Each winter seeping groundwater creates columns of ice that grow to unbelievable proportions in a deep cut railroad bed that lies slightly north of Keene. Ice climbers call this place “the icebox” and come here from all over New England to train. The New Hampshire branch of the Appalachian Mountain Club also holds ice climbing clinics here. I don’t climb; I just come to see beauty of a kind that I can’t see anywhere else.
Some of the ice is blue. This example looked very solid and climbable.
Some ice is green. This example was on its way to being big enough to climb but I don’t know if the ice climbers will climb green ice. I’ve only seen them climb blue ice, which is very dense.
This ice formed a kind of shallow cave or grotto that I could have stepped into if I wasn’t so wary of falling ice and stone. It happens fairly regularly here and you don’t want to get hit by it.
Most of the groundwater seeps through cracks in the stone but in places it runs in small streams and this is one of those places. One of the constants here is the sound of trickling water, winter and summer alike. The ice in this photo was formed by splashing water and was crystal clear. This place has taught me that there are differences in the clarity of ice, depending on how it has formed.
The drainage ditches that the railroad engineers built 150 years ago at the base of the ledges still work as they were designed to and carry the water away down the gentle grade, keeping the rail bed high and dry. As the snow gets higher these ditches get deeper. I often put on knee high rubber boots and walk in them to explore the rock faces, but I didn’t do so on this trip. It was the ice I came to see.
The water in the drainage ditches never freezes completely and its movement cuts off the ice on the ledges at water level. This means that the ice that looks like it’s hanging from the ledges really does hang and isn’t supported by the ground at all in many places. When it comes free from the walls and falls sometimes it’s as if a crystal tree fell across the trail. I wonder what the railroad did when such large pieces of ice fell on the tracks when the trains were running.
Last year the ice in this spot was bright orange but this year it leaned more toward orangey brown.
Mineral stains on the rock faces tell part of the story of the colored ice but there are many reasons that ice can be colored. Even a higher density can turn it blue.
There are other colors on these rock walls but they aren’t in ice. This orange patch is caused by green algae called Trentepohlia aurea. Though it is called green algae a carotenoid pigment in the alga cells called hematochrome or beta- carotene, which is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color, hides the green chlorophyll. I’m not sure if the algae color any ice here.
Large areas of stone are covered in places by liverworts but they don’t seem to mind being encased in ice for the winter. In the spring you wouldn’t know they had seen any ice at all.
Many mosses turn a yellower shade of green in winter but otherwise ride it out with little change.
This fern was completely encased in ice. Since it is an evergreen fern it will most likely lose its leaves in spring when new growth begins.
I think there must be soil washed along in the groundwater for ice to look dirty like this example does.
I was hoping this shot would convey a sense of how tall this ice is but it really doesn’t. These ice columns are too small in diameter to climb but the ice climbers go for the taller ice I’ve noticed, and these were plenty tall.
Much of the ice was half what it was last year but we still have February to get through. One of the things that made last February so memorable was the extreme below zero cold that went on and on for most of the month. If that happens this year this ice will become huge like it was then.
This past week has been the coldest we’ve seen this winter so I’m sure the ice has grown some. I’ll have to visit it again before it all starts to melt away in March. When I leave here and write a post about the place I often marvel at having virtually no memory of how cold it was, so captivating were the colors, sounds, and shapes. When great joy passes through you inconvenience slips away. You remember the joy but not the inconvenience.
One moment the world is as it is. The next, it is something entirely different. Something it has never been before. ~Anne Rice
Thanks for stopping in.