Mount Rainier and Its Glaciers
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A striking example of an ice body nourished wholly by the snows falling on the lower slope of Mount Rainier is the Paradise Glacier. In nowise connected with the summit névés, it makes its start at an elevation of less than 9,000 feet. Situated on the spreading slope between the diverging canyons of the Nisqually on the west and of the Cowlitz on the northeast, it constitutes a typical "interglacier" as intermediate ice bodies of this kind are termed.

Its appearance is that of a gently undulating ice field, crevassed only toward its lower edge (fig. 9) and remarkably clean throughout. No débris-shedding cliffs rise anywhere along its borders, and this fact, no doubt, largely explains its freedom from morainal accumulations.


The absence of cliffs also implies a lack of protecting shade. Practically the entire expanse of the glacier lies exposed to the full glare of the sun. As a consequence its losses by melting are very heavy. and a single hot summer may visibly diminish the glacier's bulk. Nevertheless it seems to hold its own as well as any other glacier on Mount Rainier, and this ability to recuperate finds its explanation in the exceeding abundance of fresh snows that replenish it every winter.

The Paradise Glacier, however, is not the product wholly of direct precipitation from the clouds. Much of its mass is supplied by the wind, and accumulates in the lee of the high ridge to the west, over which the route to Camp Muir and Gibraltar Rock is laid. The westerly gales keep this ridge almost bare of snow, permitting only a few drifts to lodge in sheltered depressions, as will be clear from figure 9. But east of the ridge there are great eddies in which the snow forms long, smooth slopes that descend several hundred feet to the main body of the glacier. These slopes are particularly inviting to tourists for the delightful "glissades" which they afford. Sitting down on the hard snow at the head of such a slope, one may indulge in an exhilarating glide of amazing swiftness, landing at last safely on the level snows beneath.

The generally smooth and united surface of the Paradise Glacier, it may be added, contributes not a little to its attractiveness as a field for alpine sports. On part of it one may roam at will without apprehension of lurking peril; indeed one can sometimes journey across its entire width, from Paradise Park to the Cowlitz Rocks, without encountering a single dangerous fissure. This general absence of crevasses is accounted for largely by the evenness of the glacier's bed and by its hollow shape, owing to which the snows on all sides press inward and compact the mass in the center. Only toward its frontal margin, where the glacier plunges over an abrupt rock step, as well as in the hump of that part known as Stevens Glacier, is the ice rent by long crevasses and broken into narrow blades. Here it may be wise for the inexperienced not to venture without a competent guide, for the footing is apt to be treacherous, and jumping over crevasses or crossing them by frail snow bridges are feats never accomplished without risk.

In the early part of summer the Paradise Glacier has the appearance of a vast, unbroken snow field, blazing, immaculate, in the sun. But later, as the fresh snows melt away from its surface, grayish patches of old crystalline ice develop in places, more especially toward the glacier's lower margin. Day by day these patches expand until, by the end of August, most of the lower ice field has been stripped of its brilliant mantle. Its countenance, once bright and serene, now assumes a grim expression and becomes crisscrossed by a thousand seams, like the visage of an aged man.

Over this roughened surface trickle countless tiny rills which, uniting, form swift rivulets and torrents, indeed veritable river systems on a miniature scale that testify with eloquence to the rapidity with which the sun consumes the snow. Strangely capricious in course are these streamlets, for, while in the main gravitating with the glacier's slope, they are ever likely to be caught and deflected by the numerous seams in the ice. These seams, it should be explained, are lines of former crevasses that have healed again under pressure in the course of the glacier's slow descent. As a rule they inclose a small amount of dirt, and owing to its presence are particularly vulnerable to erosion. Along them the streamlets rapidly intrench themselves—perhaps by virtue of their warmth, what little there is of it, as much as by actual abrasion—and hollow out-channels of a freakish sort, here straight and canal-like, there making sharp zig zag turns; again broadening into profound, canoe-shaped pools, or emptying into deeper trenches by little sparkling cataracts, or passing under tiny bridges and tunnels—a veritable toy land carved in ice.

But unfortunately these pretty features are ephemeral, many of them changing from day to day; for, evenings, as the lowering sun withdraws its heat, the melting gradually comes to a halt, and the little streams cease to flow. The soft babbling and gurgling and the often exquisitely melodious tinkle of dripping water in hidden glacial wells are hushed, and the silent frost proceeds to choke up passages and channels, so that next day's waters have to seek new avenues.

In the region where the new crevasses open the surface drainage comes abruptly to an end. Here gaping chutes of deepest azure entrap the torrents and the waters rush with musical thunder to the interior of the glacier and finally down to its bed.

At its lower border the Paradise Glacier splits into several lobes. The westernmost sends forth the Paradise River, which, turning southwestward, plunges over the Sluiskin Falls (named for the Klickitat Indian who guided Van Trump and Hazard Stevens to the mountain in 1870, when they made the first successful ascent) and runs the length of Paradise Valley. The middle lobe has become known as Stevens Glacier (named for Hazard Stevens) and ends in Stevens Creek, a stream which almost immediately drops over a precipice of some 600 feet—the Fairy Falls—and winds southeastward through rugged Stevens Canyon. The easternmost lobes, known collectively as Williwakas Glacier, send forth two little cascades, which, uniting, form Williwakas Creek. This stream is a tributary of the Cowlitz River, as is Stevens Creek.

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Last Updated: 07-May-2007