Tibet’s Ice Forests

Mt. Qomolangma*. the highest peak in the world, towers above the Tibetan Plateau in southwest China. Scientists some- times call Mr. Qomolangma the “Third Pole” after the North and South Poles. Because of the mountain’s peculiar topography, it offers many spectacular sights, one of which is tile ice forests.

These ice forests are made up of tower-like ice and snow for- Mt. Qomolangma covers a vast area at an elevation of 5,300 to 6,300 meters above sea level. It is the world’s most developed and best preserved ice and snow structure.

The journey to this wonder of nature usually begins at Xigaze in southern Tibet. After a three day drive in the mountains the visitor arrives at Rongbuk Monastery in Dingri County from where the majestic peak of Mt. Qomolangma, “the Roof of the World”, is in view. All around is the blinding brightness of the Rongbuk glaciers.

Further on, the trek takes you across boulder-strewn valleys, over mountain slopes that often incline at angles of sixty to seventy degrees and through areas of falling rocks. The air be- comes thin, and every step forward requires great effort. Yet, the ice-scape lures and the magnificence of the scenery along the way is enough to spur you on. Here is the world’s largest moun- tain museum with castle like rocks, layered faults, mammoth stalactites and stalagmites all breathtaking to behold.

Three more days of arduous climbing and you arrive! Like thousands of diamonds carved in different shapes and sizes, the ice formations in the deep valley between two mountain ridges dazzle the eye.

How did the ice forests occur?

Briefly, the ice pinnacles, or seracs, were formed from glacial movements. The great mass of a glacier flows like plastic but its surface layers are always rigid and brittle. Consequently, whenever a glacier flows around a corner or over a hump, or changes speed, cracks called crevasses appear on the surface at points of compression. The alignment of these depends on the direction in which the pressure acts. They appear in parallel swarms. Two different sets of pressures may produce interesting swarms, leaving tall pinnacles of ice seracs between them.

The approach to the ice forest is through a narrow passageway flanked by ice walls ten meters high. Mountaineers call it an “ice lane”. Emerging from this piercingly cold lane one arrives At the serac area, so vast and still that the slightest sound is echoed. The ice towers assume fantastic shapes majestic needles or sabers jutting into the sky, a seal resting on a pillar, a sitting giant panda to greet the visitor. One ice formation so resembles a waterfall that you can almost hear it roar. These ice Seracs are as clear as crystal and sparkling as gems. The magnificence of these ice towers was unknown until Chinese mountaineers discovered and revealed it to the world in 1960. According to scientists, the scraes constitute huge “solid reservoirs”. The water storage capacity of the Rongbuk Glacier alone amounts to 16 billion cubic meters, while‘‘the Roof of the World” is also called“the Mother of Rivers”because nine large Asian rivers have their source here. Chinese mountaineers and scientific researchers have in the past two decades made several Expeditions to the ice forests of Mt Qomolangma. Their hard work has greatly enriched the study of glacial movements in China. With the development of tourism in this country, the ice towers of Mt Qomnlangma are attracting increasing numbers of mountaineers from abroad.