100 Years on the Timpanogos Glacier

100 Years on the Timpanogos Glacier

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The "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 1930s. Some of the old photos are available at BYU or in Kelsey's book on Timpanogos, and a few are 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.

Even though the feature has been referred to a glacier for a long time, most photos of any time period (especially after the 1930s) give it the appearance of a permanent snowfield or rock glacier than a large glacier in places like Washington or Alaska. The 1994 crevasse did cause some stir and many believe that the glacier still survives.

Other than the 1994 and 2016 crevasses that opened up in the center of the talus bulge on the Timpanogos Glacier, there have been few recent signs that I know of that have pointed to actual crevasses or moving ice, though those two incidences 22 years apart are intriguing.

In the early 1900s, the latest first-hand report I can find reporting any crevasses is from 1916. Other first-hand reports of crevasses were in 1907 and 1912. If you know of any first-hand reports of actual witnesses after 1916, please let me know. Some second-hand accounts claim that there were occasional small crevasses until the Dust Bowl Drought. There were also reported crevasses in 1942 and 1946, but what they looked like is entirely unclear since I haven't seen any photographs of them. A news article actually says that one person had to be rescued from a crevasse in 1942 (see below).

After the 1930's drought, much of the glacier/surface snow melted and has never recovered. As far as we know, only two incidences of crevasses (1942 and 1946) have ever been 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 hidden 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.

Also of interest, a possible glacier, mostly covered in rocks, but with a visible crevasse in the ice was discovered hidden on a remote area Lone Peak, just to the north of Timpanogos.

Timp Glacier concept art- mid-1800s

The Timpanogos Glacier as it may have appeared at the height of the Little Ice Age in the mid-1800s. At that time there were probably three glaciers on Timpanogos: this one, another below the north face, and one in the Cascade Cirque. There are also very recent terminal and lateral moraines below the permanent icefield in the Cascade Cirque.

There may be glacial activity on the Timpanogos Glacier today; some images show a possible crevasse.

TImpanogos Glacier as it may have appeared at the height of the Little Ice Age in the mid-1800s.TImpanogos Glacier as it may have appeared at the height of the Little Ice Age in the mid-1800s.

The Timpanogos Glacier in the Early 1900s

The 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. Snowfall 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. Dirty glacial ice may be present in this photo in the upper right part of the cirque. Also notice the hanging ice on the north face.

This is probably the least amount of snow/ice present on Timpanogos any time in the early 1900s or anytime before the Dust Bowl Droughts of the 1930s.

Timpanogos in1909A late September photo of the Timp Glacier during an extreme drought year in 1905. USGS Photo.

This is the Timpanogos Glacier as it appeared in 1907 (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.

1907 PhotoTimpanogos Glacier as it appears in August 1907. BYU Photo archives; John C. Swensen
Near the top of timp in 1912Anthony C Lund rests near the peak of Mt Timpanogos in 1912, the glacier can be seen in the background.

Excerpt from Dean R Brimhall's ascent of Mount Timpanogos in 1916:

I believe most people call that part of the ridge at which the glacier begins the saddle. It was here we obtained two of our best pictures. One of the eastern or back part of Timpanogos and the other of a large ice crevice. In true glacier fashion the mass of snow that had collected in the magnificent amphitheater below, had moved several feet and left a number of deep beautiful crevices.

A crevasseA crevasse in the Timpanogos Glacier in 1916.

The Timpanogos Glacier in the 1920s

Photos from this time period are hard to find and it's hard to tell what is going on here from the few photos available.

Timpanogos Glacier 1925The top of the glacier in late July 1925.

Timpanogos Glacier in the 1930s

Unfortunately, photos from this time period are hard to obtain. The Dust Bowl Drought of the 1930s 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. This according to the reports and articles from the Annual Timp Hike, which took place every year between 1912 and 1970. Only the 1942, 1946, and 1994 crevasses were reported after the Drought. The glacier took on the appearance of a perpetual snowfield, more than a true glacier.

Emerald LakeEarly 1930's Annual Timp Hike.


The Timpanogos Glacier in the 1940s

The 1940s provided a welcome relief from the drought and average or above-average precipitation returned for several years. During the 1940s several mid-summer ski races were held, usually in late July.

During 1942, there was a reported fall into a crevasse:

1942 Crevasse Article1942 News Article.
Emerald Lake 1944Timpanogos Glacier in late July, 1944. This was a fairly normal snow year, but with a wet spring.

One crevasse was reported in July of 1946. Whether this was a true crevasse (as opposed to ice caving in around the lake or snow melting above a rocky outcrop) is not known.

July 30, 1949 PhotoA July 30, 1949 (a very heavy snow year) photo of the Timpanogos Glacier. During the 1940's, ski races were held on the glacier; Ray Stewart Photo

The Timpanogos "Glacier" in the 1950s-1980s

During the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, with alternating dry and wet years, the “glacier” waxed and waned, but always had the appearance of a perpetual snowfield. The early to mid-1980s 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 1940s.

However, 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 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s, please add them to the article.

Timp Glacier circa 1950-1970Timpanogos Glacier circa early 1950's. This photo would have to be taken before 1956 as from 1956 and after, all annual Timp Hikes made the ascent up the new trail and came down the glacier, rather than ascended the glacier.

The Timpanogos "Glacier" in 1993 and 1994

Some 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. Unfortunately, geologists believe this was probably a meltwater channel and not a true crevasse. Even so it was a remarkable and valuable look into this interesting feature. For now, it appears the glacier survives and is protected under the talus.

Timp Glacier from Emerald...My photo of the Timpanogos "Glacier" from Emerald Lake on September 15, 1993

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 Washington 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.

Timpanogos Glacier CrevasseA crevasse on the normally buried Timpanogos Glacier in 1994. The man in this photo is actually standing on some rocks that fell and got wedged in, the actual bottom was reported to be at least forty feet down. Glen Meyer, the director of the Timpanogos Emergency Response Team, took this photo, which is used with permission.
Timp Glacier crevasse 1994A shot into the depths of the crevasse.Glen Meyer photo and used with permission.

The Timpanogos "Glacier" in 2003

Despite 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.

Interestingly, according to the TERT, there was another crevasse or pit that opened up in the late 1990's or early 2000's. It was reportedly surrounded by rocky slopes too steep to approach. Someone threw a rock in and it bounced once off the side and took 2.7 seconds (if the volunteer's memory is correct) to reach the bottom. From this somebody calculated that it was over 100 feet deep.

At or around this time, BYU reportedly dug about 3-5 feet down to the ice at the top of the rock glacier below the bottom of the steep snowfield. They were said to have obtained a core sample but it was somehow contaminated. They also apparently tried to study the crystal morphology (shape) of the ice, but either the results were inconclusive or they obtained no meaningful data.

If anyone has any pictures of this or knows anything about it, please let us know.

Emerald Lake and the Timp...The Pluggers' photo of the Timpanogos "Glacier" on September 17, 2003

2016 Update

On September 3 of 2016, one of the authors of this article found a meltwater pit in the uppermost flow lobe of the rock glacier, around where BYU is said to have dug for ice. It was filled with opaque milky water and had a small amount of exposed glacial ice by the water's edge. The author dug to the ice in the upper slope of the pit. It was blue with a hint of gray and contained air bubbles, meaning it was probably true glacial ice, i.e. formed from snowfall and not permafrost. The wall of the hole he dug was about 3 feet at the highest.

Timp Glacier Unburied Ice 2016

The Timpanogos "Glacier" Present and Future

Today, the Timpanogos Glacier is what geologists call a "rock glacier," which is a glacier-covered with rocky debris, a pile of rocky debris cemented by ice, or anything in between. It appears to be divided into three main flow lobes, possibly from different glaciers and/or rock glaciers forming at different times.

The largest one reaches from below the steep snowfield to Emerald Lake and may have recently become inactive, (since the lake was not milky despite low water levels in 2016) but it is not certain.

The uppermost one is on the left side of the glacier when facing toward it. It begins at the bottom of the steep snowfield and covers roughly a third of the whole glacier. It is probably the most active.

Stretching from the bottom of that one but not reaching the lake is another one. This last one has plants growing on it and is probably dead.

The three flow lobes are easily visible on any satellite/aerial image that is relatively free of snow.

No one knows for sure what the future holds for this unique feature in Utah. Some recent winters have produced above-normal snowfall, but many others have been dry, and it would take decades of accumulation to bring back the surface glacier of 100 years ago.

The Timp Glacier (top right)...Gjagiels' Photo from August 9, 2005 in a very heavy snow year.
The Timpanogos Glacier on August 30, 2014; a drought year.
The Timpanogos Glacier on August 30, 2014; a drought year.


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 1800s through the 1950s would be greatly appreciated.

Also, if anyone has any more information on the crevasse that opened up in 1994 or the one after, please let us know.

If you have ever witnessed any type of crevasse or exposed ice 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 us know.

It would be greatly appreciated.


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-20 of 43

RyanS - Apr 5, 2006 8:57 pm - Voted 10/10

Very interesting stuff, Scott

Great pictures and text. Definitely a vivid demonstration of glacial retreat.

With these glaciers in the 48 states, I often wonder to what extent they are simply relics of the Little Ice Age, destined to die.


mpbro - Apr 6, 2006 1:02 am - Hasn't voted

Re: Very interesting stuff, Scott

No Ryan, they are incontrovertable proof of human-induced global warming! You see, everything on earth had been hunky-dory for the last 4.5 billion years, before we humans spoiled it. Look out, the sky is falling! ;-)


brentonjweaver - May 2, 2006 12:17 am - Hasn't voted

incontrovertable proof of human-induced global warming

The earth naturally fluctuates in temperature over thousands of years. I am not arguing that humans are aren't having an impact on global warming, but we are still very much at the end of the last ice age. Even in the past 1000 years there have been warmer periods than we're currently experiencing(see here:http://www.biocab.org/Global_Warming.html). We are still in the cold end of the scale, and things could get much, much hotter before they get cool again. There are also arguments that when the north pole melts, the new body of "warm" water will produce enough moisture to cause moutain glaciers in alaska and siberia to grow to the extent that we will thrown into another deep ice age. Other arguments to support that we're on the verge of another ice age say that we're disrupting ocean currents to the point where it will cause an ice age in the northern hemisphere(http://www.biocab.org/Global_Warming.html). Again, I'm not saying that we're not having an impact, just that this is also part of a very complex cycle.

Gangolf Haub

Gangolf Haub - Apr 5, 2006 10:13 pm - Voted 10/10


... but the story is the same everywhere all over the world


cedad - Apr 6, 2006 12:17 pm - Voted 10/10


In one century a real glacier with crevasses melted completely and this happens everywhere. I agree with mpbro, mankind is responsible for this and we are like musicians playing on the Titanic before the crash with an iceberg

Travis Atwood

Travis Atwood - Apr 6, 2006 12:23 pm - Hasn't voted

Nice work

Great article Scott. I had no idea that our glacier had such a history. It is defiantly as sad story though. Thanks for the post.


Velebit - Apr 6, 2006 1:54 pm - Voted 10/10

Sad story

Great article Scott but sad story!


ktnbs - Apr 7, 2006 1:39 pm - Hasn't voted


stuff to read....thanks


bighornhunter - Apr 7, 2006 4:04 pm - Voted 10/10

Great information

Thanks for the awsome information. I didn't know that the timp glacier used to be that big. It just says that the world climate is really changing.


madsjim - Apr 9, 2006 3:48 am - Voted 10/10

Great article

I wonder if the earth had not globally warmed up after the ice age, we'd still be hunting mammoths and saber toothed tigers?

iamnotclimbwild - Apr 11, 2006 7:01 am - Voted 10/10

Well Written!

You definitely have a talent.


dillweed - Apr 11, 2006 6:26 pm - Voted 10/10

very interesting

Scott, interesting read.

I have been on Timp nearly every year for 20 years, and I have long thought that there was glacial ice below the talus. If you are on the "glacier", say in September, and put your ear down next to the talus rocks, if you are in the right spot you can hear water trickling down the slope, and sometimes it feels very cold - as if there is ice under the rocks. One reason I suspected this was the color and opaque nature of Emerald Lake - something that you only find in glacial runoff.

I am curious, where did you learn about the crevasse that opened up in 1994? I would love to read more about it.

One thing though, your pictures tell a misleading story - the time of year of the photos is inconsistent. They might lead the readers to think that the disappearance is more drastic than it really is (but I am not arguing that it is not disappearing, because it is). There are still July's that look like the July of 1940 - although they are probably much less likely now, unfortunately.

Thanks for the interesting story - keep up the good work.

Emerald Lake, in late June


Scott - Apr 11, 2006 7:03 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: very interesting

I am curious, where did you learn about the crevasse that opened up in 1994? I would love to read more about it.

I head it from several climbers as well as one printed article. I can try and find the article at home and PM you about it.

One thing though, your pictures tell a misleading story - the time of year of the photos is inconsistent. They might lead the readers to think that the disappearance is more drastic than it really is (but I am not arguing that it is not disappearing, because it is).

I agree. While it would be better to use photos all from the same month of the year, I haven't any (or I would have used them). The September 2003 photo was used because it showed all visual traces of the glacier, snow, and ice, were gone. I first climbed Timpanogos at age 7 in 1981, so those would be the earliest photos I personally could have. The others are from other sources way before I was born, and none were from September, but from July 30 and August.

The older photos above also were printed in the book Climbers and Hikers Guide to Mount Timpanogos, but the book doesn't have any history on the glacier itself, just the annual Timp hikes.

For an interesting read about the crevasses that used to exist, try finding the 1912 trip report of an ascent of Timpanogos. At that time, the normal route up the mountain was right up the glacier and there were apparently a series of crevasses to walk around. I have never seen the TR online, but if you ever see it, it is an interesting read.


dillweed - Apr 11, 2006 8:25 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: very interesting

Right on. I own the book - it's got a lot of good info, including my favorite part - deaths on Mt. Timpanogos. Timp is by far my favorte mountain of them all. She seems to have a personality all her own. It's no wonder that it is Utah's most hiked summit.


ZachW - Apr 12, 2006 2:03 am - Hasn't voted

nice article

From what I can see it looks to be a rock glacier, much like the one on Nevada's Wheeler Peak. A rock glacier is a piece of ice that is covered with talus and moves much slower than a normal glacier (to the tune of about a half inch a year). The rock and debris insulates it and they can survive for a very long time for that reason. Thanks for the article. I have been wondering about the status of this glacier for a couple years now.


Scott - Apr 12, 2006 4:32 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: nice article

Thanks for the compliment! If you are interested, here is a litte more on rock glaciers:

From what I can see it looks to be a rock glacier, much like the one on Nevada's Wheeler Peak. A rock glacier is a piece of ice that is covered with talus and moves much slower than a normal glacier (to the tune of about a half inch a year).

Well, sort of. A rock glacier is actually rocks cemented together by ice that flow slowly like a glacier. A rock-covered glacier is a glacier/ice sheet covered with rocks/debris. It is hard to tell the difference between the two. Apparently, since 1994 at least, test on the ice in the crevasse, show that this is probably a rock-covered glacier. For now.

There is some controversy over the Wheeler rock glacier you mention as well. The upper end next to the headwall is known as the Wheeler Glacier, but sometimes known as an icefield, glacier, or "glacierette". It does have visible and real crevasses, albeit small, so it seems to be a very small glacier. The lower end is known as a rock glacier as you say, but some geologist think it is actually a rock-covered glacier. Apparently the same controversy exist on the Dove, on the north side of Longs Peak in Colorado as well.

Sam Dunford - Jan 7, 2016 1:31 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: nice article

Geologists actually consider both ice-cemented rocks and rock-covered glaciers to be rock glaciers. Those two forms are actually more like ends on a spectrum than separate categories, a lot of rock glaciers contain both massive and interstitial ice. In fact, one might consider even ice-cemented rock glaciers to be true glaciers, since they form in much the same way except with a lot more debris involved.


ZachW - Apr 14, 2006 12:49 am - Hasn't voted

wheeler peak glacier

I went to Great Basin at the end of last September to see for myself.A ranger told me that the previous winter brought 300% more snow than normal. There were no crevasses. There was still glacier ice under about a foot of firn that I hacked through with my ice axe.I did see what appeared to be several rock glaciers from the summit of Wheeler Peak. I still cant get over the fact that there is a glacier in Nevada.


Scott - Apr 15, 2006 1:14 am - Hasn't voted

Re: wheeler peak glacier

If you ever make it back, the only place I'm aware of that has crevasses, are some small ones one the cirque headwall. At the cirque headwall, above the rock glacier, there is a really big Y-couloir that contains a glacierette/small glacier/icefield. Only if you climb a ways up the couloir will you see any crevasses (and they are small, but are in ice rather than snow). Late season its pretty icy, but early season, it will be snow and easier. If you ever make it back, the Y couloir and headwall makes an interesting trip, but use exteme caution with the rockfall danger.

mauri pelto

mauri pelto - Apr 16, 2006 2:08 pm - Voted 10/10

valuable documentary

As a glaciologist who is always on the lookout for new interesting information on glacier changes this is a wonderful portrayal of the death of a glacier. I am not certain whether the relic ice is ice cored moraine or a rock glacier now. To be the latter there must be some movement. This glacier is not alone, many others in the Pacific Northwest and Rockies are being lost.

Viewing: 1-20 of 43



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