Posted by & filed under Mountains & hills, Science, September 10 2010.

I’ve written a lot in my blog postings about snowfields that persist in mountainous regions at high altitudes into the summer months (and beyond), but there is a related phenomenon that I have only recently become aware of, and that is of winter ice persisting into the summer months in rock fissures (or fractures) and caves. These fissures can exist at any elevation and not necessarily in mountainous areas, and can provide a remarkably sheltered local environment deep within them that can collect snowfall in the winter months but are largely unaffected by the surrounding climatic conditions. Something related to these fissures is a geological feature known as an ‘Algific talus slope‘ although this is something that is new to me, but they seem to be, in effect, natural subterranean freezers!

Rock fissures which contain snow and ice well into the summer is a feature I first came across when I went hiking in New York State in 2004. New York State (and New England in general) gets a lot of snow in the winter months, but the mountains are not of great height and the summer months are very warm. There is no glacial ice anywhere in the region and to the best of my knowledge perennial or long-lasting snow in the area is extremely rare.

There are three places in the north-eastern continental USA where snow and ice is reputed to exist in rock fissures throughout the year, although I have not seen any accounts or photographs showing snow in these areas beyond July (I haven’t visited these areas on my hiking trips to the region). Details of the three areas are given below. The third area on the list is remarkable in being at such a low altitude and latitude, and being only a couple of hours drive from central New York City! As far as I know, these three areas are the only areas in the continental US east of the Rockies that may contain snow well into the summer months, and you probably have to go as far north as the mountains of coastal Labrador to find some true perennial or glacial snow/ice on this side of North America.

I have often wondered whether such fissures might exist in the Scottish mountains but I think there is nothing like this, the geology of the upland areas is not right, the only area of significant limestone where this sort of thing appears in northern Scotland is (I think) around Inchnadamph in the north-west. There is an SMC photograph from 1899 of deep summer snow that looks like it was taken in the ‘Window’, just north of the summit plateau of Creag Meagaidh. The Window is almost a very large fissure in its general shape, so the area might well behave like the rock fissures mentioned above, although I suspect the depth of snow contained within it is highly dependent on the prevailing winter wind direction. I remember stopping in the Window a few years ago for lunch and being impressed by its ‘walled-in’ and claustrophobic situation.

There is also tantalising evidence in historical accounts of snow existing at remarkably low elevations in fissures into the summer months in England. Of course, exaggeration is often present in old accounts, but it’s still very intriguing.

Locations in the north-eastern USA where summer ice may be present in rock fissures:

1. Mount Adams Ice Caves/King Ravine, Presidential Range, White Mountains, New Hampshire
Altitude (of ice caves in ravine): approx. 1200m asl
Latitude: approx. 44N
http://www.summitpost.org/route/164794/king-ravine-trail.html
http://www.mountwashington.org/photos/galleries/?g=13
http://www.angio.net/~reagan/adams.html

2. Ice Cave Mountain, Adirondacks, New York
Altitude (of fissures): approx. 750m asl
Latitude: approx. 43N
http://jayshome.jayco413.com/index2.php?option=com_content&do_pdf=1&id=12
http://www.birdheadstudios.com/html/pics/adk/icecave01.htm (photos from May?)
http://www.adkforum.com/photos/v/mavs00/Ice-cave/ (photos from 22 July 2007)

3. Ellenville Fault Ice Caves, Shawangunk Ridge, Catskills, New York
Altitude (of ice caves): approx. 650m asl
Latitude: approx. 41N
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shawangunk_Ridge
http://outdoors.webshots.com/photo/1078333250029688058xLCOZG (photos from 24 June?)
http://www.hinestours.com/tour8details.html

Other possible areas:
Skinner Hollow Cave, Equinox Mountain, Vermont (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equinox_Mountain)
Ice Mountain, West Virginia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice_Mountain)

12 Responses to “Summer ice in rock fissures and caves”

  1. Eddie

    Europe has its own ice caves in southerly latitudes:

    Ledena Pecina (Icy Cave), Obla Glava, Durmitor National Park, Montenegro (altitude approx. 2170m, latitude approx. 43.8°N):
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/davduf/560576712/

    Grotta del Gelo on Mount Etna in Sicily (altitude approx. 2030m, latitude approx. 37.5°N):
    http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grotta_del_Gelo (Italian language)

    Mount Teide Ice Cave (cueva del hielo), Tenerife (altitude approx. 3400m, latitude approx. 28.1°N):
    http://www.geocaching.com/seek/cache_details.aspx?guid=0087f05f-0579-45b1-bcf3-fefe743490c5
    http://sobrecanarias.com/2009/07/05/la-cueva-del-hielo-un-congelador-en-el-teide/ (Spanish language)

    Reply
  2. Eddie

    Where I mention in this blog posting that you’d have to go as far north as Labrador to find glacial ice on the eastern seaboard of the continent of North America, the location is the Torngat Mountains at 58°N:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torngat_Mountains

    Interestingly, this glacial ice exists at latitudes and altitudes similar to those found in the Scottish mountains.

    Reply
  3. Eddie

    There is some evidence that there is an ‘ice fissure’ similar to those mentioned in this blog posting, in Britain, although the reference to it containing snow until mid-July is from as long ago as 1686. For more information about this, see the recently-published ‘Cool Britannia‘ (pg. 48).

    The fissure is called Lud’s Church and is in the Peak District in Staffordshire, England at a surprisingly low altitude of 325m:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lud%27s_Church

    Even more remarkably, Cool Britannia also quotes historical accounts of snow lasting till August in 1634 in a quarry in Brockhampton, Gloucestershire, England at an altitude of 240-260m (pg. 51).

    It is difficult to verify the accuracy of these old accounts, but they are intriguing nonetheless.

    Reply
  4. Eddie

    Ice can last a surprisingly long time, given the right insulated environment. In Walden, Henry David Thoreau notes that some ice stored in New England icehouses was five years old. Walden was published in 1854 (although written over a period of several years before this), two years before commercial mechanical/electric refrigeration techniques were available in the US in 1856. This New England ice was shipped for use all over the world, again without electric refigeration.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederic_Tudor

    Reply
  5. Eddie

    In August 2011, Iain Cameron and others discovered a feature at an altitude of about 1160m on the steep northern face of Ben Nevis, that appears to be an ‘ice-cave’. The feature is close to Observatory Gully, and on the date of discovery, contained snow to a depth of about 14 metres. A photograph taken inside the feature can be seen here:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/28183399@N03/6059807591/in/set-72157627472197998/

    This feature, although almost certainly known to climbers, does not appear to have been previously recorded as an ‘ice-cave’ or site of long-lasting snow.

    Reply
  6. Eddie

    There is a fissure on Mount Revelstoke in British Columbia, Canada, at approximately 1900m in altitude and an approximate latitude of 51.0N, known as the ‘Icebox’ that contains a long-lasting snowpatch well into the summer and autumn months. There is a good photo of this feature here:

    http://www.summitpost.org/the-icebox/781350

    However, given the local environment of this feature (the mountains of British Columbia and Alberta, which feature many large mountain glaciers at similar altitudes) it is perhaps not as noteworthy as the other features in this blog posting which are located in more marginal or ‘knife-edge’ environments.

    Reply
  7. Eddie

    In the German Bavarian Alps on the Watzmann massif (containing the third highest summit in Germany, 2713m Mittelspitze), there is a feature known locally as the ‘Eiskapelle’ or ‘Ice Chapel’. It lies at the relatively low altitude of 930m and an approximate latitude of 47.3N.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watzmann
    http://www.eiskapelle.de/
    http://www.showcaves.com/english/de/caves/Eiskapelle.html
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emEkfxPWwCk

    Although this snowpatch is, like the ‘icebox’ on Mount Revelstoke, in a local environment that contains glacial ice (the Watzmann Glacier), it does lie at quite a low altitude and latitude. It probably consists of avalanched snow and debris, and appears to be permanant.

    Photographs and videos show features that appear quite glacial in appearance – it could perhaps be described by the term ‘glacieret’. The term ‘Ice Chapel’ also refers to a cave that is sometimes accessible within the snowpatch.

    What does make this feature particularly interesting is that it shows how the semi-permanent snowpatches in the Scottish mountains could conceivably have appeared in the recent past when climatic conditions were different to what they are now, perhaps in the ‘Little Ice Age’ of the 16th to 19th centuries.

    Reply
  8. Eddie

    Recently another location has been discovered at which snow has persisted for an unusually long time. What makes this location very unusual is that it is in England at the relatively low altitude of 420m. This is a 60m deep fissure known as Eldon Hole, near the summit of Eldon Hill in the Peak District.

    This feature appears to be a real ‘ice-cave’ similar to those listed around the world in this blog posting, but this is the first one known in the British Isles. Not only is the snow within it long-lying, it may even have persisted until the subsequent winters in both 1947 and 1948 (British Caving, an Introduction to Speleology, Ed. C. Cullingford, Routledge & K. Paul, 1953, pg. 151).

    Although this feature had previously been known about by potholers and cavers, its significance was not fully acknowledged until very recently. Iain Cameron bought this feature to wider attention in September 2012.

    A photo of snow in the cave can be seen here, taken on June 20th, 2010:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/steve-sharp/4727699817/

    According to this caving report, the snow in the cave was still there in November 2010 – Iain Cameron has surmised that this snow survived until the lasting snow of winter 2010/2011:

    http://butteredbadger.com/index.php/trip-reports/60-eldon-hole-7-11-10

    A video from June 2012 of the snow in the cave can be seen here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OHm1IVv-lYY

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>