OverviewThe "glacier" is somewhat of an unusual and interesting feature for Utah. A perhaps little known fact is that the glacier reportedly used to have some distinct (by Rockies standards) and visible crevasses before the "Dust Bowl Drought" of the 1930's*. Some of the old photos are available at BYU or in Kelsey's book on Timpanogos, and one is posted in the section below.
Although the feature has been referred to as a glacier (sometimes affectionately) for many years, the status of the glacier/snowfield/icefield had been debated for just as long.
*(Other than the 1994 crevasse that opened up in the center of the talus bulge on the Timpanogos Glacier, the latest actual first hand report I can find reporting any crevasses is from 1916. If you know of any first hand reports of actual witnesses after this date, please let me know. Some second hand accounts [1908, 1912, and 1916] claim that there were occasional small crevasses until the Dust Bowl Drought).
After the 1930's drought, much of the glacier/surface snow melted and has never recovered. As far as I know, no crevasses were ever mentioned between the dust bowl drought and 1994. Also after the Dust Bowl Drought, the glacier was thought to be more of a perpetual snowfield over a rock glacier until the surface snow completely (or almost completely) melted for the first time in the drought of 1994. During that year a large crevasse opened up in the talus, revealing glacial ice below. For now it appears the glacier survives and is protected under the talus. The surface snow and ice also completely melted (or at least almost completely melted) in 2003.
The Timpanogos Glacier in 1905The winter of 1904 to 1905 was one of the least snowy years ever recorded in the Wasatch. It was the driest November (zero precipitation in most of the Wasatch) and one of the driest Decembers on record. January and February snowfall was way below normal. Only March had slightly above normal precipitation. Snow fall in Salt Lake City was less than 41% of normal for the season.
Notice that much of the surface snow has melted, which was unusual for the time period. Also notice the hanging ice on the north face.
The Timpanogos Glacier in 1908This is the Timpanogos Glacier as it appeared in 1908 (normal snow year). Notice the crevasse in the photo. One trip report from 1912 makes the statement that the glacier had “a series of beautiful crevasses” to pass on route to the summit.
The Timpanogos Glacier in 1949The Dust Bowl Drought of the 1930’s took a heavy toll on the Timpanogos Glacier, and much of the surface ice melted. The worst year of all was 1934, and the glacier shrunk drastically in just that one year. In most years, not many crevasses opened up after the 1930’s, and they were all small. The glacier took on the appearance of a perpetual snowfield, more than a true glacier.
The 1940’s provided a welcome relief from the drought and average or above average precipitation returned for several years. During the 1940’s several mid summer ski races were held, usually in late July.
The Timpanogos "Glacier" in the 1950's-1980'sDuring the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s, with alternating dry and wet years, the “glacier” waxed and waned, but always had the appearance of a perpetual snowfield. The early to mid 1980’s could be considered to be generally warm and wet. Heavy snowfall years regenerated parts of the snowfield, and it appeared that the perpetual snowfield might recover to its previous 1940’s size, but not to the glacier it was before the 1940’s.
Hoever, the late 1980’s produced a severe drought that took a toll on the "glacier", and by 1988 the glacier/snowfield was smaller than it had ever been to that date in recorded history. If you have any photographs from the 1950’s, 1960’s, 1970’s, or 1980's, please add them to the article.
The Timpanogos "Glacier" in 1993 and 1994Some wet years were not enough to compensate for the drought, and although 1993 was a heavy snow year, the “perpetual” snowfield actually melted out completely (or close to completely) in the terribly dry and hot year of 1994. This was the first time in recorded history that the “perpetual” snowfield melted away. During that year a large crevasse opened up in the talus, revealing glacial ice below. For now it appears the glacier survives and is protected under the talus.
Addition by SP member hyperphil:
I was a crevasse witness. I was on TERT in 1993 [sic-actually 1994?] when the crevasse opened up. John Moellmer found it, and Paul Hart and I went up to check it out. It was eery--deep blue ice, 40 feet thick at least. The hole was DEEP. If you fell in, you'd be 30th century archaeological curiosity. I have a photo of it somewhere in my infernally huge collection of slides. Glen Meyer, the TERT director, got a glaciology team from Washingotn State to assay the ice. Their results were inconclusive as to whether it was truly glacial. The fact that the crevasse did not reappear in 2004 suggests it was moving, that is, glacial. Glacial or not, I NEVER walk down the middle of the snowfield any more.
The Timpanogos "Glacier" in 2003Despite some wet years, the drought continues to take a toll on the now sometimes invisible “glacier”. Notice in this photo from September 2003, that the surface ice and perpetual snowfield has once again melted almost completely. When comparing the photos from almost 100 years ago, they are just a reminder of what the “glacier” used to be.
The Timpanogos "Glacier" Present and FutureNo one knows what the future holds for this unique feature in Utah. Some recent winters have produced above normal snowfall, but it would take several years or decades of accumulation to bring the surface appearance of the snowfield/buried glacier back to where it was 100 years ago.
If there is still a glacier buried under the talus, it will probably remain invisible for most of the foreseeable year to come.
More?If anyone else can dig up any old photos of the Timp Glacier, it would be greatly appreciated. Any photos or scans of photos from the late 1800's through the 1950's would be greatly appreciated.
Also, if anyone has any more information on the crevasse that opened up in 1994, please let me know.
If you have ever witnessed any type of crevasse on the Timp Glacier, please post any information that might be useful.
Also, if anyone has witnessed the surface snow and ice melting completely in any other years besides 1994 and 2003, please let me know.
It would be greatly appreciated.