Glacier Tanks: An Ode to Mount Hood

Glaciers connote feelings of jagged cold, adventure, and size on an order of magnitude the human mind can hardly grasp. Over the years, many brands from Gatorade to mint candy companies have drawn on the positive associations evoked by glaciers to market their products. So when a beer equipment manufacturer set up shop in the shadow of Oregon’s glaciated Mount Hood, the name for their operation was right in front of them.

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Mount Hood, the 11,249-foot “Queen of the Cascades,” with downtown Portland in the foreground (Source: Flickr).

 

Glacier Tanks was established in Portland in 2006, less than 50 miles west of Mount Hood. It is a small, family-owned company with fewer than twenty employees. Staff members sport fleeces with the Glacier Tanks logo, a silhouette of Mount Hood with blue caricatured glaciers. The owners are Portland lifers, although their operation, which produces brewing tanks, has since outgrown its original confines and moved across the river to Vancouver, Washington. They get together with friend-breweries and compete in beer camaraderie like “Brewfit games,” which include events like the cask carry and beer chugging.

GlacierHub caught up with Nick Roelle, the company’s 39-year-old CEO, who is a snowboarder and outdoorsman. He confirmed the Glacier Tanks’ namesake is “an ode to Mount Hood” and to his youth, which he spent exploring glaciers in Alaska.

Former Glacier Tanks employee, Matt Fields, boulders at Alaska’s Byron Glacier trailhead (Source: Matt Fields).

 

Twelve named glaciers and snowfields flank Mount Hood, which is a slumbering volcano and Oregon’s tallest peak. Iconic among Portlanders, the mountain is revered for both its beauty and mystique— there is no established path to the top. Its 7,000 feet of glacial cave passages comprise the longest system in the continental U.S.

Portland and the Pacific Northwest are informally recognized as the craft-brew capital of the world. A bit farther east, the Cascade Range casts a rain shadow over a vast, dry, elevated plateau. It is a sun-drenched region, which receives hydration year-round from a healthy mountain snowpack. These are ideal hop-growing conditions, a primary ingredient for making good beer. The region produced 99 percent of U.S. grown hops in 2017.

A barrel converted into an upright fermentor (Source: Instagram).

However, climate change forecasts predict a warmer, drier, less hoppy Pacific Northwest, which is bad news for beer makers. But Glacier Tanks, a company that got its start making rainwater storage tanks, is accustomed to adapting quickly. They also create equipment for brewing kombucha, coffee, wine, and tool custom products specialized for other niche productions. Their clients include the Boston Beer Company (the maker of Samuel Adams), Backwoods Brewing, and Humm Kombucha.

In 2015, some of the most recognizable names in American beer-making signed on to a climate declaration for greater integration of sustainability practices into their brewing. The declaration reads: “Warmer temperatures and extreme weather events are harming the production of hops, a critical ingredient of beer that grows primarily in the Pacific Northwest. Rising demand and lower yields have driven the price of hops up by more than 250 percent over the past decade. Clean water resources, another key ingredient, are also becoming scarcer in the West as a result of climate-related droughts and reduced snowpack.”

Glacier Tanks employees with Mount Hood’s iconic silhouette (Source: Instagram).

Levi Drake, the Glacier Tanks operations manager, studied stream ecology at the University of Illinois. He is aware of the climate prediction for their hop-growing region. According to Drake, who is also responsible for Glacier Tanks’ research and design, there is nothing glacial about the pace of the company’s adaptability. They are currently in the process of redesigning kettles for better heat retention and efficiency. The pursuit of sustainable systems is a theme of the Portland region, and will continue to drive brewery innovation, especially in the Pacific Northwest.

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Photo Friday: Glaciers in Twilight

On July 27, night-gazers rejoiced in watching the full moon, which also presented the longest total lunar eclipse of the 21st century. The total phase of the eclipse lasted 1 hour 42 minutes and 57 seconds, eclipsing January 2018’s total lunar eclipse by approximately 26 minutes. The waning gibbous phase of the moon can be seen this week as a daytime moon.

This Photo Friday, enjoy the beauty of the moon rising over glacier-covered mountains in the Cascades during the daytime. The Cascade range extends from southern British Columbia through the states of Washington, Oregon and Northern California. It includes both non-volcanic mountains as well as glaciated volcanic mountains such as Mt Adams.

Daytime moon over Mt. Adams during sunrise (Source: Jeff Hagan/Earth Sky).

 

Daytime moon during sunset at Mount Rainer (Source: Max Pixel).

 

Moon rising over Mount Baker during Sunset (Source: Briarcroft.wordpress).

 

Sunset at Mount Shasta in California with daytime moon (Source: Jeff Hollett/Flickr).

 

Moon and Mt. Hood as seen from Hillsboro, Oregon (Source: M. O. Stevens/WikiCommons)
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Ice Cave Collapses On Mt. Hood

In the warmest winter on record the roof of a highly popular ice cave on Mt. Hood, Oregon fell in. The Snow Dragon ice cave at the bottom of the Sandy Glacier on Mt. Hood was first publicly documented in 2011 by Brent McGregor and Eddy Cartaya– we covered their experience documenting the Sandy Glacier last October. Since then, the western US has experienced one of the warmest and driest winters on record, and the Sandy Glacier responded.

An image of the opening to The Snow Dragon Ice Cave on Mt. Hood before and after roof collapse
The Snow Dragon Ice Cave on Mt. Hood before and after roof collapse. Credit: “Glacier Cave Explorers” Facebook page

As can be seen in the photos above from McGregor and Cartaya’s Facebook page covering ice cave explorations, the Snow Dragon cave has been significantly reduced this winter. The roof to the entrance collapsed in what McGregor on Facebook said he “would consider . . . the biggest change in the cave system since we have been monitoring it.”

This was always a fate for the ice cave that could have been anticipated. For years, many climbers  have said Snow Dragon and other cave systems like it would melt before long. Ice thawing from within the glaciers forms the caves. As that thawing continues and expands outwards, it begins to breach the surface. Once tunnels open to the surface, the glaciers continue to melt in an increasing positive feedback: warm surface air travels down the tunnels to the glacier’s core, increasing the rate of melt and creating new surface openings.

Ice cave systems are inherently temporary, so expeditions attempt to explore and document their beauty, chemistry, and biology before they’re gone. As we posted in January, a team from Uncage the Soul Productions shot “Requiem of Ice” in the Sandy Glacier system with help from McGregor and Cartaya for just that reason.

In an interview referencing the current collapse in the Snow Dragon cave with Oregon’s KGW, McGregor said although they knew the caves were temporary, “we thought we had another 5 or 10 years till we reached that point, but it’s accelerating. It doesn’t matter what you believe as far as climate change, the fact is that we are losing ice on our glaciers, just not in Oregon, just not on Mt. Hood, worldwide we’re loosing a lot of ice.”

In fact, at one time there was an even bigger cave system than the Sandy Glacier system. The caves on Mt. Rainier, Washington’s Paradise Glacier– first discovered in the 19th century– were some of the biggest and most popular ice caves in the country by the 1950’s. By 1970 glacial retreat had caused their roofs to cave in and tunnels to collapse, and today, only the highest ice caves in the system are left.

An image of a Hiker in Paradise Glacier ice cave on Mount Rainier, July 27, 1924
Hiker in Paradise Glacier ice cave on Mount Rainier, July 27, 1924 By Lindsley, Lawrence Denny, 1879-1974. Posted on Flicker by IMLS Digital Collections and Content.

Glacial ice caves don’t always melt away slowly and when no one’s looking. In 2008 a teenage boy became trapped inside an ice cave on Mt. Baker, Washington. The boy’s mother was taking his and friends’ photo inside the cave when the roof suddenly fell in– trapping them inside. It took 6 hours to get them out and the boys were only semi-conscious when they were finally rescued. Events like these outline the dangers associated with these highly volatile cave systems.

More recently, in July 2014, a popular ice cave on Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska collapsed due to increasing glacial melt. No one was trapped inside that time, but scientists and park officials are worried that as temperatures warm and glaciers retreat, more people may be injured exploring popular glacial ice caves unprepared.

image of a women standing inside an ice cave in the Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau, Alaska
A women stands inside an ice cave in the Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau, Alaska. By: Andrew E. Russell, Via Flickr

As beautiful as the caves are, and as amazing as it is to have the chance to explore their tunnels, they are inevitably disappearing. Nature is always in flux, and we find ourselves currently in an era of increased climate variability and uncertainty. Fortunately, until the ice caves around the world become too dangerous to explore, passionate scientist and adventurers will continue to document their lives, their tunnels, their expansive chambers and hidden lakes, unique flora and fauna, and their immense beauty.

Heart Shaped Opening of the Pure Imagination Cave Mt. Hood OR
Pure Imagination Cave, part of the Sandy Glacier cave system by Brent McGregor via Facebook

For more photos of McGregor and Cartaya explorations, and the Sandy Glacier cave system, check out their Instagram, or follow them on Facebook. For photos from the Mt. Baker collapse rescue see, here.

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Ice Cavers Travel Into the Heart of Glaciers

Ice cave at Lamplugh Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska (Photo: Allyhook/Flickr)
Ice cave at Lamplugh Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska (Photo: Allyhook/Flickr)

As their name suggests, ice caves are tunnel-like features that occur within ice bodies, usually glaciers. They have been known to science at least since 1900, when the American explorer and scientist Edwin Balch described them in his book Glacières or Freezing Caverns. In recent decades, some ice caves have become major tourist attractions.

Ice caves are formed by the horizontal movement of liquid water through glaciers. This movement causes some of the ice to melt. In some cases, the liquid water is produced by melting on the glacier surface; it then descends through a vertical tunnel or moulin to the glacier bed, where it flows out and emerges at the glacier snout. In other cases, geothermal activity provides the heat to melt the ice. Caves can also form on glaciers that terminate in lakes or the ocean; melting at the front of the glacier can proceed under the glacier, sometimes for considerable distances.

Ice caves attract tourists in a number of countries. Norway and Iceland are major destinations for people who wish the visit them, but they are found in other countries as well, including Switzerland, Austria, Russia, Canada, Argentina and New Zealand. The nature photographer Kamil Tamiola entered an ice cave on the north face of an Alpine summit in France at 3,800 meters above sea level. “You need to stay focused, pay attention to every single move and commit yourself entirely to this climb,” he said. He used mountaineering gear, including ice axes and crampons.

Less equipment is needed to enter the ice caves of Lake Superior, which form each winter from seeps in a limestone cave rather than from melting within a glacier. Tourists wear warm clothing and boots, and bring only trekking poles for balance. “It’s just fantastic, ” said Jim McLaughlin, who visited them in 2014. “It’s unique to see water in so many different forms and different colors and the way it’s sculpted.” McLaughlin and the others

Ice cave in  Belcher Glacier, Devon Island, Canada (Photo: Angus Duncan/NASA)
Ice cave in Belcher Glacier, Devon Island, Canada (Photo: Angus Duncan/NASA)

In all these countries, the best time to visit ice caves is during the winter. There is a greater risk of collapse from melting at other seasons. Tourists have to bring appropriate gear to enter an ice cave. Helmets, gloves, sturdy boots, and warm layered clothing are often required. Headlamps and kneepads are highly recommended.

There is a sense of urgency about glacier caving, since some of the caves are at risk of disappearing. Bob Krumenaker, the park superintendant at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, where the Lake Superior ice caves are located, mentioned that people treat ice caving as “a truly endangered national park experience, because, like endangered animals, we can’t predict its future, and it may not be there,” The Sandy Glacier Cave System on Mount Hood in Oregon is also shrinking. In his website From a Glacier’s Perspective, Mauri Pelto writes of the complete disappearance of the caves on Paradise Glacier on Mount Rainier in Washington. For the meantime, though, a visit to an ice cave can provide a striking experience of the interior of a glacier.

Pond in ice cave under the Nigardsbreen, Jostedalsbreen, Norway (Photo: Guttorm Flatabø)
Pond in cave under the Nigardsbreen, Jostedalsbreen, Norway (Photo: Guttorm Flatabø)
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If you build (an artificial glacier), they will come

https://www.flickr.com/photos/kenlund/1291996844/in/photolist-2YaPDE-fPdsWr-ittKQX-itumwT-itsxUL-itrYTq-ituePJ-ittBbL-itsgrX-ittfKc-ittvb6-itsg6s-itu4Hy-itsYCA-itsuWm-itsV3t-itsFUH-ittYPp-ittigf-ittfAg-its3D2-itsBpT-itsa6j-ittA8T-ittcTo-itt7qE-fPdsr2-nzqaKJ-itv23E-itrRLk-qUWW3-nB4wcJ-e8ifEq-itsoGB-e8czy6-e8ifx5-e8czvR-e8ifsm-e8ifkA-e8if3w-e8ieZA-e8ieX7-ittYjz-ituc9A-ituDUC-ittZkf-ittHK6-itvgZL-ittjBy-ittNDK/
Oregon’s Mount Hood has seen the decline of three of its glaciers, Flickr/Ken Lund

The concept of geoengineering artificial glaciers is starting to gain traction among glacier communities around the world. Advocates recently hosted a presentation on “Artificial Glaciers in the Northwest”

The presentation, delivered in April 2014 in Hood River, Oregon by Emily Smith and Tom Bennett of Portland State University, discussed the possibility of importing those techniques to the north side of Mount Hood. The mountain has seen the decline of its Eliot, Coe and Langille glaciers, and the presentation organizers hope that the method can offset the loss of those glaciers.

That method was created by Chewang Norphel, a civil engineer in Ladakh, India, who pioneered a way to “grow” glaciers in the Himalayas. A short film about Norphel’s mission to create small glaciers in Nepal, “Beyond Prayer”, shows the retired engineer describing his technique, which relies on the redirection of streams in the winter to cool areas, and constructing breaks to slow the flow of water. The water freezes along the mountain slope at regular intervals. During the winter, an ice sheet covers these frozen pools, creating small, artificial glaciers.

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Civil engineer Chewang Norphel created a technique to restore melting glaciers. (Flickr/Kiran Jonnalagadda)

Norphel had the irrigation of villages in mind when he developed the artificial glaciers, so it is unclear if it will be used in Oregon. That low cost geoengineering techniques from Nepal are finding their way to glacier communities of the Pacific Northwest U.S. speaks to the common challenges and threats faced by communities throughout the world, and to the growing awareness within these communities that they can benefit from more contact with each another.

BEYOND PRAYER from SPOTFILMS on Vimeo.

 

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