THE FROZEN OCTOPUS
MOUNT RAINIER THRUSTS ICY TENTACLES DOWN AMONG NATURAL GARDENS OF WILD FLOWERS
"WHAT makes that red spot there?" asked Margaret, pointing.
"Oh!" exclaimed Aunt Jane, turning in sudden excitement to a pleasant-faced man who had volunteered at the hotel to accompany the party to the Nisqually Glacier. "Tell me, Doctor McKinley, is that the red snow?"
"That's just what it is," said Doctor McKinley, smiling. "That is quite a small spot. Sometimes you may see acres of it."
"What makes the snow red?" asked puzzled Margaret.
"A tiny red plant," said Doctor McKinley.
"A plant growing in the snow?" demanded Jack unbelievingly. Doctor McKinley nodded and described to Aunt Jane in some detail the microscopic fungus which sometimes tints the névé, or coarse snow near the head of a glacier a vivid rose color.
"He's kidding Aunt Jane," Jack whispered to Margaret. Then, in a louder voice: "I suppose we'll hear next that hop-toads live in crevasses."
"No," said quick-eared Doctor McKinley, "there are no hop-toads in the crevasses, Jack, but there are billions of little brown worms living in the soft snow on top of some of these glaciers."
This also was too much for Jack's credulity.
"Let's see 'em," he demanded.
"Oh, they are not so easy to find," said Doctor McKinley, smiling, "but when you do find a colony of them they are easy enough to see. They are the larvae of some kind of small fly. But one must spend a good deal of time on the glaciers, as I do many summers, to run across these interesting things."
"I saw a bunch of them the other day," said the guide, "while I was taking a party to the summit. No," turning to Jack, "Doctor McKinley isn't kidding you."
"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy," quoted Aunt Jane thoughtfully.
"That's from Shakespeare," said Margaret, a little proud of her knowledge. "We had that in English last spring."
This was their second day in the Mount Rainier National Park. They had seen the great, ghostly, snow-peaked mountain from Seattle, sixty miles away, and had declared it the most thrilling sight in their experience. They had seen it, larger and more gloriously beautiful, from Tacoma, forty miles away; and their swift automobile trip from the park railroad-station to the hotel in Paradise Valley had been accompanied by a chorus of delighted squeals from the children as the astounding white summit grew with nearness. At Paradise Valley, a rolling hillside meadowland fringed with pines and carpeted with an extraordinary profusion of wild flowers, the vast white mountain with its long, narrow glaciers, winding down from the summit on every side, loomed enormously. There was no escaping it anywhere. It drew their gaze as inevitably as a magnet draws iron. Even while Mrs. Jefferson, Aunt Jane, and Margaret were on their knees among the wild flowers, sorting them, naming them, and exclaiming over their large size and brilliant coloring, they kept looking up at the ice-covered mountain every few minutes.
"I should like to live here forever!" exclaimed Margaret fervently. "Yes, I want to sleep and picnic among these flowers all the time and keep looking up at Mount Rainier."
"It is the most wonderful contrast I can imagine," said Mrs. Jefferson. "The ice and the snow and the glaciers there, and these warm flowery meadows so close by."
"The guide tells me that there are twenty-five feet of snow right on this spot in winter," said Aunt Jane. "How should you like to sleep in the snow, Margaret?"
"You can sleep in deep snow and keep warm, too," said Uncle Billy, joining them. "Enos Mills, the Rocky Mountain naturalist, told me that he had done so many times when he was caught out overnight on the summits. But it must be soft, fresh snow to keep you warm. When snow gets packed and icy it freezes you. Deer and other animals huddle together under soft snow winter nights and keep quite warm.
Uncle Tom arrived with a government map.
"Just look at this mountain," he said. "The snowy summit and the glaciers are printed in blue. You are supposed to be looking down upon it, as if you were up in a balloon. See, it looks something like an octopus or a starfish, but with ever so many more arms than a starfish."
"What are those arms?" asked Jack.
"Those are the glaciers," said Uncle Tom. "See how they reach far down among these flowery places? That blue finger on the map is the Nisqually Glacier which we can see right in front of us. Place your hand flat on this stone here and spread out your fingers. That way. Now, your fingers are the glaciers and the spaces between them are these parks of pines and wild flowers like Paradise Valley where we now are sitting."
"Are there many parks?" asked Aunt Jane.
"Oh, a lot of them," cried Jack with his eyes on the map. "Here is one called Indian Henry's Hunting Ground. There's one called Spray Park; I suppose there are waterfalls there. And another is called Summerland."
"Uncle Tom," asked Margaret, "what is a glacier, anyway? Of course I know it is a river of ice. But these seem so different from those wide, littler glaciers in the Glacier National Park. I don't understand."
"These glaciers, my dear," said Uncle Tom, "are literally rivers of ice, as you say. They start in enormous hollows in the rocks several thousand feet below the top of the mountain which winter always keeps full of fresh snow. These hollows correspond to the springs or lakes where rivers of water start. This snow, of course, is immensely heavy and keeps slipping down the side of the mountain, just as the water in springs and lakes overflows in streams. As the snow slips down the mountainside, following depressions in the rocks, just as the streams of water follow the valleys, it becomes packed hard; then it is called névé. A little farther down the pressure of the snow above squeezes it into ice; and a little farther down, this ice is so squeezed that it becomes hard and blue.
"Like the river of water, this river of ice winds around through valleys. Do you see away up there how the Nisqually Glacier turns a corner around that huge rock? Like the river of water, it breaks into ripples when it runs down slanting places, and into cascades and waterfalls when it runs over precipices. Like the river of water, which grows bigger because other streams empty into it, the glacier grows bigger because other glaciers flow into it. Sometimes a glacier will flow for many miles, like the immense glaciers in the Mount McKinley National Park in Alaska; but sooner or later it will reach the point where ice melts, and there it will turn into a river of water. The melting-point is called the glacier's foot or snout."
"Shall we see ice waterfalls?" asked Jack excitedly.
"Yes," said Uncle Tom, "provided we climb high enough up one of these glaciersup among the precipices nearer the summit. But we can see rapids near here. They are not so very rapid, though, for the fastest of these glaciers only moves a foot or more a day."
"What makes the crevasses?" asked Jack. "There aren't any crevasses in rivers of water."
"Yes, there are," said Uncle Tom. "The ripples in the rapids in a stream of water correspond to the crevasses in a glacier. You know that the deep channel of a stream of water moves faster than the shallow edges, don't you?"
"Oh, yes," said Jack. "That is always so.
"And it is so in glaciers," said Uncle Tom. "And that difference in speed helps make the crevasses deep and gaping. The ice is pushed fast in the deep middle and held back on the shallow sides. That helps to tear open the crevasses."
Margaret was intensely interested.
"Is there any other way that a glacier is like a river?" she asked.
"In almost every way," said Uncle Tom, "because a glacier is a riveran ice-river. Now, you have seen rivers or creeks carry down logs and floating branches and heap them up on the banks where they turn corners, haven't you?"
Margaret nodded, her eyes shining.
"And you have seen rivers and creeks wash out deep channels and ravines in some spots and heap the sand up on the banks in other spots?"
Both children assented.
"Well, glaciers do the same thing. They tear enormous masses of rock loose from some parts of their courses and heap them up in other parts. They wear out deep channels in the softer rock and pile up the material in the valleys. That is the way the prehistoric glaciers built up those immense moraines that we saw in the Rocky Mountain National Park. If the Nisqually and these other great living glaciers here should ever disappear like those in the Rocky Mountain National Park, they would leave behind them the same kind of enormous moraines.
Of course heedless Jack got into difficulties and caused a sensation. It was the day they spent on the Nisqually Glacier. The party, considerably augmented by other tourists at the hotel, started early. All were dressed warmly and wore hobnail shoes. All carried alpenstocks with sharp metal points. The guide also carried a long coiled rope.
It was hard climbing up the glacier's irregular, broken surface. Sometimes they ascended long steep ice-hills upon which they found their alpenstocks of the greatest service. They crossed fields of coarse snow into which their feet sank deeply. Occasionally they lifted themselves by main strength over some long, uplifting ledge of blue ice. Often the guide straddled a narrow crevasse and steadied each in turn as he jumped across.
"Gee, but this is some work, all right!" Jack exclaimed more than once as he stopped for breath at the top of a sharp slope.
But the experience possessed interest for all. Their objective was a group of wide, deep crevasses a mile or more up the glacier. Incidentally Doctor McKinley pointed out and explained the most interesting glacial phenomena.
"I thought glaciers were all nice and white," grumbled Margaret, "but this one's dirty. There's most as much mud as snow, and some of the rocks aren't ice at all but really truly rocks."
"It will get cleaner as we go up," said Doctor McKinley. "Look up the course ahead of us and you will see how white the snow is there. And as you approach the summit, it becomes as pure as any snow and ice in the world. Glaciers detach great quantities of rock and earth as they plough along their courses and carry them down to the foot, where they heap them up into big boulder fields. Those are called terminal moraines."
They made long detours to get around the ends of large crevasses, into which the children peered with awe. It was a nervous day for Mrs. Jefferson, who feared that they would slip and fall.
At last they came to one of the largest crevasses, and here the guide lined them up and made each hold the rope, so that, if some venturesome person slipped, the others could pull him back. He placed experienced climbers at intervals among the rest, and led the way along the edge of the crevasse till all were standing so close that they could look straight down into its depths.
They seemed to be standing on the edge of a perpendicular precipice hundreds of feet deep. In the depths the ice was blue and cold, and passages seemed to lead to chambers still deeper.
"Some refrigerator!" said Jack admiringly. "Dad wouldn't need to kick about his ice-bills if he lived here."
"I want to go down inside there," said Margaret.
Margaret's wish was fulfilled, but not at that point. An hour later the guide led them by a long, circuitous route into ice-caves which extended far under the overhanging ledges of icy surface. It was so still that Margaret shivered and clung tightly to her mother's hand.
"It isn't so nice here as you thought it would be, is it, Margaret?" asked Mrs. Jefferson.
"Oh, yes, it is," protested Margaret. "It's just splendid, and the ice walls and roof are the loveliest things I ever saw, butbut_____"
And she clung the tighter.
"Come back here, Jack!" called Uncle Billy suddenly, for Jack had crept ahead of the party and was peering over an edge beyond. The sharp call echoed surprisingly loud and hollow in the cave, and Jack turned a startled face. At the same time he slipped and disappeared.
Then there was excitement indeed. Several ladies screamed and others of the party exclaimed loudly. The cave magnified the noise and that further increased the excitement. The guide sprang forward and waved the others back.
"Stay where you are!" he commanded. "Doctor McKinley, you come! The rest of you stay back and hold this rope!"
He threw them an end of the rope, the other end being fastened to his belt, and wriggled forward on his stomach till he leaned far over the edge. Doctor McKinley braced himself firmly and held the guide's legs.
"Jack!" called the guide. "Jack!"
When no response came from below, some of the ladies began to cry. But Mrs. Jefferson, white-faced, was not one of them. She held the rope firmly in one hand and with the other comforted Margaret.
Then, with Doctor McKinley paying out the rope and the party holding its other end, the guide dropped over the edge into the dark gulf below. The rope slackened when there were only a few feet of it left in hand. At last he had reached bottom. There were twenty minutes of silence which seemed many hours to Mrs. Jefferson. Poor Margaret was crying hysterically.
Then from the depths came a cheerful shout:
"A-l-l right! Pull slowly."
And in due time the guide appeared over the edge, steadying himself with the rope in his left hand and holding, with his right arm, a very badly frightened boy, who clung around his neck.
"He was caught on a ledge just a little way down," said the guide. "He ain't hurt much, I don't think, but he was too scared to speak and it took some time to find where he was. Then I heard him kind o' catch his breath and that located him. Then I climbed up to his ledge and got him. Nobody but boys ever gets hurt on these glaciers. There ought to be a law to keep 'em home."
It is not surprising after this experience that Mrs. Jefferson refused to let Jack join the party to the summit a couple of days later. Indeed, though Jack had learned his lesson well, she did not permit him to leave her side again.
After a long debate, Aunt Jane concluded to join Uncle Tom and Uncle Billy in the ascent of the Great Mountain with the party which had been forming at the hotel for several days. Her weeks of horseback and walking had put her into excellent physical condition. Two other women, experienced climbers, who were going with the party, thought she might venture after hearing of her successful ascent of Longs Peak.
As they started at midnight, in order to be able to return by the following nightfall, the children did not see the party off. After breakfast Mrs. Jefferson took them by automobile to see the beautiful Narada Falls, where, at lunch, they were joined by Doctor McKinley afoot.
"I thought you went with the summit party," said Mrs. Jefferson.
"No," he said." Four ascents are enough for one man. The last time I thought I knew the trail well enough to guide our little party myself, but we had a snow-storm coming down and I lost my way and did not get my people in till after midnight. We were all of us exhausted, and my brother frosted his foot so badly that he did not get over it all summer. I've had enough. It is one of the hardest climbs in the country."
"I am worried about my sister," said Mrs. Jefferson.
"You need not worry," said Doctor McKinley. "Great is youth. She is young enough to make little of it. And it is so supremely worth while. On one of my trips to the north side I saw an enormous avalanche plunging four thousand feet from the top of Willis Wall. It was a spectacle."
"Doctor McKinley," said Margaret, "a girl at the hotel says that Mount Rainier is a volcano. Now, isn't that silly! I told her that volcanoes smoked and that the hot lava would melt all the ice. Wouldn't it?"
"But the little girl was right," said Doctor McKinley. "Mount Rainier is a volcano, but it has not been in eruption for many, many years. But the first white settlers of the neighboring country reported a fall of ashes from its crater, and even now hot gases emerge from cracks in its rocks. These hot gases melt snow in places and form caves which have proved to be very useful refuges for people who were caught overnight at the summit. Mount Rainier is the biggest of a range of volcanoes which are called the Cascade Mountains. They extend from Canada in a long line through the States of Washington and Oregon and into California. Other peaks besides Mount Rainier are quite famous. Farthest to the north is Mount Baker, in Washington. Then comes Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, Mount Saint Helen, Mount Hood in Oregon, and Mount Shasta in California. You may have heard all these famous volcanoes talked about. If not, you will some time.
"Now, all these great mountains began by being holes in the ground out of which lava spurted. The lava and the ashes built the volcanoes. They must have been a fine spectacle from the sea if they were all active at once. John Muir once called them a line of blazing beacons. Then they became inactive. They may have become choked with ashes. Anyway, they grew cold, and the winter snows turned them into ice-plated monsters like Mount Rainier."
"But I thought that volcanoes all had sharp summits like Mount Vesuvius and that Japanese volcano with the funny name," said Margaret.
"You mean Fujiyama," said Mrs. Jefferson.
"Probably they all were pointed at some period of their careers," said Doctor McKinley. "But strange accidents happen to volcanoes sometimes. Crater Lake, where you are going after you leave here, fills a hole in the ground. But above that hole was once a giant volcano nearly as high as Mount Rainier. One day the bottom fell out of it and the entire volcano tumbled in and disappeared somewhere inside the earth.
"Mount Rainier's was a different kind of an accident. It was pointed once, like Fujiyama, but one day two thousand feet of it were blown off by a fierce eruption. That is why its summit is blunted now."
"Oh!" cried Margaret, clapping her hands. "That must have been a fine sight. Did anybody photograph it?"
"No, indeed," he explained. "That and everything else I've been telling you happened long before Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden. There were neither cameras nor photographers in those days."
"Well, how do you know it ever happened then?" Margaret demanded, big-eyed.
"You'll find that out and hundreds of other happenings just as thrilling when you study geology," said Doctor McKinley.
At dusk that night both children ran into the hotel in a state of great excitement.
"Oh, Mother!" cried Jack. "Three awful big old circus clowns just came for us outside there. At least one of them was little. She's a woman, and_____"
"What do you mean?" demanded Mrs. Jefferson. "They came for you."
"Yes, just ran right at us," began Jack. "They grabbed at us just like that." And Jack seized his mother's arm roughly.
"And one of them tried to kiss me!" wailed Margaret. "Oh, they're the awfullest things! I_____"
But Mrs. Jefferson with flushed face was hurrying to the door.
Just without, consumed with laughter, were three persons with chalk-colored faces, large yellow spectacles, and red bandanna handkerchiefs around their necks.
Mrs. Jefferson started, looked fixedly at them, and exclaimed:
"Why, you children, you! What in the world are you doing rigged up like that? Margaret! Jack! See, they are not real clowns. They are only Aunt Jane and your two uncles playing a joke on us. Don't you recognize them now?"
And so it was. According to custom, they had painted their faces before starting for the snowy summit that morning, in order to protect their skins from painful sunburn.
Last Updated: 30-Oct-2009