If you’re tired of all things winter then this post isn’t for you because it’s about being in a freezer of sorts; a man made canyon blasted out of solid rock where seeping groundwater freezes into icicles that grow to the height and diameter of tree trunks. I visited this place last week because I thought that, since this was just about the coldest February that we had ever seen, I’d be able to see some big ice. I wasn’t disappointed.
I think this is the biggest “icicle” that I’ve ever seen. It had to have been 15-20 feet out from the rock face and 40-50 feet tall. It is the sweetheart of the ice climbers who come here and, if you look carefully at the very top of the photo, you can see the legs of two ice climbers dressed in blue who were tying off their ropes, preparing to climb down this monster.
Right beside the green ice in the previous photo was this black / brown ice, which I’ve never seen here or anywhere else before. I’d guess that it was either soil or minerals that gave it this color. Note how the snow below it looks dirty.
You can see colored stone all through this place and, though some of the color comes from lichens and algae, much of it is from minerals like iron that leach out of the soil.
Many of the mineral stains are orange but some are yellow, red, green, and very few a light blueish gray color.
The last time I came here I saw this orange ice for the first time, and by now it had tripled in size. The orange mineral stain on the stone face in the previous photo was very near this spot, so I’m fairly certain that iron must be staining the ice.
My favorite color is the blue ice, and this was the bluest ice I’ve ever seen. There was water running down the rock face behind this ice column and it was as noisy as a rushing stream in spring. I’ve heard that blue ice is very dense and that its color comes from the way certain wavelengths of light are absorbed by it and others are reflected by it.
It seemed as if you could pick a color and there it would be, frozen into the ice. It also seemed like the ice had covered all of the mosses, liverworts and every other growing thing that lives here.
There were still small islands of green to be seen here and there but I didn’t see any liverworts. You wouldn’t think that moss with a name like delicate fern moss (Thuidium delicatulum) could grow in a place like this but there it was. Maybe it’s not quite as delicate as its name suggests.
Ferns too could be seen peeking out from under the ice. I think this one is a spinulose wood fern (Dryopteris carthusiana,) which is one of our few evergreen ferns. It likes lots of water. In the summer almost every inch of these vertical walls is covered by some form of green, living thing. They must all be quite tough to survive essentially being frozen inside of ice for the winter.
I saw a few interesting lichens but I couldn’t get close enough to them to know what they were. Typically in winter there is a good 2 to 3 feet of snow on the rail bed, and if you add that to the foot or so depth of the ditches from dry ground, it’s quite a drop. Getting down into them isn’t too bad but getting out can mean a crawl in the snow.
I was surprised to see that the ditches weren’t frozen over in many areas. As cold as gets in this place I can’t imagine what keeps them from freezing.
I saw one ice column that looked like someone had sculpted it into a real column like shape. It was taller than I was.
It was easy to see how groundwater seeped from this diagonal crack in the stone face. When you think about the water that froze and expanded inside the crack it’s not hard to understand how Ice can tear stone apart.
It’s starting to slowly warm up a little now, so I’m not sure that it’ll be a good idea to come here again until the ice has melted. These ice columns are tall enough to cross the entire trail when they fall and are easily heavy enough to crush a person, so this is a good place to stay away from when the ice starts rotting. I saw a few ice formations in sunny spots that were already rotten.
For those who aren’t familiar with rotten ice; when ice rots the bonds between the ice crystals weaken and water, air or dirt can get in between them and cause the ice to become honeycombed, and to lose its strength. You know that clear ice is rotten when it turns a milky grayish-white color, looks to be full of small bubbles, and has a dull sound when it is tapped.
In the winter, the world gets sharp. Beautiful things happen. ~Peter Fiore
Thanks for coming by.