Nature Notes

Vol. XIII December - 1935 No. 4

Sky Riding Glaciers

Mount Rainier stamp

The Tahoma and the South Tahoma Glaciers cover the southwest slopes of Mount Rainier, the former descending from the summit, the latter forming in a three thousand foot cirque under Point Success. Were these ordinary glaciers neither would be in view from Paradise Park, far across the south slopes of the Mountain, nor from Longmire deep in the Nisqually Canyon. But these glaciers are unique, and for part of their course, as viewed from a distance, form a skyline of jagged ice riding high above the enclosing rock walls.

Mount Rainier

The glaciers lie in a direct line upon the Mountain as viewed from Indian Henry's Hunting Ground. Upon the three cent stamp of the National Park series issued in 1934, they are viewed across Mirror Lake in this famous alpine meadow. The approach to the cleaver enclosing the South Tahoma Glacier on the east is from Indian Henry's, passing under Pyramid Peak on a rugged shelf lying between the peak and the deep canyon in which rides the lower reaches of the glacier. Across this canyon and the debris laden ice stands Glacier Island, a massive buttress of rock which the ice carved and chisled in past ages but could not remove. Completely surrounded by the present glaciers this island is over a mile in width and nearly a mile in length, rising from the point where the glaciers again join at its lower end, two thousand five hundred feet to a prominent point which stands high above the ice at the upper end. Against this mass of rock the glaciers are split or divided and forced to either side. The width of the combined fields of ice above the Island is nearly two miles. The channels into which each lobe is forced are exceedingly restricted. At its narrowest point, opposite the Island on the west, the Tahoma Glacier is constricted to a width of about three-tenths of a mile. The lobe on the other side, °ree;the South Tahoma Glacier, is narrowed, directly under the shelf below Pyramid Peak, to a width of a little more than a tenth of a mile. One small lobe of ice forces its way onto the Island for a distance of less than a half mile and then, isolated, melts to form a small stream which cascades across the Island to fall upon the reunited glaciers far below. The broad masses of ice which are divided by the Island, constricted into their narrower channels, pile up against the sky in a chaos of spires, pinnacles, domes and minarets, spectacular beyond description. The depths of great crevasses are viewed from the cleaver, not by looking downward as is the case when one is out upon a glacier, but by looking upward and through the gashes with blue sky showing beyond. Great chunks and towering blocks of ice, large as tall buildings, are rimmed by these crevasses which often extend downward below the level where one may stand upon the sharp crest leading up to the Success Cleaver. Many blocks and spires are laden with rock debris, and the crash of this material into the icy depths provides an almost continuous din. The roar of sub glacial streams and the lesser sounds of countless smaller rills formed of the melting ice combine to give an undertone of sound.


One views this glacier from the en closing wall, at an elevation of from seven to eight thou sand feet, in a position utterly unique. The ice is of sufficient solidity to pile up in its channel without spreading out across the relatively low, enclosing ridge. A pebble lightly tossed from the crest of this slope will strike the glacier where it rests against the solid rock below. Yet the ice rises in a sheer wall to heights of hundreds of feet above the top of the ridge. At this elevation the upper points of Glacier Island can be seen through crevasses, and it is at this point that the construction really begins which causes this phenomenon.

The glacier descends abruptly in its narrowed course. Downward one looks upon its broken surface to where, dark with debris, it again joins a lobe of the Tahoma Glacier which passes around the opposite side of the Island. A broad field of rock covered ice then continued to the final terminus at an elevation of approximately four thousand five hundred feet.

From Paradise Park, nearly five miles across the east slopes of the Mountain and two thousand feet lower, and from Longmire, slightly further in distance and nearly five thou sand feet below, this jagged skyline of ice can be seen.

Parties are often guided out upon the Nisqually Glacier. The Paradise Glacier Ice Caves, where one may pass under a glacier, are famous. The third possibility is presented by the South Tahoma Glacier where one may look through ice which seems to ride the sky.

Earl Homuth,

sketch of ground squirrel

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