National Geographic : 1955 Jul
In the Gardens of Olympus trees at Elk Lake. From there next day we followed a precipitous path to Glacier Meadow, at an elevation of about 5,000 feet. At 4 in the morning ranger Bozarth and I, through the darkness and mist, made our way up the steep half-mile of moraine rock heaps between Glacier Meadow and the lower ice flow. Where the rocks stopped and solid ice began, we affixed crampons to our boots and tied safety ropes around our waists. We stepped off terra firma and onto the glassy surface of Blue Glacier. Clear Weather Aids Ascent For a time at least, the weather was pass ably clear. In roped and cramponed safety we hiked over the ice, peered cautiously into the yawning blue depths of seemingly bottom less crevasses, and explored the great vertical knife edges of blue ice that towered at the glacier's melting front (opposite). Here and there on the glacier's surface we stooped to examine some of the thousands of tiny ice worms which lay dark and thread like on the ice or snow. These were in fact true worms of the family Enchytraeidae. Each was about a quarter-inch long. Watch ing carefully, we could see them wriggling. Where these bizarre creatures come from, what they eat, how their body processes func tion at such low temperatures, why they choose such a weird environment, are ques tions as yet unanswered to the satisfaction of biologists. Possibly they feed on micro scopic algae which may grow on the surface of the prevailing ice or snow during certain periods of the year. Dismissing these questions for the moment as too academic, we collected a few specimens and went on. Olympus itself, looming briefly through its mantle of clouds to the immediate south, did not appear as a single peak but rather as several groups of widely separated pinnacles and sharp rock summits, the highest reaching 7,954 feet above the level of the Pacific, some 30 air miles to the west. Between these craggy summits was a field of perpetual ice, includ ing a lenslike contoured dome; onto this white acreage falls, each year, some 200 to 250 inches of precipitation, mostly snow (page 114). When the load becomes insupportably heavy, the ice and hard-packed snow around the edges of the field crack off to feed the six great glaciers that tongue down from the mountain. One such icefall was less than a quarter of a mile from where we stood a crumbling white cliff perhaps 500 feet high, with forbidding cracks and fissures, ending in a talus of mammoth ice blocks. Clearly the gods that dwell on this Western Hemi sphere Olympus are of extreme hibernal tem perament. On the other hand, some mitigating force seems these days to be in conflict with the white-clad deities. Each year since the origi nal measurements were taken, the glaciers of Mount Olympus have become smaller and shorter. In the 15 years between 1938 and 1953, Blue Glacier has shortened by more than 800 feet, and since 1919 by nearly three quarters of a mile. Each of the approximately 50 glaciers in the Olympic Mountains is only a remnant of what it was in yesteryear. Aerial examina tion indicates a persistent glacial recession, characteristic of most present-day glaciers throughout the world. One September morning, about three weeks after my visit to Mount Olympus, a recession of quite a different sort was taking place in our Elwha cabin. Lumberjackets and heavy underwear gave way to city apparel as we made ready for the homeward trip. As a last duty, I emptied the ashpan of the wood stove. Autumn Nip Comes Early Driving out of the Elwha Valley, we felt more than a touch of autumn in the air. I knew that over in the Bogachiel and other valleys bull elk, with coats sleek and antlers sharp, were clearing their throats for the autumn excitement; that bears, after a sum mer of heavy feeding, were growing fat on late-season berries and would soon be ready for the big sleep; that the wild-flower meadows on the ridges were withering and the winds gathering force on the slopes. Before long, winter would whiten this moun tain land, turning it from a paradise for sum mer naturalists, campers, and hikers into one for skiers. It was not an indifference to skiing but rather the summoning of school bells back East that saved us from the tempta tion of staying longer. For additional information on western wild flowers, see the following articles in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "American Wild Flower Odyssey," by P. L. Ricker, May, 1953; "Flower Pageant of the Mid west," by Edith S. and Frederic E. Clements, August, 1939; and "Wild Flowers of the West," by Edith S. Clements, May, 1927.