Each year it happens sometime after the first snowfall in Minnesota and around Thanksgiving. Time for the annual intelligence test. This is the time of the year when ice usually forms on the lakes in our area of central Minnesota. Avid ice fishermen and winter sport enthusiasts flock to the lakes and ponds in record numbers. They want to be the first out on the ice-covered lakes for their various sports.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources publishes a brochure that educates on the dangers of venturing out onto thin ice. But it is largely disregarded by those who think they know better. Their regulations suggest the following guidelines for safety but always maintain that no ice is truly safe and you should proceed cautiously in you choose to proceed at all on the ice.
“For New, Clear Ice Only
- 2″ or less – STAY OFF
- 4″ – Ice fishing or other activities on foot
- 5″ – Snowmobile or ATV
- 8″ – 12″ – Car or small pickup
- 12″ – 15″ – Medium truck
Remember that these thicknesses are merely guidelines for new, clear, solid ice. Many factors other than thickness can cause ice to be unsafe.”
In the past five winter seasons there have been an average of 4 fatalities due to venturing out on thin ice in Minnesota. Ice fishing used to be done by sitting on an upside down bucket on the lake next to a hand drilled hole. It has evolved over the past years into mini cities on ice with large ice fish houses. The ice fishing houses are pulled onto the lakes by pickup trucks or ATV’s.
A couple of years ago my husband and I spent an entire Sunday afternoon retrieving a fish house from the bottom of a local lake. The owner thought that someone had played a joke on him and removed the fish house overnight when in reality the ice had grown thin and the ice house fell through the ice to the bottom.
In Minnesota you must remove your fish house, snowmobile, ATV or vehicle if it goes through the ice and pay all the costs involved. It took an entire afternoon, our tow truck, and two scuba divers to retrieve the fish house. The divers had to go down and hook chains onto the fish house so it could be hoisted out of the water. It was a slow and cold process but most of the town turned out to watch the event. Thankfully no one had slept overnight in the ice house which has been the custom in the past few years.
The Minnesota DNR gives the following advice to people regarding driving on ice:
“Refrain from driving on ice whenever possible.
If you must drive a vehicle, be prepared to leave it in a hurry–keep windows down, unbuckle your seat belt and have a simple emergency plan of action you have discussed with your passengers.”
I wish that I could say that my husband and I heeded the warnings about driving on the ice but we did not. My parents bought a lake home in 1992 about 8 miles from our home and we offered to help my Dad remove a cement retaining wall that had broken by their waterfront. The cabins were too close together so we could not haul the cement chunks out with the bobcat so my Dad and husband came up with the brilliant idea to wait until the lake froze. We would drive our flatbed truck across the lake to Mom and Dad’s cabin from the lake access about a half mile and load up the cement and drive off the lake.
The day finally arrived in February to put their plan in place. They checked the ice thickness and declared they thought it was thick enough. We loaded up the bobcat on the truck and drove across the ice to Mom and Dad’s. We unloaded the bobcat and used it to load up the cement chunks on the truck.
When we had a load my Dad and husband took the load to a local contractor that was looking for fill. Back to the lake for a second load and a second unloading at the contractor’s. Each trip they tried to take a little different path across the lake so it wouldn’t stress the ice too much. They drove the truck with the windows open and the doors partially open for a quick escape if they happened to go through the ice with the truck.
Time for the third trip across the lake. They loaded up the bobcat back on the truck after they returned from dumping the second load of cement and my husband and I headed across the lake for the third and final time. We couldn’t drive too fast because if we did we tended to make a small wave in the ice ahead of us. We didn’t want to drive too slow either because it would take too long, not wanting to spend any more time on the ice than necessary.
We drove across the lake, passing a small village of ice fishing houses when all of a sudden everyone started coming out of their houses as we passed by. Apparently the weight of our truck passing the fish houses was forcing water up through their ice fishing holes and flooding them out. They just stood and stared as we were passing by.
Mission accomplished! We were young and foolish back then and I’m positive that we wouldn’t attempt it now.