Israel C. (Israel Cook) Russell.

Glaciers of North America; a reading lesson for students of geography and geology online

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THE Sierra Nevada is considered as terminating at the northward
near the northern boundary of California ; but whether this is in reality the
limit of the disturbance that elevated the range remains to be positively
determined. The same great series of mountains so pronounced in
northern California is continued northward as a prominent topographical
feature, through Oregon and Washington far into British America.
North of California the chain had received the name of the Cascade moun-
tains, and, unlike the Sierra Nevada, is largely composed of lava sheets.
The volcanic overflows commence southward from what is generally con-
sidered as the southern extremity of the Cascade range, and form the
grandest peaks in northern California. When the region is better known,
perhaps the more southerly peaks will be classed in the same group as
Tacoma, Jefferson, Hood, etc. These grand cones, the glory of the North-
west coast, have been but imperfectly explored, yet enough is known to
assure us that many of them are glacier-crowned.


(A map of the glaciers on Mount Shasta is given on Plate 5.)

Observations by Clarence King-. The earliest account of the glaciers
of Mount Shasta is given by Clarence King, who in company with several
members of the U. S. Geological Exploration of the 40th Parallel, as-
cended the peak in September, 1870. From a report 1 of this pioneer
climb, I have transcribed the portion relating to glaciers :

" On September the llth, we climbed to the top of the lesser Shasta
[named Shastina crater on Plate 5], a conical secondary crater jutting out
from the main mass of the mountain on its northwest side. . . . We

1 American Journal of Science, Third Series, vol. 1, 1871, p. 157. A more popular
account was published in " Mountaineering in the Sierra Nevada," by the same author.


reached the rim of the cone, and looked down into a deep gorge lying be-
tween the secondary crater and the main mass of Shasta, and saw directly
beneath us a fine glacier [since named Whitney glacier ; see Plate 5 and
Figure A, Plate 6], which started almost at the very crest of the main
mountain, flowing towards us, and curving around the circular base of
our cone. Its entire length in view was not less than three miles, its
width opposite our station about 4000 feet, 1 the surface here and there
terribly broken in f cascades,' and presenting all the characteristic fea-
tures of similar glaciers elsewhere. The region of the terminal moraine
was more extended than is usual in the Alps. The piles of rubbish super-
imposed upon the end of the ice indicated a much greater thickness of
the glacier in former days. After finishing our observations upon the
side crater and spending a night upon the sharp edge of its rim, on the
following morning we climbed over the divide to the main cone, and' up
to the extreme summit of Shasta, a point 14,440 feet above the sea level.
From the crest I walked out to the northern edge of a prominent spur
and looked down upon the system of three considerable glaciers, the
largest about four and one-half miles in length and two or three miles
wide. On the next day we descended on the south side of the cone,
following the ordinary track by which earlier parties have made the climb.
From the moment we left the summit we encountered less and less snow,
and at no part of the journey were we able to see a glacier. An east and
west line divided the mountain into glacier-bearing and non-glacier-
bearing halves. The ascent was formerly made upon the north side,
where, as stated, there are no glaciers, and this is why able scientific
observers, like Professor Whitney and his party, should have scaled the
mountain without discovering their existence.

"Before and after the ascent of Mount Shasta, a week was given for an
examination of the southern half of the volcano. Since the earliest settle-
ment of Strawberry and Shasta valleys, there has never been such a com-
plete denudation. From June to November the snow masses were less
than they have ever been seen before. This favored greatly our geologi-
cal observations, and gave us an excellent opportunity to study the relics
of the former great neve. We explored one after another all the canons,
which, approximately following the radius of the cone, are carved to a
greater or less depth into the lava flows. From the secondary cone around

1 J. S. Diller states that this glacier varies from 1000 to 2000 feet in width, and has
a length of two and one-fifth miles. National Geographic Monographs, vol. 1, 1895,
p. 259.




Scale : 1 inch = 10,200 feet.


the eastern side of the main mass are only occasional fields of snow, and
ice bodies of a thousand or two feet long, usually quite narrow and lying
on the more shaded sides of the ravines. In nature and texture they are
quite similar to the true glacial ice, possessing in all cases planes of stra-
tification, which indicate the pressure of the formerly overlying masses.
There is little doubt that all the scattered snow fields that in the months
of August and September dapple the southern slopes are the relics of
glaciers. They are found in the region of the ancient neVe, but extend-
ing downward into what was formerly the zone of movement.

" Upon reaching the eastern side we found in a deep canon a consid-
erable glacier, having its origin in a broad neve* which reached to the very
summit of the peak. The entire angle of this glacier can hardly be less
than 28. It is one series of cascades, the whole front of the ice being
crevassed in the most interesting manner. Near the lower end, divided by
a boss of lava, it forks into two distinct bodies, one extending in an
abrupt, rounded face, no less than 900 feet in height. Below this another
branch extends down the canon for a mile and a half, covered throughout
almost in entire length with loads of stones which are constantly falling
in showers from the canon walls on either side. Indeed for a full mile
the ice is only visible in occasional spots where cavities have been
melted into its body and loads of stones have fallen in. From an archway
under the end a considerable stream flows out, milky, like the waters
of the Swiss glacier streams, with suspended sand. Following around
the eastern base of Shasta, we made our camps near the upper region
of vegetation, where the forest and perpetual snow touch each other.
A third glacier of somewhat greater extent than the one just described
was found upon the northeast slope of the mountain, and upon the
.north slope one of much greater dimensions. The exploration of this
latter proved of very great interest in more ways than one. Receiving
the snow of the entire north slope of the cone, it falls in a great field
covering the slope of the mountain for a breadth of about three or
four miles, reaching down the canons between four and five miles, its
lower edge dividing into a number of lesser ice streams which occupy
the beds of the canons. This mass is sufficiently large to partake of
the convexity of the cone, and judging from the depth of the canons
upon the south and southeast slopes of the mountain, the thickness
cannot be less than from 1800 to 2500 feet. It is crevassed in a
series of immense chasms, some of them 2000 feet long by 30 and
even 50 feet wide. In one or two places the whole surface is broken


with concentric systems of fissures, and these are invaded by a set of
radial breaks which shatter the ice into a confusion of immense blocks.
Snow bridges, similar to those in the Swiss glaciers, are the only
means of crossing these chasms, and lend a spice of danger to the
whole examination. The region of the terminal moraines is quite
unlike that of the Alps, a larger portion of the glacier itself being
covered with loads of angular debris. The whole north face of the
mountain is one great body of ice interrupted by a few sharp lava
ridges which project above its general level. The veins of blue ice and
the planes of stratification were distinctly observed, but neither moulins
nor regular dirt bands are present. Numerous streams, however, flow
over the surface of the ice, but they happen to pour into crevasses
which are at present quite wide.

"One of the most interesting of all the features of the country' was,
however, the clearly defined moraines of the ancient and more widely
extended glacier system. Nearly the whole topography of the lower
part of the cone is modified by the deposition of glacial material. At
an elevation of about 8000 feet upon the northern or snowless side
of the mountain is a great plateau-like terrace, 2500 or 3000 feet
wide, extending around one-half of the cone and composed wholly of
morainal material. Besides these, long straight or slightly curved
medial moraines jut from the mountain in all directions, not unfrequently
descending into the valley for several miles."

A brief account of the glaciers of Mount Shasta was contributed by
King to an article on gravel ridges in Merrimack valley, New Hamp-
shire, from the pen of G. F. Wright, 1 in which special attention is given
to the moraines now forming on the margins of the glaciers and their
resemblance to certain glacial deposits of New England.

In the account of an ascent of Mount Shasta, published in the reports
of the Geological Survey of California, 2 of which Professor J. D. Whitney
was director, no mention is made of the existence of glaciers. In Profes-
sor Whitney's recent work, " Climatic Changes of Later Geological Time,"
previously referred to, an account of these glaciers is introduced, but it
contains no observations in addition to those already published by King.

Observations by Gilbert Thompson. In 1882, a topographical
survey of the region about Mount Shasta was begun by Gilbert Thompson,

1 Boston Soc. of Nat. Hist., Proc., vol. 19, 1876, p. 60.

2 Vol. 1 (Geology), pp. 332-351.


of the U. S. Geological Survey, who, at my request, kindly furnished the
following notes and accompanying sketch map, which form a valuable
addition to the previous descriptions of the mountain :

"During a portion of the season of 1883, I was engaged in obtaining
the topographical details of Mount Shasta, California, and take pleasure
in furnishing such information as I can concerning the glaciers now
existing on the mountain.

" Mount Shasta is a volcanic peak situated in latitude 41 24' 30",
longitude 122 11' 34". Its altitude, as determined by the U. S.
Geological Survey, is 14,350 feet. It stands alone and has no connection
with neighboring mountains, none of which within a radius of 40 miles
attain two-thirds its height. The greatest length of its northwest slope,
terminated by Little Shasta valley, which has an altitude of 3000 feet, is
16 miles. The southwest slope reaches Elk flat and descends over 10,000
feet in eight miles. The highest divide to the northwest is six miles
distant and has an altitude of 6000 feet. The divide of the Sacramento
river, ten miles to the westward, is 3500 feet above the sea. The
ordinates from the summit to the contour of 8000 feet will vary from
three to four miles in length. The point where the timber growth
receives its first check is at an elevation of 8200 feet ; the last tree,
however, so diminutive as hardly to cover the palm of one's hand, was
found at the altitude of 10,130 feet. Mount Shasta attracts the attention
at a distance of over 100 miles, and from nearer points the solemn repose
and grandeur of its isolation are impressive.

" The glaciers about the summit of Mount Shasta do not exist under
the protection of sheltering cliffs or in the depths of canons, but occur on
the flanks of the mountains and are exposed for three-fourths of the
day to the full power of the sun. The streams that have their origin in
the melting of the snow, appear suddenly at the foot of the mountain as
rushing currents loaded with silt ; these subside during the latter part of
the night and leave pools of clear water, which also gradually disappear.
The water again reaches the surface in unexpected places many miles
distant as immense springs. The stream channels are thus flooded once
a day during the summer ; and after the first snow, which occurs about
the first of October, no more water descends from the snow fields.

" Besides a few snow banks that last throughout the year and a few
small glaciers in the shadow of protecting cliffs, there are five ice streams
which especially invite attention. With the exception of the Whitney
glacier, which was named in honor of the former state geologist of


California, these have been designated by the following Wintun names :
Konwakiton (mud glacier), Wintun (Indian tribal name), Hotlum
(Steeprock), and Bulam (great).

" The Konwakiton [McCloud] glacier is situated on the southeastern
slope and fills a basin at the head of a deep and rugged canon. Its foot
is at the altitude of about 12,000 feet, and from beneath it a strong
stream flows down the gorge, at times disappearing beneath a flooring
of ice, covered with boulders and debris derived from the walls that
overshadow it. On reference to the topographic sketch [Plate 3] it will
be seen that this stream falls in a cascade in the upper portion of the
canon ; at a lower altitude it forms another beautiful waterfall about 400
feet in height. The surface of this glacier has an area of about 320,000
square yards. When making the ascent by Sisson's southern foot-trail,
just as the weary climber turns the ' Red rocks,' at 13,000 feet altitude,
he is forced to make a short detour on the neve of this glacier, which is
usually separated from the wall of rock by a deep crevasse. 1

" The Wintun glacier has an area of about 2,000,000 square yards, an
average breadth of 1000 yards, and is 3400 yards in length. In its
course it flows over two precipices and becomes greatly broken by curving
crevasses, inclosing huge rocks and pinnacles of ice. These are veritable
ice cascades of no mean proportions, and afford details of glacial structure
of great beauty and interest. Near its terminus the glacier forms a true
ice stream confined by canon walls, and finally terminates in an ice foot
several hundred feet high which, as indicated in the accompanying sketch,
is furrowed by numerous stream-cut channels. A close approach to the
ice wall is dangerous because of the stones and morainal matter that at
least in summer are constantly falling as the ice melts. The glacier
terminates at an altitude of about 8000 feet, and from it flows a
considerable stream which is always loaded with mud and silt. Some
distance below the terminus this yellow stream forms a cascade fully
400 feet in height. The walls of the canon occupied by the lower

1 In describing this glacier J. S. Diller states that the morainal material upon its
borders is small, and yet, of all the glaciers about Mount Shasta, it is the only one which has
left a prominent record of important changes. During a former period it was over five
miles in length and occupied an area of at least seven square miles, being twenty times its
present size. With this exception, there are no records upon the slopes of Shasta that any
of the existing glaciers were ever very much larger than at present.

The existing glaciers on Mount Shasta are but remnants of far larger ice streams that
descended from the mountain in Pleistocene time, and left large and well-characterized
moraines on its southwestern side some ten miles from the summit. National Geographic
Monographs, vol. 1, 1895, pp. 262, 263.


portions of this glacier, in common with nearly all the flanks of Mount
Shasta, are sombre in cokxr and unpicturesque ; below the falls, however,
there are many points of view that will hold the attention and excite the
enthusiasm of the traveler.

" The Hotlum glacier * is situated northward of the Wintun, and
separated from it by a series of narrow and precipitous spurs. On the
north it is bounded by a narrow crest of rock which at first glance might
be taken to be a medial moraine. The foot of this glacier ends in an arc
of terminal moraines, at an altitude of 10,500 feet, which at certain
points rests upon the lower portion of the ice. A thousand streams
formed by the melting glacier find their way over and through the debris
field, and render it a treacherous terrain to explore.

" Through the neve of the Hotlum glacier two ice streams may be said
to flow, one of which, in crowding past two rocky buttresses, is broken
into pinnacles of ice 50 to 60 feet in height, which are of a pearly blue
tint, and present a fantastic and beautiful spectacle. The crevasses
below the rocks are very deep and wide. Associated with them are wells
of water of great depth having a translucent blue color ; these were oval
in shape, the longer axis being in the direction of the flow of the glacier.
The glacier is 2500 yards in length, and covers an area of about 3,200,000
square yards.

" The Bulam glacier, situated on the northern face of the mountain,
indicates by the magnitude of its terminal moraine that it carries greater
floods of debris than any of its associated ice streams. At the time of
my examination the foot of this glacier had retreated to a considerable
distance from the terminal moraines, and was divided into two flows.
The first crevasse in this glacier occurs at an elevation of about 11,000
feet, and is of great width, length, and depth. From this rent to the
terminus of the glacier the ice is broken into rough blocks, and is deeply
seamed with fissures. The Bulam glacier is about 3200 yards in length,
and approximately 1,800,000 square yards in area. The crest of the
terminal moraine skirting its lower limit had an altitude of 10,000 feet.

"Separated from Bulam glacier by a steep, narrow ridge, as
represented on Plate 5, is Whitney glacier, a photograph of which is
given in Fig. A, Plate 6. This is the most typical ice stream on the
mountain, and originates in the neve lying on the table at the summit of

1 The surface of the Hotlum glacier is convex from side to side, and its width (1.23 miles)
is almost as great as its length (1.62 miles). J. S. Diller, National Geographic Monographs,
1895, vol. 1, p. 261.


the peak. Whitney glacier, in crowding past the east base of Shastina
crater, which it has partially undermined, occasions a constant falling of
rocks and debris, and becomes broken into a multitude of blocks, which
are reunited as the stream flows on. The Whitney glacier is 3800
yards in length, and covers an area of 1,900,000 square yards ; in Octo-
ber, 1883, its terminus was at an elevation of 9500 feet above the sea. 1

" A careful examination of some of the ice bodies on the western flank
of Mount Shasta would perhaps lead to their being classed as glaciers of
secondary magnitude ; they occur on steep slopes at high altitudes, and
all are over 700 feet in length.

"At the time of Mr. King's examination, in 1870, Mr. Watkins, of
San Francisco, obtained a number of photographs of Mount Shasta, from a
careful examination of which I conclude that there was more snow on the
mountain when they were taken than at the time of my visit in 1883 ;
this decision is also sustained by the statements of the residents in the
vicinity." 2


(A sketch map of the glaciers on Mt. Rainier forms Plate 7.)

In the Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences for March
6, 1871, it is stated by Professor George Davidson that Lieutenant, after-
ward General, August V. Kautz attempted the ascent of Mount Rainier
in 1857, but found his way barred by a great glacier; JSo far as can be
ascertained no published account of Kautz's observations has appeared,
but from Davidson's statement it seems that he first reported the exist-
ence of living glaciers in the United States. An abstract of Kautz's
manuscript account of his excursion is given by S. F. Emmons 3 in an

1 " The most striking feature of Whitney glacier, and that which is of the greatest
interest from a geologic point of view, is the debris it brings down the mountain and piles
up, making a large terminal moraine 'at its lower end. This moraine appears to be fully a
mile in length, measured down the slope of the mountain. Its apparent length is much
greater than the real, however, from the fact that the glacier ice extends far beneath the
covering of detritus. It is so huge a pile of light-colored debris, just above the timber line,
that it is plainly visible from afar." J. S. Diller, National Geographic Monographs, vol. 1,
1895, pp. 259, 260.

2 Since the book before you was written, an instructive monograph on " Mt. Shasta, a Typi-
cal Volcano," has been published by J. S. Diller, which includes an account of the glaciers
described above. The book referred to is one of a series entitled " National Geographic
Monographs," published under the auspices of the National Geographic Society.

3 Journal of the American Geographical Society, vol. 9, p. 45.





The head of Emmons Glacier. Little Tahoma and Gibraltar on the left.


address before the American Geographical Society, but it contains little
information of special interest concerning the glacier seen.

Observations by S. F. Emmons. The address referred to above,
entitled " The Volcanoes of the Pacific Coast of the United States," is
devoted mainly to a description of an ascent of Mount Rainier by
Emmons in October, 1870, and includes many observations on the
glaciers examined during his survey of the mountain. A more detailed
account of these glaciers was contributed by Emmons to an article by
King 1 on the glaciers of the Pacific slope, and I shall quote from this in
preference to the more popular essay read before the Geographical Society :

" The glaciers of Mount Tachoma [Tacoma], or Rainier, as it is
more commonly called, form the principal sources of four important
rivers of Washington Territory, viz.: the Cowlitz, which flows into the
Columbia, and the Nisqually, Puyallup, and White rivers, which empty
into Puget sound. . . . The summit of Tachoma is formed by three
peaks, a southern, an eastern, and a northwestern ; of these the eastern
is the highest ; those on the south and northwest, being apparently a
few hundred feet lower, are distant about a mile and a half to two miles
from this, and separated by deep valleys. The eastern peak which would
seem to have formed originally the middle of the -mountain mass, is a
crater about a quarter of a mile in diameter of very perfect circular form.
Its sides are bare for about sixty feet from the rim, below which they are
covered by a neve having a slope of 28 to 31. This neve, extending
from the shoulders of the southwestern peak to those of the northern, a
width of several miles, descends to a vertical distance of about 2000 feet
below the crater rim, an immense sheet of white granular ice having the
general form of the mountain surface, and broken only by long transverse
crevasses, one of those observed being from one to two miles in length ;
it is then divided up by the several jutting rock masses, or shoulders of
the mountain, into the Nisqually, Cowlitz, and White River glaciers, fall-
ing in distinct ice cascades for about 3000 feet at very steep angles, which
sometimes approach the perpendicular. From the foot of these cascades
flow the glaciers proper at a more gentle angle, growing narrower and
sinking deeper into the mountain as they descend. From the inter-
vening spurs, which slope even more gradually, they receive many
tributary glaciers, while some of these secondary glaciers form inde-
pendent streams which only join the main river many miles below the
end of the glaciers.

1 American Journal of Science, Third Series, vol. 1, 1871, p. 161. v.


" The Msqually, the narrowest of the three main glaciers above men-
tioned, has the most sinuous course, varying in direction from southwest
to south, while its lower extremity is somewhat west of south of the
main peak ; it receives most of its tributaries from the spur to the east,
and has a comparatively regular slope in its whole length below the
cascade. There are some indications of dirt bands on its surface when

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