Mountains intrigue me and I feel fortunate to have always lived around them. I’m fascinated not only by their beauty, their influence on global and local weather patterns, their geologic makeup and topography but also by the tremendous forces created by our dynamic planet that result in their formation: the upthrust and tilting over fault lines, volcanic bulges and breakthroughs, and of tectonic plates crashing and grinding into one another. I am also fascinated by the processes that wear them down. With the exception of volcanic action and the build up of lava, the forces of weathering away are easier for us to witness.
The following is an educational fiction story of how the process of soil building initiated on mountain slopes, over time, helps to change the face of a mountain in the northern latitudes at altitudes of 6,000 to 8,000 feet.
Chapter 1: Melt Waters
The last star of morning faded from the purple skies as ever so slowly the sun broke over the eastern horizon tinting snowcapped mountains a delicate pink. As the sun rose higher, the cold alpine air gave way to warming spring rays that cut through the chill and began soaking into the debris, dust and silt particles strewn atop the snow. Microscopic flotsam: pine needles, bits of moss, tiny seeds and dust had blown in on the winds and now collected warming solar rays that melted surrounding snow crystals. Drop by drop the melting waters carved veins into the packed snow layer atop the mountain’s rocky surfaces.
The thaw eventually reached into the higher snowpacks and remnants of ancient ice fields clinging to the granite hillsides. Trickles of melt water seeped into the glaciers’ crevasses, washed over their craggy brows and dislodged rock-strewn chunks that gathered momentum and cascaded down the mountainside causing an avalanche of snow, ice, silt and debris, twisting and tearing up all in its path until slamming to rest against the landscape below. Little by little the slowly moving glaciers slipping along on thin layers of melting water carved away the mountain: eating, digesting pulverizing all in its path; its fine silt or rock dust settling into the other trickles and waters that fed into creeks, streams and rivers flowing down the mountain.
Other hydrologic forces helped to break apart even more of the mineral rich rock across the alpine terrain. Moisture from the melt waters, the atmosphere and rains squeezed into fissures within the rocks, turned to ice at night, expanded and chipped away at the stone. It is not unusual on a warming spring day, to hear rocks clattering together and/or careening down the talus slopes as the expansion process breaks them apart and gravity continues the momentum of dragging them downhill. Continue reading