Lieutenant Brandon Gabel has plunged into Yellowknife’s Long Lake not once, but twice this January, as temperatures hover below -30C.
Gabel is an advisor for the Arctic Operations Advisor course, offered through the Trenton, Ontario-based Canadian Army Advanced Warfare Centre.
Part of his job? Teaching cold-water immersion to the 24 Canadian Forces members taking three weeks of survival training in Yellowknife and Resolute Bay, Nunavut.
“The purpose of the cold-water immersion training is to simulate actually falling through the ice and having to rescue yourself,” Gabel explained.
“So it’s designed to build confidence of the candidates if they were to break through the ice and end up in cold water.
“This training gets candidates the skills and tools to ensure they don’t become another statistic.”
Ice, ice baby! Canadian Armed Forces members took part in Cold Water Immersion training on Long Lake, #Yellowknife as part of winter survival training. #NorthStrong #WeAreReady pic.twitter.com/FWFhNiAHta
— JTF North / FOI Nord (@JTFN_FOIN) January 22, 2019
Gabel first went through a pre-cut hole in the ice on January 18, to practice before the candidates arrived.
Then he volunteered to demonstrate again on Monday, when he said the water was just half a degree Celsius.
“The initial feeling when you hit the water is a cold shock response. So your body begins to hyperventilate and react to the shock of that cold water surrounding you.
“So at that point in time, what you really need to concentrate on is returning to the ice in the direction that you came and controlling your breathing by taking deep breaths and making sure that you don’t hyperventilate,” he advised.
“What we’ve been taught is that you want to have that under control within one minute, followed by that you have 10 minutes where you are going to have meaningful movement in your extremities.
“That’s the time period that want to be getting out of the ice and getting into something warm and dry before your body seizes up to the point that you can’t actually conduct that those movements.
“You’ll find that when your hands and feet are really cold, you’re going to have trouble moving, utilizing buttons and zippers on your clothes, and making those movements with dexterity.”
Gabel cautioned that people who fall through the ice have about one hour to get warm – otherwise, they can lose consciousness from hypothermia.
The candidates, who all successfully made it out of the lake without going hypothermic, will next be facing a survival exercise and ground search-and-rescue tasks near Yellowknife for “an undisclosed number of days” before they head to Resolute.
Over in Nunavut, they’ll receive training from the Canadian Rangers, including how to construct igloos and shelters.