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Rough water foils Harmon in Ultimate Tahoe Challenge

Lake Tahoe revealed its summer teeth Sunday night, derailing Ken Harmon and his bid to swim two lengths of Lake Tahoe.

Rough water conditions ended Harmon’s quest to complete the Ultimate Tahoe Challenge – a 44.2-mile distance swim in the mountain lake’s frigid waters. Unrelenting winds caused choppy water, prompting the 50-year-old Danville, Calif., man to leave the lake five hours and 10 miles into the pursuit of swimming from Hyatt Beach in Incline Village to Camp Richardson near South Lake Tahoe and back.

“It’s the first time I’ve pulled out of anything. I did the right thing,” Harmon said. “The conditions were terrible, but we went for it.”



Harmon originally hoped to begin the swim on Saturday night, but small craft advisories on the lake delayed his attempt until Sunday night.

The change of plans also forced Harmon to rework his Lake Tahoe use permits through the U.S. Coast Guard and shortened his supply of pacers – two of which became ill.



Harmon was attempting to become the first swimmer not wearing a wet suit to swim the two lengths of the lake. In 2005, Harmon completed a 22.1-mile length swim of Lake Tahoe. At the time, Harmon’s time of 11 hours, 19 minutes set a new lake record, but Tahoe City’s Karen Rogers (10:50) and Patti Buefield of San Ramon (10:39:50) have since eclipsed his mark.

Earlier this month, Jamie Patrick became the first swim to two crossings of Lake Tahoe, completing the task in 25 hours, 26 minutes. According to his website tahoetriple.com, Patrick will attempt to make three crossings of Lake Tahoe next August.

While Harmon was unable to reach his goal, pacer Clark Bird completed the 22.1-mile swim from Hyatt Beach to Camp Richardson in 13 hours, 30 minutes. Harmon said Bird’s effort was miraculous.

“He was really moving, doing the first 15 miles in 7:34, but the last six-plus miles in six hours,” Harmon said. “Historically, in those conditions, it’s crazy. He’s doing fine now, and everyone is grateful no one got hurt.”

Harmon’s challenging swimming project benefitted the Best Buddies International at http://www.bestbuddies.org/tahoechallenge, the Karen Gaffney Foundation at http://www.karengaffneyfoundation.com at the Down Syndrome Network of Northern Nevada at http://www.dsnnn.org.

“The charities are happy that I brought awareness, but for me it’s kind of a hollow feeling,” he said. “For the safety of the lake, maybe it’s a good thing that I didn’t finish. If I made it easily, a lot of people might be trying doubles, and one is scary enough.

“I definitely don’t want to swim at night in that lake when it’s rough.”


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