The ‘Iceman of Peace River’

John Mark Earle takes a dip in the frigid Peace River recently. He has been fascinated by polar dips ever since he was a child.

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

While most of Alberta shivers in the grip of extreme cold warnings, one man is facing winter – and his own limits – by plunging into the icy Peace River.

John Mark Earle says he started taking ice baths on his own.

“I’ve been fascinated by polar dips every since I was a kid, but never really knew I could just do it whenever I wanted to,” Earle says.

After trying it a couple of times last winter, he decided to take his curiosity about cold water bathing to a whole new level.

“Right now my goal is to dip every day of winter,” Earle says.

“This cold snap that’s coming up, I’m a little bit afraid of, I’m not sure how it’s going to go, but the other day I was in when it was a wind chill of -30C and I survived.”

Earle began his ice baths on Dec. 16, which is a little early for a traditional New Year’s resolution. However, he says he already feels more committed to his outdoor ice baths than anything in a long time, after having difficulties in the past sticking to his best intentions to do things like eat better, exercise more, read more, and hike. At press time he had already ice dipped every day for 24 days in a row.

“I don’t know where this is going to go fully,” Earle says. “Every day I don’t want to do it, but I do it.”

Earle is mainly taking his ice baths in the Peace River near the lower west Peace boat launch, where the river doesn’t get too deep. He has also swum in the frigid waters in Harmon Valley near the Keates home, where he has been doing some carpentry. He had to cut 12-13-inches of ice there to make a hole for his daily ice bath.

He says he always has someone nearby just in case.

“This is new territory for me,” Earle says. “It’s not like there’s a manual or a group of people who do this all the time. I’m always kind of gingerly pushing the boundary.”

Earle says he is also testing his boundaries to learn how long he can actually stay in the water.

“I’ve read a little bit about what happens in cold exposure at the temperature ranges I’m going in,” he says.

“Everything bad starts to happen between 3-5 minutes and then it just gets worse.

“When I first started I was in the water for 45 seconds to a minute. My comfort level has just gone up. Yesterday I was in there for four minutes and it didn’t feel worse than when I was going for the shorter times.”

Earle says he was partly inspired by Wim Hof, a Dutch man known as “The Iceman” for breaking several world records for cold exposure. According to Hof’s website, the motivational speaker has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in shorts and stood in a container filled with ice cubes for more than 112 minutes, setting 21 different Guinness World Records.

While Earle doesn’t use the full “Wim Hof Method” of training, he says he does use some of Hof’s deep breathing techniques.

More importantly, without Hof’s example, Earle says, “I don’t think I would have believed it was possible.”

Earle is also trying techniques of his own.

“The biggest thing that I’ve noticed is if I’m holding my breathe when I go in it eliminates the initial gasp. If I skip the intensity of that distress, it helps,” Earle says.

Earle says he would like to know if anyone else in Canada is taking daily ice baths like he is, although his intent it not to set any kind of record.

Earle says he hopes to see some benefits from his daily dip.

For one thing, he works in construction and would like to have less pain in his body. Some science says cold water bathing may reduce inflammation and improve athletic performance.

Another reason he does it is purely curiosity, Earle says, “To see if I can do it, what the limits are.”

There are other less tangible benefits Earle is already noticing, too.

“On a psychological level I feel like it is encouraging me to face areas that I might have been afraid of in real life, or things I might have wanted to put off or avoid, if I can do this.

“The whole point is to try to stay relaxed while you’re experiencing this intense stress, and it’s like that is exercising a muscle I feel like is developing strength for other areas.”

Earle freely admits he hasn’t always loved being outdoors in the northern Alberta winter weather.

“I didn’t grow up around here,” says Earle, who moved to the region from Nova Scotia in 2012. “Our winters were not nearly as severe as this.”

He says he has struggled in the past because of the cold, dark winter season.

“When winter comes I kind of have this little bit of dread inside that I know what’s coming, and I think this is also a way of saying I’m not going to hide in the dark.”

Interested readers can follow Earle’s ice bath journey on Instagram, or possibly even join him for a dip.

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