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To Dip or Not to Dip; That is the Question

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To Dip or Not to Dip; That is the Question

Postby bheiser1 » Sat Jun 23, 2012 7:12 pm

OK, so I've been wrestling with this for a while. I (insert red letters, blinking bold text) *LOVE* to stop and dip in a refreshing lake, creek, river, <insert your favorite Sierra water> while hiking on a hot trail. I used to to do this routinely. In fact this dates back to doing me the same in the White Mountains of NH in the 70's and 80's.

In comes more recent "environmental awareness". We almost always have sunblock and/or insect repellent on when we're in the mountains. If we go into a water source wearing this "stuff", it inevitably pollutes the water. I've even seen photos of "sudsy" water in the Sierra as a result of this kind of thing. So a couple years ago I stopped going into the water while on my hikes.

I'm considering whether if I "sponge bath" with a light backpackers "towel", away from the water source, whether that would cleanse me sufficiently to go into the water with a clean conscience.

What do you all think about this? Do I need to continue to abstain from enjoying cool dips in refreshing fresh water, or is my notion that I can "sponge bath" the bad stuff away realistic?

This is especially timely for me since I'll be hiking the JMT soon, and am targeting a 4-week hike to allow time to soak up the sights <no pun intended> :D

I'm interested in what you-all have to think about this - thanks!

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Re: To Dip or Not to Dip; That is the Question

Postby Eiprahs » Sat Jun 23, 2012 8:53 pm

I think to dip or not to dip is a great question.

Some related observations:

Most public swimming pools request/require that you shower before entering their pool.

A pediatrician in our community solved a vexing problem a couple summers back when he observed that all the kids he treated for a nasty GI bug had visited the same wading pool. Turned out a carrier for a bug had an "accident" in the pool. The wading pool's treatment and filtration system wasn't able to remove/kill the pathogen, resulting in many cases of a nasty but short-termed illness.

Portland, Oregon has several open air drinking water reservoirs. When a man was observed urinating in one on security camera, the reservoir was taken off line, drained, and sanitized. Here's a link to one report: ... 07264.html

These things said, it has always puzzled me that bathing in the drinking water supply doesn't bother people when they step onto the trail. I remember reading about the dark ages, India, and the third world that many public health issues were linked to contamination of drinking water by bathing and waste disposal. Somehow we are insulated from the consequences of our actions around water by??

And I have to confess I have dipped. Guilty, Guilty, Guilty. So no high horse here. B

I think your idea of a prewash is a good one. I carry a light weight plastic bowl and small microfiber towel for such purposes. Not that I use them much. For example, when I did the JMT in September a few years back, I dipped. But not often. As the cook, by the time I cooked the evening meal and reorganized the food for the following day's travel, it would be getting dark and cold, and it was a whole lot easier to crawl into the sack than it was to get soaking wet.

Have a great time on the JMT. I did.

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Re: To Dip or Not to Dip; That is the Question

Postby kpeter » Sat Jun 23, 2012 9:03 pm

That is a really good question and I am interested in what others have to say. For years I have declined swimming, knowing that caked on layers of sunblock and deet would go into the water source. I was particularly annoyed two years ago when a troop of boy scouts arrived and went swimming in Vernon Lake right next to my camp where I was drawing water.

I mentioned my annoyance to a relative, who is an avid backpacker, a strict leave-no-trace person, and a long time park ranger. He laughed and said not to worry. "The solution to pollution is dilution" he said and noted that the amount of chemicals coming off a few hikers would be infinitismal in nearly any mountain lake.

Well, I still don't swim, but I try not to be quite so intolerant of those who do. You could say that swimming should be a part of the wilderness experience as much as walking, but in both cases we should seek to minimize our impact--just as you propose to do.
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Re: To Dip or Not to Dip; That is the Question

Postby quentinc » Sat Jun 23, 2012 9:55 pm

Luckily for me, it's not much of an issue, because I have zero tolerance for cold water. So if I dip at all, it's usually September, when the water's had the whole summer to heat up, and the mosquitoes are gone by then. I only put sunscreen on my face, so I can go in up to my neck without even thinking about it.

The interesting thing about this dilemma is that 90%+ people plunge right in without even thinking or caring about it. So the few that do care deprive themselves of the fun, but the water gets most of the pollution anyway.
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Re: To Dip or Not to Dip; That is the Question

Postby walkdawg » Sun Jun 24, 2012 12:01 am

I hope the consensus is to dip because I can't stand my own smell if I don't jump into a lake to rinse off.
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Re: To Dip or Not to Dip; That is the Question

Postby The Other Tom » Sun Jun 24, 2012 6:05 am

I'm with quintinc on this one. I too have an aversion to cold water. And, I stay pretty much covered up when hiking so not much need for sunscreen or bug juice. But if I didn't mind the cold water, I'd dip in a heart beat. Having said all that, I filter my drinking water so I'm not too concerned about who dipped before me.
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Re: To Dip or Not to Dip; That is the Question

Postby sparky » Sun Jun 24, 2012 7:53 am

I love the cold water. The shock of just "jumping in" is an altered state of consciousness. I love the afterglow after getting back out as well.

Jumping in with "caked on deet and sunscreen" is disrespectful. Make an attempt to wipe off first if its caked. I wash daily so I never get that dirty, and I don't believe I have ever caked myself with deet or sunscreen.
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Re: To Dip or Not to Dip; That is the Question

Postby mschnaidt » Sun Jun 24, 2012 8:52 am

I swim in the lakes and streams. I like to be clean before I get into my sleeping bag.

I avoid deet as much as possible by using a headnet when the skeeters are bad. While I do use sunscreen I think it's a great idea to wash it off before dipping. The cleaner our water sources are the happier I'll be.

For the cold water avoiders or pre-washers try this; ( I have one and it works great. After a few hours in the sun the water is quite a bit warmer than the lake/stream. I bought it for a trip where I knew the streams were going to be frigid. I haven't used it for showering much since but I always bring it along on my trips. I use it to preheat my cooking water which saves fuel and time. It's also very handy for dousing your fire ring.

I've also incorporated it into a gravity water treatment system; (

With that said, I have a bigger problem with pack animals than I do with sweaty swimmers. A couple of Summers back I was at Wood Lake in the Emigrant Wilderness. A commercial packer came in late with a fair number of horses and mules and spent the night in a site a few hundred feet away. I walked by his site in the morning and he had his animals tied to trees within 15 feet of the lake. It was clear that a large volume of urine would shortly find it's way into the lake. Needless to say I moved on. (I reported the incident to the forest service and also had a conversation with the owner of the pack station)

After that experience I always filter my water if there is evidence of pack animals in the area.

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Re: To Dip or Not to Dip; That is the Question

Postby Carne_DelMuerto » Sun Jun 24, 2012 11:18 am

Would using more "natural" sunscreens as opposed to the more prevelant brands be a partial solution? I've been using a brand that lists Zinc Oxide as the active ingredient while the brand I used to use lists Avobenzone, Homosalate, Octisalate, Octocrylene, and Oxybenzone as the active ingredients. I won't list the inactive ingredients, but the natural sunscreen is mostly seed oils and wax, while the other is a long list of multi-syllable chemicals.

Do these "natural" sunscreens have ingredients that could also be harmful? (I should note, "Reef safe, biodegradable" is printed on the natural sunscreen bottle.)

Edit: Let me add that I love to dip at the end of the day. If I can avoid using the DEET during the day, I do, but I always have sunscreen on me.
Wonder is rock and water and the life that lives in-between.
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Re: To Dip or Not to Dip; That is the Question

Postby rlown » Sun Jun 24, 2012 11:29 am

Other than protecting the fish from the stuff, If the Hetch-hetchy water system hasn't complained yet, I don't think it matters.. Nice touch to wipe off prior, but if the weather is good, I'm in. Are there any watershed complaints?

I don't use that much stuff that it would impinge, but with no study referenced, how do we know? I'd dive in. very refreshing and bag-friendly.

If i don't feel like jumping in, I might still simmer a pot of water and do the sponge thing.. works as well. Still like the plunge.

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