Nature Notes

Vol. II July-September 1987 No. 13


Once buried under hundreds of feet of active glacial ice a small rock ridge helps to illustrate the demise of this glacier. On September 8, 1936 this rock ridge, on the Southwest side of the basin that once held the Ice Caves, was used in a photograph to show the extent of the Steven's Lobe of the Paradise Glacier. In the photograph the stagnant ice is seen as a continuous sheet thick enough to completely surround the rock ridge and obscure the view of the lower portion of Little Tahoma Peak.

This photograph, shown to the participants of the 1986 Glaciers of Mt. Rainier Olympic field seminar by Carolyn Driedger, was in sharp contrast to the scene we viewed. While standing at the same point on the ridge that the photograph was taken we were over 100 meters from the nearest snowfield and several hundred meters from ice more than a few meters thick The basin no longer contains any true glacier ice, only firm snow. The upper-west edge of the basin is still covered by the main body of the Paradise Glacier but a rockfall-prone slope separates the now independent snowfield from it. The skyline to the north, once obscured, is now visible along with other recently exposed terrain. The rock ridge is an excellent point to monitor the changes that are occurring and have occurred in this area.

If you wish to follow the changes going on first-hand, consult the 1936 photo provided by the Washington Historical Society. A copy of the print is in the Interpretive slide files along within a photograph taken from the same point last September, almost exactly 50 years after the original. To find the rock ridge, take the Ice Caves Trail to where it disappears then look to your left. Beyond a sandy rise you will see a long low rocky ridge. Midway along the ridge is a rock approximately one meter high with 9/8/36 92 feet painted on it. This was the earlier photographer's photo point. Look up the ridge the described distance and you'll find a rock with an "X" painted on where a Ranger stood in the early photo to give scale.

The rapid melt-back of the Paradise Glacier also means the inevitable demise of the famous Paradise Ice Caves. Since no new ice is being added to the stagnant ice body, the rapid melting of ice witnessed in the recent warm seasons will consume the remaining vestige in only a few more years. The school bus-sized ice flakes falling from the thin ceiling have already forced closure of the caves to public access. All this geology in action tells us that we may have to wait until the next ice age glacial advance before we can again experience the beauty of the Paradise Ice Caves.

Steve Stinnett

from Origin of Geographic Names of Tacoma/Pierce County Washington by Gary Fuller Reese

MYRTLE FALLS -- on the southern slope of Mount Rainier on Edith Creek, a tributary to Paradise River. Name given by Jules Stampfler, the guide, in 1907. Myrtle was a member of one of his climbing parties. Jules remembered Myrtle but forgot the rest of her name.

EDITH CREEK -- named in 1907 by Jules Stampfler, the guide, who was getting out a series of stereopticon views and he needed a name for that creek. He did not remember Edith's full name. She was a member of one of his climbing parties.

COWLITZ ROCKS -- A mass of rocks on the southeast slope of Mount Rainier, and between the Paradise and Cowlitz Glaciers. The rocks were named in 1907 by the veteran guide, Jules Stampfler, who found a name necessary to satisfy the curiosity of his companies of tourists. Elevation, 7,457 feet above sea level.

With so many park features named by this imaginative guide, it seems an oversight that nothing bears his name.

<<< Previous
> Cover <