Seeking a unique dive location you can enjoy year round? Look no further than The Hot Hole in Lake Keowee, SC. Just an hour-and-a-half drive from Athens and nestled in a cove on the shores of Duke Power’s Oconee Nuclear Generating Station, this location is perfect for winter diving because hot water used to cool the reactor rushes into the lake, raising the mid-winter water temperature to 80 degrees. And let me assure you right now; you won’t glow in the dark after this dive.
I dove The Hot Hole last week with my husband and our dive shop owner Tim. The dive was chartered by Bill Routh from the Lake Jocassee Dive Shop. I was a little nervous I’d be cold, since the air temperature that morning was a chilly 28ᵒF. Really didn’t know what to expect. Playing it safe, I packed a thermos of hot chocolate for the surface interval.
The boat ramp is conveniently located just a five minute cruise away from the dive site. Within minutes, Bill dropped the anchor.
Looking over the site, it was hard to believe this is considered a drift dive, although we could see the eddy currents breaking the water’s surface. Bill explained during the dive briefing that the cement building (in the photo above) is the water outflow station. Most of the structure is emerged, extending 30 feet down to the bottom. The structure houses four enormous underwater pipes that conduct the warm water from the power plant, projecting it in high pressure streams into the lake. The current created by the water outflow make the drift dive possible.
I braced myself when I entered the water, but the temperature was a mild 72ᵒF. We descended and headed in the direction of the building. A wing wall extends out, along the lake bottom, from the front left corner of the structure, so once we located that we followed it in to the building.
We swam up and enter the structure through the left side window (pictured at the left edge of the photo above). Inside was dark and there was no current, as a cement floor divides the cubical where we were and the pipes underneath. We made our way along the floor to the third ‘window.’ We let out all the air in our BCs, per Bill’s instructions. Lying on our bellies, we could lower our hands down and into the current blasting out from beneath us. The force was the same as holding your hand out the car window on the highway. One at a time, we pushed off the floor and dropped down into the current.
Visibility was zero, and I was flying through the water. Did you ever see Finding Nemo? Remember the turtles hurtling through the East Australian Current? That was me. Righteous!
Out of the gloom, the bottom came up at me. I put my hands down, pushing off from the bottom and gliding with the current 10 or 15 feet before I had to put my hands down again. I eventually caught sight of Tim’s fins and grabbed him before the current carried me past.
It was a rush!
During the two-tank dive, we rode the current three times, getting a different experience out of each go. In between ‘rides,’ we explored the boulder-strewn bottom and grassy areas bustling with large bass, crappies and catfish. And I wasn’t cold during the surface interval, thanks to Bill Routh’s plastic drapes enclosing the dive boat and on-board space heater. That and the thermos of hot chocolate!
We recommend diving The Hot Hole with Bill Routh and the Lake Jocassee Dive Shop/Off the Wall Dive Charters. It’s an adventure!
We did not shoot the following footage, but I found the video on YouTube and it will give you an idea of what this dive site is like. Enjoy!