James Jonsson's Account of His Bear Lake Crossing

James Jonsson sent me his first hand account of his record breaking Bear Lake crossing and was kind enough to allow me to publish it here along with some photos.

Because of the direction of the wind, James and his boat captain decided to swim south-to-north instead of north-to-south as others have done.  I asked him about currents because I was under the impression that there was a north-to-south current.  He informed me that the outflow of the lake is to the north and any currents would be northerly.  However, the river that flows into and out of Bear Lake are small and any current that exists would be minimal.

Below is James' first had account:

Summary of Bear Lake Length-Wise Crossing – July 22, 2010.

My team consisted of Jeff Peterson (boat captain), and two of my daughters, Cheyanne and Kaili. Cheyanne was a competitive age-group swimmer and has watched me swim for many years; she took the role of my swim coach. Kaili was my feeding coach; she was responsible for keeping me on schedule with my feeding stops. The day started off with a southwesterly wind blowing at 5-10 mph, so we decided to start the swim from the south shore and take advantage of the winds. The forecast was calling for a calm morning and then westerly winds for the afternoon, and if this were the case we would have started from the north shore instead because the normal pattern at Bear Lake is for the afternoon winds to veer to the northwest. The water temp was 71 degrees at the immediate surface and got significantly colder about 18” down.

I started the swim at approximately 6:15 AM and my schedule called for me to swim for one hour before my first feeding, then every 45 minutes thereafter. At my first feeding stop I felt great and looked around and realized that this was a really big lake. I had gone over 2 miles in the first hour and I had a long way to go. After my third feeding stop at 2:30 hours, I was now into what I call “The Zone”. This is where I am able to get into a trance-like state (hypnotic?), and swim for hours without really noticing it. I knew I was in the Zone when my support team stopped me at the 3:15 hour feeding and it felt like I had just stopped a few minutes before; this was a good sign. The southwesterly winds had died down and at my 3:15 hour feeding the lake was absolutely glassy and silky smooth. This was what I had hoped for and it seemed like the lake was cooperating. The sky was sunny, there was no wind, and there were no other boats to be found. At this time I was already past the 1/3rd point across the lake and it was time to “put the hammer down” and pick up my pace to swim as fast as I could.

At my 4:00 hour feeding Jeff told me I was approximately half-way across. At the 4:45 hour feeding I needed two Advil. My left shoulder was hurting and I could tell I was really pushing it hard. I knew the Advil would reduce the inflammation and deaden the pain, so I continued holding a fast race-like pace. The lake conditions were holding up and I could tell I was slicing through the water very well. At the 5:30 hour feeding my shoulder pain was gone, I was holding a race-pace and I was really pushing hard. At the 6:15 hour feeding I was told that I had less than 1/3rd to go. My body felt great, I was on course, and I knew I could finish off the lake strongly. Just after the 7:00 hour feeding I noticed an annoying 2 foot ground swell from the northwest that reminded me of the ocean. The water was glassy and there was no wind, but I couldn’t figure out where the swell was coming from. I soon got my answer when the wind suddenly picked up from the northwest at 20 mph. I found myself battling 2 foot choppy water and my beautiful glassy water was gone. When I stopped at my 7:45 hour feeding I had to keep chasing the boat backwards to get my nutrition. I took off my swim cap and tossed it in the boat because it was on the verge getting ripped off by the chop. At the 8:30 hour feeding I could see the bottom coming up and I knew I was close to finishing.

At about the 8:45 mark, Jeff told me it was getting too shallow for him to continue following me. The wind was still whipping but the chop was starting to mellow out because we were now close to shore. Jeff stopped the boat and I continued ahead in the increasingly shallow water. Soon thereafter I had reached the farthest point along the north shore and I stood up and the clock was stopped at 8:53:26. I started my swim at the southern-most point along the south shore and finished at the northern-most point. Jeff Peterson directed me on a perfect course to swim between the longest possible points. It was a perfect day to swim, even with the strong winds towards the end. That’s what makes long distance open water swims challenging; you have to be prepared to deal with the conditions as they present themselves.

I have to say that swimming the length of Bear Lake is long enough to be a serious challenge for any marathon swimmer and the lake is big enough where the weather will be a factor.


Chill said...

Awesome job. What do you eat and drink on these long swims?

Josh said...

Sorry I meant to included that in the post... James said he ate a combination of Gu and PowerBars and drank protein shakes, water and Vitamin Water. He was feeding every 45 minutes throughout the swim.

Binza said...

Congrats again to James. What's his next goal? Maybe there could be a Triple Crown of US lake swims: Bear Lake, Lake Tahoe and a third one (perhaps Lake George, NY? a tough 50k from Fort Ticonderoga in the north to Million Dollar Beach at the south).

Steven Munatones said...

Congratulations. You swam the length of the lake in 8:53 and broke the record. Whose record did you break and by how much? I would like to report this information on The Daily News of Open Water Swimming.

Josh said...


There is no "official" record for the Bear Lake swim (although we are working on the idea of starting a Bear Lake Swimming Federation). As far as I know, James Jonsson holds the record for the fastest time. There are only two other crossings that I am aware of. The first was Neal Phelps on July 18, 2009 with a time of "about 13 hours". Neal wore a wetsuit and fins. The next person to do the swim was John Quackenbush on August 10, 2009 with a time of "about 15 hours". John did the swim according to channel swimming rules.

If you want to send me an email at joshuakgreen@gmail.com, I will forward you James Jonsson's email address so that you can contact him.

Heidelweiss said...

This is an amazing swim. I'm really excited about doing this sometime in the future (I can guarantee NOT to threaten his record ;)).

Unknown said...

Great Job James,
That is just amazing. Missed you in the 10 mile at Deer Creek this year. Although your absence is always my gain... in finish position that is.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Lynn B. Crookston is probably the very first to swim across Bear Lake (Utah/Idaho). My father crossed Bear Lake in 1946. He started at Fish Haven Idaho and swam straight east (probably 7 miles) where he thought the widest spot was. His swim was witnessed by Richard and Marie Chambers and Reed Budge and his wife.
My brother, Peter L. Crookston, crossed 50 years later to the date on Aug, 19, 1996. He swam the state line because he thought that was probably the widest point (probably 7.5 miles). http://www.deseretnews.com/article/509291/SON-SWIMS-IN-HIS-FATHERS-BREASTSTROKES.html?pg=all The only thing I’d like to clarify about the Deseret News article (link referenced) is that Lynn was raised in Logan, Utah and Peter was raised in Ogden, Utah. I am a witness to Peter’s swim. – James A. Crookston Dec. 2, 2014

Josh said...

James, thanks for posting! We will add those swims to our log of Bear Lake crossings.