Chris Fowler of Port Angeles, wearing a viking hat, emerges from the chilly waters of Port Angeles Harbor with dozens of other people during the 2016 polar bear plunge in honor of the new year. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Chris Fowler of Port Angeles, wearing a viking hat, emerges from the chilly waters of Port Angeles Harbor with dozens of other people during the 2016 polar bear plunge in honor of the new year. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Three polar bear plunges offered in Clallam County

PORT ANGELES — It’s about the excitement, exhilaration and energy you get from taking the plunge on New Year’s Day, organizers of Clallam County’s polar bear dips say.

Hardy souls will brave frigid waters and bone-chilling air on Sunday when they christen 2017 by jumping into Port Angeles Harbor, Lake Pleasant or Neah Bay.

“It’s definitely the fun of it, the exhilaration and just doing something really exciting to start the year out,” said Dan Welden, organizer of the 29th annual Port Angeles Polar Bear Dip.

The Port Angeles plunge, by far the largest in the county, will take place at Hollywood Beach at 10 a.m. Sunday. Costumes are welcome.

Participants who submerge themselves in the harbor three times will receive a certificate.

“It kind of numbs the whole body the first time, so you don’t really feel it the second time,” said Welden, who co-founded the event and has participated every year since its inception.

The Port Angeles Polar Bear Dip consistently draws about 100 participants and “probably twice that many spectators,” Welden said.

For the fifth consecutive year, the Port Angeles plunge will double as the Polar Bear Challenge, a fundraiser for Volunteer Hospice of Clallam County.

“People challenge other people to take the dip, and they put a dollar amount on that,” Welden said.

As of Wednesday, the fundraiser had netted $1,500 in actual contributions with a “lot of pledges” expected to arrive Sunday, Welden said.

Last year’s Port Angeles dip raised about $900 for Volunteer Hospice, a nonprofit organization that provides free care and services for terminally ill patients and their families.

“There’s a reason for the freezin’, and it’s the Volunteer Hospice of Clallam County,” Welden said.

Warm beverages and pastries will be provided to Port Angeles Polar Bear dippers and spectators at the Volunteer Hospice tent.

Live music will be performed at the event and a bonfire will be crackling on the beach.

As of Thursday, the National Weather Service was calling for a 20 percent chance of snow in Port Angeles with a high of 38 on Sunday.

The water temperature in Port Angeles Harbor was 46.6 degrees on Thursday, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

While no one would confuse Port Angeles Harbor for a heated swimming pool, winter water temperatures are even colder in landlocked Lake Pleasant, where a group of rugged West Enders take the plunge every year.

The 11th annual Lake Pleasant Polar Bear Plunge in Beaver will take place at the boat launch at 10 a.m. Sunday, organizer Carin Hirsch said.

“It’s the most energizing thing I’ve ever done,” said Hirsch, who holds the distinction of being the only Lake Pleasant dipper to have jumped in every year since the celebration began.

One year at Lake Pleasant, swimmers had to break through a layer of ice to access the near-freezing water, Hirsch recalled. Adding to the chill was a cold wind that tends to come straight off the lake, Hirsch said.

The Lake Pleasant dip has drawn between eight and 31 participants in its decade-old history, she said.

Hirsch’s daughter, Sonja Hirsch, started the event with a friend before moving to Seattle to start a family.

Carin, 59, said the experience has given her post-plunge energy to take down Christmas decorations on New Year’s Day.

This year, however, Hirsch plans to stay on shore, ringing the bell to signal when it’s time jump in.

“Ten years,” Hirsch said. “That’s probably good.”

Meanwhile, the 16th annual Neah Bay Polar Bear Dip will take place at 10 a.m. Sunday in front of the Makah Tribal Senior Center on Bayview Avenue, event organizer June Williams said.

Williams founded the event in 2001 when she was experiencing health problems. She said the jump has a cleansing effect for the new year.

“It’s like washing out 2016 and coming out clean for 2017,” Williams said, “and getting ready for the new year and all that it brings.”

Last year’s dip at Neah Bay drew “close to a dozen” participants, said Williams, who expected a similar turnout Sunday.

“It depends on the weather, too, how cold it’s going to be,” Williams said.

The Sunday forecast for Neah Bay was sunny and breezy with a high of 38.

The water temperature in Neah Bay was 46.8 degrees on Thursday.

“The only requirement is that you get your head wet,” Williams said, “as long as you submerge yourself.”

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

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