Posted tagged ‘Newton Clark Glacier’

The Newton Clark Moraine

November 26, 2011

Mount Hood and the Newton Clark Moraine from Bennett Pass Road

Tucked on the remote east shoulder of Mount Hood is the Newton Clark Moraine, the largest glacial formation on the mountain, and one of its most prominent features. Yet this huge, snaking ridge remains one of Mount Hood’s least known and most mysterious landmarks.

At over three miles in length, and rising as much as a thousand feet above the glacial torrents that flow along both flanks, the Newton Clark Moraine easily dwarfs the more famous moraines along the nearby Eliot Glacier.

East Face Detail with Newton Clark Moraine

How big is it? The Newton Clark Moraine contains roughly 600 million cubic yards of debris, ranging from fine gravels and glacial till to house-sized boulders. This translates to 950 million tons of material, which in human terms, means it would take 73 million dump truck loads to haul it away.

Backcountry skiers often call the moraine “Pea Gravel Ridge”, which is a poor choice of words, as pea gravel is something you would expect in tumbled river rock. The Newton Clark Moraine is just the opposite: a jumble of relatively young volcanic debris, some of it located where it fell in Mount Hood’s eruptive past, some of it moved here by the colossal advance of the Newton Clark Glacier during the last ice age.

Newton Clark Moraine

As a result, the rocks making up the moraine are sharp and raw, not rounded, and the debris is largely unsorted. Giant boulders perch precariously atop loose rubble, making the moraine one of the most unstable places on the mountain.

In recent years, erosion on Mount Hood has been accelerating with climate change. Sections of the Newton Clark Moraine are regularly collapsing into Newton and Clark creeks, creating massive debris flows that have repeatedly washed out Highway 35, below.

2006 Newton Creek Washout on Highway 35 (USFS)

Today, an ambitious Federal Highway Administration project is underway to rebuild and — supposedly — prevent future washouts on Highway 35 at Newton Creek and the White River. But given those 73 million dump truck loads of debris located upstream on Newton Creek, it’s likely that nature has different plans for the area as climate change continues to destabilize the landscape.

Something a Little Different

Most glacial moraines on Mount Hood are lateral moraines, formed along the flanks of glaciers, or terminal moraines formed at the end of a glacier. The Newton Clark Moraine is different: it is a medial moraine, meaning that it formed between two rivers of ice.

(Wikipedia)

As shown in this schematic (above), medial moraines are more common in places like Alaska or Chile, where much larger glaciers flow for miles, like rivers. When these glaciers merge, a medial moraine is often created, marked by the characteristic stripe of rock that traces the border between the combined streams of ice.

At the surface of a glacier, only the top of a medial moraine is visible. Only upon a glacier retreating can the full size of a medial moraine be appreciated. In this way, the height of the Newton Clark Moraine is a reasonable estimate of the height (or depth) of the ancestral Newton Clark Glacier during the most recent ice age advance — the crest of the moraine approximates the depth of the former glacier.

The Newton Clark Prow

The Newton Clark Moraine is even more unique in that the two bodies of ice that formed the moraine flowed from the same glacier. Like the modern Newton Clark Glacier, the much larger ice age ancestor also began as a single, wide body of ice on Mount Hood’s east flank, but then split as it flowed around the massive rocky prow that now marks the terminus to the glacier.

The outcrop is typical of the stratovolcanoes that make up the high peaks of the Cascades. Stratovolcanoes are formed like a layer cake, with alternating flows of tough, erosion-resistant magma and loose ash and debris deposits. The Newton Clark Prow is a hard layer of magma in the “cake” that is Mount Hood, with looser layers of volcanic ash and debris piled above and below.

Newton Clark Prow detail from Gnarl Ridge

In fact, without this broad rib of volcanic rock to shore up its eastern side, the very summit of Mount Hood might well have been further eroded during the series of glacial advances that have excavated the peak.

Similar rocky outcrops appear elsewhere on the mountain, forming Mississippi Head, Yocum Ridge, Barrett Spur and the Langille Crags. Hikers visiting Gnarl Ridge know the Newton Clark Prow from the many waterfalls formed by glacial runoff cascading over its cliffs.

(Click here for a larger version)

The much softer and less consolidated rock below the prow made it easy for the ice age ancestor of the Newton Clark to scour away the mountain. This action created the huge alpine canyons that Clark and Newton creeks flow through today, as well as the enormous U-shaped valley of the East Fork Hood River.

A Glimpse into the Ice Age

While today’s Newton Clark Glacier flows a little over a mile down the east face of the mountain, its giant ice age ancestor once flowed more than 12 miles down the East Fork valley (today’s Highway 35 route), nearly to the junction of today’s Cooper Spur road. At its peak, the ancestral glacier was more than 1,200 feet deep as it flowed down the valley.

If you were to walk along the crest of the Newton Clark Moraine at that time (as suggested in the illustration, below), you would have likely been able to walk directly across the ice to Gnarl Ridge or today’s Meadows lifts, as the Clark and Newton Creek valleys were filled to the rim with rivers of ice.

Ancestral Newton Clark Glacier Extent

(Click here for a larger version)

This most recent ice age is known to scientists as the Fraser Glaciation, and extended from about 30,000 years ago until about 10,000 years ago. At its peak, the zone of perpetual snow was as low as 3,400 feet, though probably closer to 4,000 feet in the area east of Mount Hood.

This means the deflation zone — the point in its path when a glacier is melting ice more quickly than snowfall can replace — was probably somewhere near the modern-day Clark Creek Sno-Park, or possibly as low as the Gumjuwac Trailhead, where today’s Highway 35 crosses the East Fork.

Below this point, the ancestral glacier would have changed character, from a white jumble of cascading ice to one covered in rocky debris, yet still flowing toward its terminus at roughly at modern-day confluence of the East Fork with Polallie Creek (the map below shows a very generalized estimate of the ancestral glacier)

Geologists believe the Fraser-era glacial advances followed the path of earlier glaciers in their flow patterns. With the Newton-Clark glacier, scientists have found traces of at least two previous glacial advances from even more ancient glacial periods that extended far down the East Fork Valley prior to the Fraser Glaciation. This helps explain the magnitude of the glacial features in the East Fork valley, having been repeatedly carved into an enormous U-shaped trough by rivers of ice over the millennia.

Ancestral Newton Clark Glacier extending down the East Fork valley

(Click here for a larger version)

The timing of the Fraser Glaciation is even more fascinating, as it coincides with the arrival of the first humans in the Americas. It was during this time — at least 15,000 years ago, and likely much earlier — that the first nomadic people crossed the Bering Straight and moved down the Pacific Coast.

Does this mean that the earliest humans in the region might have camped at the base of Mount Hood’s enormous ice age glaciers, perhaps hunting for summer game along the outflow streams? No evidence exists to show just how far humans pushed into Mount Hood’s prehistoric valleys, but scientists now believe people have lived along the Columbia River for at least 10,000 years, and the oral histories of some tribes in the region are also believed to extend back to that time.

How to See It

The best way to see and appreciate the Newton Clark Moraine is along the Timberline Trail where it follows Gnarl Ridge. This route offers a wide-open view across Newton Canyon to the moraine. You can also see the active geology at the headwaters of Newton Creek, where the slopes of the moraine continue to change every winter. On a breezy day, you might also notice sulfur fumes blowing over the summit from the crater — a reminder that Mount Hood is still very much a living volcano today.

Mount Hood and the Newton Clark Moraine (on the left) from Gnarl Ridge

You can follow a detailed hike description to Gnarl Ridge from the Portland Hikers Field Guide at the following link:

Portland Hikers Field Guide: Gnarl Ridge Hike

Another way to see the moraine is from rustic Bennett Pass Road. In summer, you can walk or bike along the old road from Bennett Pass, and there are several viewpoints across the East Fork valley to the headwaters and the Newton Clark Moraine. In winter, you can park as the Bennett Pass Sno-Park and ski or snowshoe to one of the viewpoints — a popular and scenic option.

The most adventurous way to visit is to simply hike the crest of the moraine, itself. This trip is only for the most fit and experienced hikers, as the final segment is off-trail, climbing high above the Timberline Trail. The reward is not only close-up look at the mountain from atop the moraine, but also a rare look at a series of spectacular waterfalls that can only be seen from this vantage point.

Whatever option you choose, you’ll have unique glimpse into Mount Hood’s past — and possibly its future — through one of the mountain’s most unusual geologic features.

Return of the Mountain Goat

March 21, 2011

Rocky Mountain Goats by Albert Bierstadt

Along their return trip across the continent, on April 10, 1806, the Lewis and Clark expedition visited a small Indian village on what is now Bradford Island, in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge. Here, they traded for a beautiful white hide from what we now know as a Rocky Mountain Goat. Meriwether Lewis described it unmistakably in his journal as a “sheep”, white in color with black, pointed horns. The Bradford Island villagers told the expedition the hide had come from goat herds on the high cliffs to the south of what is now Bonneville, on the Oregon side.

Two days later, the expedition encountered another group of Indians, this time near present-day Skamania, on the Washington side of the river. A young Indian woman in the group was dressed in another stunning white hide, and this group also told of “great numbers of these animals” found in “large flocks among the steep rocks” on the Oregon side.

Rocky Mountain Goats by John Woodhouse Audubon

A century later, New York attorney Madison Grant produced the first comprehensive study of the Rocky Mountain Goat for the New York Zoological Society, in 1905. Grant described the historical range of the species extending from British Columbia south along the Cascade Crest to Mount Jefferson. At the time of his research, he reported that mountain goats had “long since vanished from Mt. Hood and from other peaks in the western part of the State, where they once abounded”.

Coincidentally, Grant’s report was published just a few years after the Mazamas mountaineering club formed on the summit of Mount Hood, selecting the Rocky Mountain Goat as their namesake and mascot — apparently, decades after the species had been hunted out in the Mount Hood region.

Early 1900s linen postcard from Glacier National Park

Another century later, on July 27, 2010, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs made history by releasing 45 Rocky Mountain Goats in the remote backcountry of Whitewater Canyon, on the east slopes of Mount Jefferson, just inside the Warm Springs Reservation.

The Mt. Jefferson release marked a symbolic and spiritual milestone for both conservationists and the Warm Springs Tribe, alike, restoring goats to their native range after nearly two centuries. The release also marked the first step in a major goat reintroduction effort, as envisioned in the landmark 2003 plan developed by ODFW to return goats to their former ranges throughout Oregon.

2010 release near Mt. Jefferson (Photo by Jim Yuskavitch/ODFW)

When the 2003 ODFW plan was developed, about 400 goats were established in the Wallowa and Elkhorn ranges, a few dozen in Hells Canyon, and a few scattered goats had dispersed just beyond these concentrations. The plan calls for moving goats from these established populations to historic ranges in the Oregon Cascades, including in the Columbia River Gorge. The proposed Gorge introduction sites include the rugged Herman Creek headwaters, the open slopes and ridges surrounding Tanner Butte and the sheer gorge face below Nesmith Point. The plan also calls for reintroducing goats at Three Fingered Jack and the Three Sisters in the Central Oregon Cascades.

Members of the Confederated Tribes holding goat kids at 2010 release (Photo by Jim Yuskavitch/ODFW)

The new effort to bring goats back to the Oregon Cascades is not without controversy. Conservation groups have taken the U.S. Forest Service and ODFW to court over lack of adequate environmental review of the plan to bring goats to the Gorge, and the agencies are now completing this work. The legal actions that have slowed the Gorge reintroductions helped move the Warm Springs effort forward, and are likely to move sites near Three Fingered Jack and the Three Sisters ahead of the Gorge, as well.

The 2003 reintroduction plan is also based on selling raffle-based hunting tags that fund the reintroduction program. This strategy is surprising to some, given the small number of animals surviving in Oregon. However, with the raffle for a single tag in 2010 raising nearly $25,000 for the program, it’s clear that selling hunting rights will help guarantee funding the reintroduction effort at a time when state budgets are especially tight.

Mountain Goats on Mount Hood?

The renewed interest in bringing mountain goats back to the Cascades, and the notable omission of Mount Hood from the ODFW plan as a release site, raises an obvious question: why not? The plan doesn’t provide details, but the likely arguments are lack of available habitat and the overwhelming presence of humans on Mount Hood.

The ODFW plan prioritizes sites that can support at least 50 goats, including space for adult males to roam separately from herds of females and juveniles. Without knowing a specific acreage requirement for individual animals, the following comparison of Mount Hood to the Goat Rocks area helps provide perspective — with an estimated 300 mountain goats thriving at Goat Rocks. These images are at identical scale, showing comparative amounts of alpine terrain:

The Goat Rocks (above) clearly has more prime habitat terrain at the margins of timberline, thanks to the maze of ridges that make up the range. But in total alpine area, the Goat Rocks are not much larger than Mount Hood (below), so it appears that Mount Hood has the space and habitat for at least 50 goats.

The human presence at Mount Hood is a more compelling argument against reintroducing goats. The south side of the mountain is busy year-round, thanks to three ski resorts, with lifts reaching high above timberline into what would otherwise be prime goat habitat. Snowshoers and Nordic skiers fill the less developed areas along the loop highway, making the south side one of the busiest winter sports areas in the region.

However, on the east, north and west sides of the mountain, human presence is mostly seasonal, limited to hikers in summer and fall along the Timberline Trail. These faces of the mountain have also been spared from development by the Mount Hood Wilderness, and thus offer long-term protection as relatively undisturbed habitat. This view of the mountain from the north gives a good sense of the many rugged alpine canyons and ridges that are rarely visited, and could offer high-quality goat habitat:

Since we know goats once thrived on Mount Hood, and adequate habitat seems to exist for goats to survive today, the real hurdle might simply be perception — that wildlife managers cannot imagine wild goats coexisting with the human presence that exists on some parts of the mountain. If so, we may miss a valuable opportunity to reintroduce goats where a large number visitors could view and appreciate these animals.

To help remedy this apparent blind spot, the following are a couple of digital renderings of what once was — and perhaps would could be — on Mount Hood. The first view is from Gnarl Ridge, on the east side of the mountain. Here, goats would find plenty of habitat in the high ramparts bordering the Newton Clark Glacier. This area is among the most remote on Mount Hood, so ideal for goats seeking a little privacy from human visitors:

The most obvious Mount Hood habitat is on the north side, on the remote, rocky slopes that border the Eliot, Coe and Ladd glaciers. This part of the mountain is only lightly visited above the Timberline Trail, and rarely visited in winter. It’s easy to picture goats making a home here, on the slopes of Cooper Spur:

(click here for a larger view)

Wildlife managers probably have good reason for skepticism about bringing goats back to Mount Hood. After all, the risks are clearly greater here than at less developed sites.

But let’s reverse these arguments: what if mountain goats were viewed as an end goal in restoring Mount Hood? What if this challenge were reframed as “what would it take for mountain goats to thrive here?” What if successful restoration of Mount Hood’s ecosystems were simply defined by the ability to support an iconic native species like the mountain goat, once again?
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To read an Oregonian article (PDF) on the 2010 Mt. Jefferson goat release, click here.