S.C.A.R. Swim Challenge

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(Redirected from SCAR Challenge)
South African Roger Finch on right with S.C.A.R. Swim Challenge race director and founder Kent Nicholas on left
S.C.A.R. Swim Challenge competitors in the inaugural race in Arizona including Dave Barra, Janet Harris and Kent Nicholas
Apache Lake, the venue of Day 3 of the S.C.A.R. Swim Challenge in Arizona
Theodore Roosevelt Lake in Arizona, photo by Jeff Lewis
Elizabeth Fry, record holder at the S.C.A.R. Swim Challenge

The S.C.A.R. Swim Challenge is a 4-day stage swim in Arizona in the Saguaro Lake, Canyon Lake, Apache Lake, and Roosevelt Lake. At a total cumulative distance of 41.7 miles (66.9 km), it is one of the longest marathon swims and organized stage swims in the world, and part of the Triple Crown of Stage Swims.


SCAR stands for Saguaro Lake, Canyon Lake, Apache Lake, and Roosevelt Lake.


In search of a unique open water swim challenge in Arizona, the four reservoirs on the Salt River provide that unique opportunity. If Jack Kerouac wrote a story about the Dharma Bums swimming from dam to dam across a series of lakes in the rugged desert wild, this may have been the inspiration. The brainchild of Mesa, Arizona attorney Kent Nicholas, S.C.A.R. stands for Saguaro, Canyon, Apache and Roosevelt lakes. It's "a bit of a rogue swim" because initially there were no permits, licenses, insurance, coast guard support, law enforcement approval, or any other "permission" sought from anyone. They hiked, boated, swam, laughed and swam again without letting the obstacles and hurdles of modern life prevent them from swimming more than 40 miles in a beautiful environment. In 2013, the swims were insured and granted permission from the Tonto National Forest service.


Triple Crown of Stage Swims

It is part of the Triple Crown of Stage Swims:

2014 World Open Water Swimming Offering of the Year

"The S.C.A.R. Swim Challenge set in the dry, rugged American southwest desert of Arizona is no longer under the radar. The secret is out about the out-of-the-way 4-day stage swim that focuses on camaraderie rather than competition, passion rather than pressure. Swimmers from around the world have discovered the joy of a 64.3 km series of swims in Saguaro Lake, Canyon Lake, Apache Lake and Roosevelt Lake where flexibility and recovery play important elements just as do feeds and navigation. Set along four majestic reservoirs on the Salt River in the desert wild, the brainchild of Kent Nicholas has become much more of an international happening than its initial beginnings as a rogue swim by locals. S.C.A.R. is a physical test and a psychological challenge made easier by the other participants. For its humble beginnings that have blossomed into a major marathon event, for its dedicated race director and all its helpful volunteers, for its unique course carved out of the desert wilds, the S.C.A.R. Swim Challenge is a worthy nominee for the 2014 World Open Water Swimming Offering of the Year."

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2014 World Open Water Swimming Offering of the Year Nominees


  • Saguaro Lake: The first reservoir is Saguaro Lake, a 13.3 km swim at 1529-feet (466m) elevation, which is rimmed with canyon walls. The lake is home to large-mouth bass weighing 12 pounds, small-mouth bass, rainbow trout, walleye, black crappie, tallapia, yellow perch, and carp weighing as much as 30 pounds. It is within the Superstition Wilderness of the Tonto National Forest. It was formed by the Stewart Mountain Dam, a concrete thin arch dam located 41 miles northeast of Phoenix, Arizona. The dam is 1,260 feet (380 m) long, 208 feet (63 m) high, and was built between 1928-30. It was named after a ranch that used to be located nearby known as the Old Stewart Ranch. The swim begins at the east end of Saguaro Lake – the base of Mormon Flat Dam below the Mormon Flat Heliport. The swim ends at the buoy line guarding the Stewart Mountain dam.
  • Canyon Lake: The second reservoir in the swim challenge is Canyon Lake, elevation at 1,660 feet (505m), formed by the Mormon Flat Dam. The dam is 380 feet long, 224 feet high and was built between 1923-25. The dam is named after nearby Mormon Flat, a place where settlers from Utah stopped to camp. Canyon Lake, with a surface area of 950 acres (380 ha), is the smallest of four lakes created along the Salt River. It is within the Superstition Wilderness of Tonto National Forest and is a popular recreation area. Fish populating the lake include rainbow trout, large mouth bass, small mouth bass, yellow bass, crappie, sunfish, catfish and walleye. Wildlife in the area includes big horn sheep, deer and javelina that roam freely in this area of the national forest area. The swim begins at the buoy line below Horse Mesa dam and ends 14.1 km at the buoy line protecting the Mormon Flat dam.
  • Apache Lake: The third reservoir is beautifully isolated Apache Lake. Apache Lake was formed by Horse Mesa Dam which was completed in 1927. The second largest of the four Salt River Project reservoirs (Theodore Roosevelt Lake is the largest) and by far the most difficult swim if the wind picks up. The swim begins at the eastern end of the lake at the buoy line below Roosevelt dam and continues for approximately 27.3 km to the the Horse Mesa Dam. The lake separates the Four Peaks Wilderness from the Superstition Wilderness and is considered fairly remote (dirt road access). The picturesque canyon is framed by the Mazatzal Mountains and Superstition Mountains. The Horse Mesa Dam, a concrete thin arch dam, is 660 feet (200 m) long, 300 feet (91 m) high and was built between 1924-27.
  • Roosevelt Lake: The last reservoir in the Arizona S.C.A.R. Swim Challenge is Roosevelt Lake. Unlike the previous swims, this lake has only one dam so to make it interesting, there is a 9 km night swim that begins at a very small boat dock approximately 5 miles east of the marina and finishes under the stars and moon at the Roosevelt Dam. Both the reservoir and the masonry dam that created it, Roosevelt Dam, were named for U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt who dedicated the dam himself in March 1911, one year prior to Arizona being recognized as the 48th state in the union. The lake is home to a variety of game fish including crappie, carp, Sunfish, flathead, channel catfish, smallmouth bass and largemouth bass.



Wall Street Journal - June 2012

Kent Nicholas, a criminal lawyer, staged "a bit of a rogue swim" over four weekends in four lakes as part of his training regimen for the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim, which he completed in June in 8 hours, 8 minutes. He called it the Arizona S.C.A.R. Swim Challenge, for Saguaro, Canyon, Apache and Roosevelt lakes. At Roosevelt Lake, the group swam at night with glow sticks around their wrists and ankles "to make it more interesting." Nicholas intends to stage it again next year and make it a recognized event.

Reviews by Swimmers

David Barra: Saguaro Reviewed -- "The banks of the river/lake are lined with sage and saguaro cacti that alternate between open areas and tall canyon walls rising straight out of the water. The rugged beauty of this lake is breathtaking, and I was, at times, distracted...wanting to focus my attention on one feature or another."

Janet Harris: Canyon Reviewed -- "Canyon Lake lived up to its name--the walls rose up dramatically on both sides of the lake all along the twisty route from dam to dam. We even saw a big-horn sheep along the way!"

Sally Minty-Gravett: Apache Reviewed -- "The toughest swim I have EVER done." Sally is a 5 time English Channel Swimmer and member of the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame.

Patrick Brundage: Roosevelt Review -- "I could swing my eyes upward a bit and see the brilliant starry sky that we never get to see in light-polluted Phoenix. It was gorgeous. Add to that the neat effect of my orange glow stick wrist band and one of my pink glow sticks that was on a longer string flopping around and this was the closest I think I'll ever come to a swimming rave. I didn't even need club music to get totally lost in the zone of swimming. I was really digging it."

S.C.A.R. Swim Challenge

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