In recent years, with climate change on everyone’s mind, there was speculation that the glacier had melted away. But two teams, one consisting of members of the Sloan family led by Collin Sloan, and the other consisting of US Forest Service employees trekked to the glacier in 2017 and found that it was largely still intact.
How could climbers have missed a 25-acre glacier during all the years that people have been hiking to the top? Well, about two-thirds of the glacier is perpetually covered with rock debris. Glimpsing a cirque with a snowbank isn’t unusual at most times of the year. Apparently, no one had taken the trouble to climb down to that perpetual patch of white to determine if it was a glacier until 1975.
So, what makes a patch of snow and ice a glacier? According to the report (take a deep breath here) The Otto Glacier on Borah Peak, Lost River Range, Custer County, Idaho: Reconnaissance Survey Finds Further Evidence for Active Glacier Watershed Monitoring Program, “A glacier is defined as a perennial mass of land ice formed by the recrystallization of snow that accumulates stress leading to the down-slope or outward motion of the ice mass.” A couple of important terms there are “perennial” and “motion.” Measurements using Google Earth imagery over a three-year period concluded that the glacier moves downslope between 50 and 200 cm per year.
I should mention that the authors of the above referenced paper were Joshua Keeley and Mathew Warbitton.
There are probably several shaded spots in Idaho mountains above 10,000 feet where one can find ice year-round. Rock glaciers are boulders fields that have ice occupying the spaces between them, but the deposits don’t really grow enough to cause the whole mass to move.
Glaciers move slowly, so barring a major meltdown they don’t make the news very often. One need not be fleet-footed to get out of their way.
The glacier on Borah Peak may soon be making the news, though. Idaho has the distinction of being one of the states without a named glacier. Sure, Florida and Kansas are in that category, too, but Idaho actually has a glacier. It just isn’t named. Note that I mentioned this one was sometimes called Otto Glacier. It might be an excellent honor for Mr. Otto to have a glacier named after him, but one must be dead before a geographical feature can honor one. Bruce Otto is probably not eager to meet that requirement.
Who makes up these rules? Someone has to, or there would be chaos in cartographic circles. The U.S. Geographical Names Board (USGNB) is the entity that decides what name is official and should go on maps.
A proposal to name the feature the Borah Glacier recently went before the Idaho Geographical Names Advisory Council (IGNAC). The council recommended that the name Borah Glacier be placed on that icy feature. That recommendation goes before the Idaho State Historical Society Board of Directors. If they approve the recommendation, it is then submitted to USGNB for a final decision. I’m monitoring that process and will let you know the outcome.