Leave it all behind! Wallowa County’s best opportunity for a fresh start takes place January 1 at 10 a.m. on the north shore of Wallowa Lake.

Yes, it’s time for the Wallowa County Polar Plunge, when self-proclaimed “crazy people” take that chilly dip and leave 2018 behind, emerging ready for a brand new year.

Anyone can join the crowd, which swelled to over 60 last year. Visitors and visiting relatives often join the group and even dogs have accompanied their owners — to the edge of the lake to witness the event; none have taken the plunge.

The only rule for the plunge is that you are standing at the edge of that freezing (but not frozen over) lake at 10 a.m., ready to go. A tradition of linking hands during the 10 second countdown before the crowd plunges has developed as the crowd has grown — assuring that neither you nor your friends back out of the deal.

The originators of the tradition were hardy souls with a competitive streak. It began in 2007 when they challenged one another to go jump in a lake. News of their tradition leaked out and more and more folks began showing up for the fun.

Any family friendly attire is allowed. Wet suits, although not prohibited, may be interpreted as a measure of your courage and wearing one will leave you open to snorts and ribbing.

Some hardy souls do more than plunge, they swim out to the furthest dock pylons to prove their mettle. But most folk opt for the waist-deep run in, a short dunk at the apex of the in-run, and a run back out to the shore.

Screaming and gasping are not only allowed but applauded.

Commitment is key in your planning. Wallowa Lake likes to keep plungers guessing, and sometimes hides under ice until the very morning of the event. So, calling around hoping to hear the lake is frozen over and the plunge is challenged will not get you off the hook with your friends. You just have to show up.

The plunge is not a formal event, a fundraiser, or anything like that. There are no official organizers. This happens and you can join if you want to, but don’t expect anyone to be installing warming tents or serving cocoa. You are your own responsibility. Many plungers have a friend or loved one standing by with a blanket when they emerge and a hot drink waiting in their car.

As a word of encouragement, plungers are assured that the lake is usually warmer than the air, which on the first of January can be from zero to 18 degrees.

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