Cold-plunging with Maine’s “Ice Mermaids”

A photographer in Maine has been documenting groups of women who submerge themselves in near-freezing water. Here’s what she’s seen.

Greta Rybus for the New York Times

Greta Rybus is a photojournalist based near Portland, Maine. You can follow her work on Instagram.

When I met Ida Lennestål for a plunge on a cold January day, she was pulling an ax from her car and switching into warmer boots. A few minutes later, she lit a fire in a nearby sauna — a small building cobbled together from a former fish house and an old stove — before we walked the short slope down to a frozen pond near her home in Georgetown, Maine.

She took to the ice with the ax, chipping away at a rectangular opening and shedding a layer of clothing as her body warmed from the work. When her hands or back were tired, she’d pause and stretch. Eventually her partner and children joined us, lacing up skates and swirling or toddling along the pond’s surface. Two friends from the area, Nicole Testa and Ariel Burns, joined, too, using a ladle to scoop chunks from the water, clearing a path for their bodies.

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