After our below zero cold of Valentine’s day weekend I wondered if the ice in the deep cut rail trail on the way to Westmoreland had grown. When I got there I could see that it really hadn’t grown much since my last visit but I was pleasantly surprised to see a group of ice climbers there. You can just see them in this photo, way down toward the light at the end of the canyon. That’s where the biggest ice grows.
Last time I did a post about this place that the climbers call the “ice box” several readers said they wished I could find a way to better show the scale of the place, so I broke my own rule and took photos of the climbers. I’ve avoided doing so in the past because I didn’t want to distract them, but since several of them were talking back and forth I didn’t think I’d break anyone’s concentration. These few photos should give you a good idea of the size of the place and the height of the walls that the railroad blasted out of the bedrock nearly 150 years ago.
This climber had nearly made it all the way to the top. It must be exhausting and exhilarating all at the same time.
Ice climbers wear spikes called crampons on their climbing boots and have a tool called a pick in each hand. They swing a pick into the ice and then swing the other, and when they’re sure the picks will hold them securely they move their feet up until the crampons have found a purchase, and in this way they slowly move up the ice fall. There is always a helper with each climber who keeps the climbing rope taut or slack, depending on what is required at the time. These people must have great concentration.
After our cold snap we’d had some warm days and the melting and re-freezing had given some of the ice columns a high polish.
Other ice falls looked dull and grayish white and these were rotten. Ice becomes rotten when water, air, and / or dirt get in between the grains of ice and the ice becomes honeycombed and loses its strength. Instead of a sharp crack when it is tapped it sounds more like a dull thud. It would be dangerous ice to try and climb, so you have to be a good judge of ice to be a climber.
There is still a lot of ice here in spite of the warm days we’ve had but as I walked along I noticed that much of it was rotten, and that’s my signal to stay away from this place until it has melted. I’ve seen ice columns as big as tree trunks fallen in the trail in years past, and I don’t want to be anywhere near them when they start falling.
For the first time since I’ve been coming here I saw ice falling in the spot shown above. It wasn’t a huge amount but it was enough to warn me away until spring has taken a solid hold. This entire ice fall was rotten. Note how white it is, and how it has lost its shine and has become dull, even with the sun shining on it.
These fallen chunks were large enough to kill someone if they ever fell at the wrong time. The biggest was as big as a car tire.
I knew I wouldn’t see sights like this again until next winter, so I took my time and admired the ice. This is a place where you can be immersed in winter’s beauty, and I haven’t found another place like it.
You can just see an evergreen fern inside this ice cave. In summer this place is green and lush with most of the rock faces covered by plants, and I often think of it as the Shangri-La in James Hilton’s book Lost Horizon, but walking through here in winter can be like walking on a distant frozen planet. If there is a place where the difference between the two seasons is more apparent I haven’t found it.
One wall in full sunshine had lost all its ice. This is an unusual sight here in February.
In one spot the ice had melted enough so the liverworts that grow on the walls could be seen.
After checking to see that there was no ice overhead and the ice covering the drainage ditch was solid I inched out across it to get some close ups of the liverworts. I only stayed for a minute; if the ice I was standing on had broken I would have been up to my knees in freezing cold water because I didn’t have my knee high rubber boots on. It would have been a cool walk out of here.
The beautiful reptilian great scented liverworts (Conocephalum conicum) made the risk of cold wet feet worth taking. These liverworts like to grow in places where they are constantly splashed by or dripped on by very clean ground water. Though they like a lot of water they won’t stand being submerged in it and die back if the water level rises. Their common name comes from their scent, because if you squeeze a piece and smell it you smell something so clean and fresh scented you’ll wish it came in a spray bottle.
I always try to take photos that show how high the cliffs can soar, and this one does a fair job of showing that. In this section the trail was very icy. This winter any snow that has been packed down has turned to glare ice and is very difficult to walk on. That’s why I’ve stayed away from hill climbing this winter.
This column of ice was about as big as a basketball, or about 9.25 inches across. Though it looked from the trail like it had grown solidly along the rock face this view told a different story.
The old lineman’s shack tells me that I’ve reached the end of what I came to see. I really thought that the winter snows would bring it down this year but I don’t think we’ve had more than 4 inches fall in a single storm, and that was the biggest. The other 4 or 5 storms were only 2 or 3 inches.
There really isn’t much holding the old place up. It looks like a strong breeze would blow it over.
I’d kind of like the old shack to stay standing. The graffiti inside always reminds me of my father. He would have been 18 in 1925 and lived near here and I always wonder if he came to see the ice like I do. None of the initials match his but he could have easily walked the tracks through here. I’m not sure what NLP! GH means; maybe: No Longer Present! Gone Home.
I like this place and could willingly waste my time in it. ~William Shakespeare
Thanks for stopping in.