A female diving duo from the UK has completed a mission to dive the UK’s three highest altitude lakes in a mountaineering fundraiser, making them the first all-women team to conquer the challenge.
Sarah Tingey (27) and Rachael Priest (25), both Divemasters from the South West, are the first women to complete the Three Lakes Challenge – a gruelling adventure involving diving lakes in Scotland, England and Wales that was initiated and completed by Monty Halls and Andy Torbet for Help For Heroes in 2007.
The pair finished the challenge in just under 28 hours, narrowly missing their aim of 24 hours, but managed to smash their fundraising target of £1,250 – raising £3,180 for Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance.
Sarah said: “We actually reached £2,500 as we set off in Scotland which was a great boost. It feels absolutely incredible to have smashed our target. It was probably one of the hardest things I have ever done!
“We are the fastest non-military team and the first all women team ever. The next non-military civilian team to my knowledge completed in 45 hours or so.”
Aside from her training dive at Vobster Quay Inland Diving Centre in Somerset with Rachael, Sarah worked hard to secure sponsors from across University of Bristol where she is studying toward her PhD in Glaciology, through other links in the industry and from friends and family.
“The support from everyone was just mind blowing and was a real push not to bail during the bad weather in Scotland – we got our heads down and got it done,” she added.
Sarah and Rachael battled snow, rain and gale force winds in Scotland – their first leg of the tour – navigating icy gullies which affected their schedule, then taking on the 14km route back with 30kg of dive equipment.
“The weather in Scotland was terrible and made us slightly behind schedule after really pushing ourselves to complete the first one,” she said. “14km uphill in those conditions, lumbered with dive kit across boulder fields is not ideal!”
One of the biggest challenges of the whole experience though was lack of energy due to eating on the go, and constantly reassessing the safety of the entire expedition, which they named ‘Mission High Water’.
“We didn’t stop on the entire hike, eating and drinking as we walked. It felt like we were completing a big summit day in Scotland – I was fuelled on jelly-babies, a tip I learnt recently following a trip to The Pyrenees. I think we needed to eat a lot more than we ate.
“I always said the 24 hours would be great but our primary aim was making the money for charity and completing it safely. At times, the thought of cancelling due to the weather did cross my mind, but you just have to breathe, think and then act, putting the pressure of failure to the back of your mind.
“It is far more important to be able to come back and tell the story than not come back at all – or fundraise for our own Mountain Rescue helicopter!” Sarah said.
The target time for each dive was 10 minutes and five metres. With such difficult conditions, they tackled Scottish lake Loch Coire an Lochain and completed a dive of five minutes at a depth of two metres, dazzled by clear waters in spite of the cold.
“It was just so cold on the surface and with the winds, a 4°C air temperature, a 3°C water temperature and being so far away from any help, it was dangerous if we also got too cold. In the water wasn’t the problem, but getting changed afterwards in the gales could be disastrous if we got our dry clothes wet.
“However, I can say that I was certainly a lot warmer in my wetsuit and didn’t want to take it off! The water was crystal clear blue with beautiful orange pink boulders. I’d go back for a dive, but maybe not under such time pressure – It was stunning,” she said.
The pair dived in O’Three semi-drys which kept them warm in chilly water temperatures, and both said they are the best wetsuits they have ever owned.
The English lake, Red tarn, came with its own buoyancy challenges, but Rachael and Sarah still managed a dive time of 15 minutes at a depth of 3.5 metres.
Sarah said: “In this lake we could find depth, but we just couldn’t gather enough rocks to sort our buoyancy. The water was about 4°C, but with no lead we were clinging onto rock overhangs or carrying rocks around and bobbing about on the bottom – it wasn’t the most graceful of dives, but it was actually pretty funny!
“From about 3.5 metres it got so unbelievably silty that we decided not to go much deeper and experience a silt-out. Unfortunately we didn’t manage to see the rare and endangered Schelley fish that live in the lake.”
Finally, lake Fynnon Loer in Wales, was a little warmer at 11°C, but achieving depth was tricky.
“Ffynnon Loer felt like a slog but we managed 80cm in 10 minutes – there was nowhere any deeper.” said Sarah. “Rachael and I swam around looking for a slightly deeper patch but we just ended up crawling across algae mats. Sadly with the lack of depth our Suunto D4i dive computers didn’t register it as a dive! However, the screens were great and very visible in the poor algae bloom conditions.”
The most exhilarating part of the event was the finish line, said Sarah: “I cried with joy – which if you know me is pretty rare. 27 hours 56 minutes of being on the go is tough, but I am so proud of the whole team and all the support from home has made it very worthwhile.”
A short movie about Mission High Water is due to be released later this year, and Sarah has her sights set on another bonkers mission soon.
“There has been a long-standing rumour of another version of some ‘extreme pond-dipping’,” she said. Watch this space.