day.
The diving partners sat briefly on the lake's concrete edge, then simultaneously turned and dropped backwards into the water. A couple of colorful fins broke the surface and were gone.
But minutes later, Kim's head and shoulders popped out of the water. The loud sound of escaping air continued until she unfastened her gear, slipped off her pack and turned off the valve on her frozen air cylinder.
"That's what you call a free-flow regulator," she said. "It happens in extreme cold water."
Dave reappeared to check out the cause of their broken communication, and within moments he free-flowed too. Kim, already on shore, reached down to turn off his air.
In both cases, it was the backup gear that fell victim to the cold. But it meant that for Dave and Kim winter had really arrived.
"We came prepared for cold water, but just not ice diving," Kim said.
With ice gear, they'll dive the frigid Dierkes for training -- when Dave did his drysuit certification here in 1998, he had to kick ice off the ladder -- but for fun they'll switch to warmer waters such as Fisher Lake near Hagerman, Utah's Homestead Crater or Blue Lake on the Utah-Nevada border.
"This gets pretty intimidating here. It gets pretty darn cold," said Dave, his breath visible in the air but his body still warm inside his drysuit.
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On Dec. 17, long after Michael and Kimberly McClure called it quits, brothers Charles and Richard were still searching underwater.
Geese honked as they circled above the lake, wind-whipped waves slapped the dock, and the diving board clanked against its frame. The curious mallard surveyed the scene from the dock.
"I can't feel my fingers. That's how cold they are," Michael said, returning to the lake to pick up his mom's tank.
When Charles surfaced, he wore sunglasses over his mask and deposited a second pair of sunglasses on the dock, later adding a new diving mask and a watch to the collection. Richard found only trash -- and about 20 bass.
Richard puffed up his drysuit with air and floated on his back, slapping his fins together and barking, "Arr! Arr! Arr!"
When he tried to climb onto lakeside rocks, he slipped back into the water.
"It's slick as snot," he said. Charles did the same and promptly decided a ladder was a better exit plan.
Struggling to swim with puffy arms and no fins, Richard and Charles clowned and wrestled all the way to the ladder.
They'd been in the cold lake half an hour, and wind now howled through the Snake River Canyon. But as they walked through the park the brothers laughed loudly, at nothing in particular.
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