As Glaciers Melt, Mt. Shasta Could See More Mudslides

Mt. Shasta, at 14,179 feet, the second highest peak in the Cascades mountains and the fifth highest in California. (©Joe)
Mt. Shasta, at 14,179 feet, the second highest peak in the Cascades mountains and the fifth highest in California. (©Joe)

A giant mudslide sent mud and debris hurtling down the southeastern flank of California’s Mt. Shasta in late September. Experts believe glacial melting, hastened by a three-year California drought, loosened giant ice blocks at the small Konwakiton Glacier midway up the peak, dislodging earth and rocks dammed up under the ice.

U.S. Forest Service climbing ranger Jonathan Dove of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest was on a ridge above the mudslide when it happened. “It sounded like a freight train barreling down the canyon,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

Mt. Shasta’s September mudslide was the worst the area had seen in 20 years, according to U.S. Forest Service Hydrologist Steve Bachmann, who spoke with Bachman warned that another chunk of glacier could easily dislocate, shunting a new torrent of mud and boulders down the mountain.

Scientists attribute the accelerated melting on the Mt. Shasta glacier, in part, to a lack of insulating snow pack. And that’s bad news. Due to climate change, snowpack is expected to decline 25 percent to 40 percent statewide by 2050. Mt. Shasta, which is a dormant volcano in the Cascades mountain range, has the most glaciers of any mountain in California.

No one was hurt, and no homes were damaged from flooding, but the mudslide buried two roads in the tiny town of McCloud, in northern California’s Siskiyou County, under mud, large boulders and fallen trees. Authorities were forced to close the roads to traffic, and one of them will not likely be reopened until next year. The mudflows, which came down the appropriately named Mud Creek, also cascaded into McCloud River, popular with fishermen, and fed into Shasta Lake, which is only a quarter full due to drought.

McCloud River in summer. (©Carlos Wolters)
McCloud River in summer. (©Carlos Wolters)

Forest Service officials told the Sacramento Bee that the drought, combined with hot summer temperatures, may have created a small lake atop or within the glacier, causing a chunk of it to collapse, which then released the dammed up water in a small outburst flood. These glacial outburst floods have a name in Iceland: “jökulhlaup.” (Read more about them on glacierhub, here.)

Mt. Shasta’s Mud Creek has seen its share of mudslides in the past 100 years. The biggest occurred in 1924, when mud and debris spread over an area 8 miles by a half a mile, blocking the railroad tracks and severing water lines to the town of McCloud for two days. The mudslide made the front page of the local Redding Courier-Free Press six times in the weeks following the incident.

McCloud railroad. (©Drew Jacksich)
McCloud railroad. (©Drew Jacksich)
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Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

October 11, 2014 at 09:10 AM

I would imagine a regular occurrence

Mount Shasta, in California, is an extinct
volcano, 14,380ft. high, whose slopes are
covered with glaciers fed by snow from the
upper reaches. The hot summer had melted
much of the snow and ice, and the water,
mixing with the loose dust and earth on the
lcwer slopes, formed a torrent of thick mud,
which came pouring down the canyons, either
burying what lay in its path, or carrying
everything before it.
Boulders were tossed about like twigs on a
mountain stream, the rocky walls of canyons
were torn away, huge trees were brought up
by the roots, and acres of farm and timber
lands were overwhelmed.
The mud was as thick as newly-mixed
cement, and at night its surface dried into a
thin crust, which deceived many people into
thinking that the whole was solid. As a
result, a number of cars which started to run
over the mud sank and had to be dug out.
The strange river was three-quarters of a
mile wide, several miles long, and about eight feet deep.Fix this

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January 13, 2015 at 11:01 AM

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