The Mysterious Penitentes
First described by Charles Darwin in literature in 1839, penitentes are rare, unique snow formations found at high altitudes above 4,000 meters on the Andes mountains. They are called “penitentes” because the white spikes resemble processions of white-hooded monks. They take the form of tall thin blades of hardened snow, or ice, with the blades pointing towards the general direction of the sun. Penitentes range in size from several centimeters to over 5 meters tall.
They are rare because they only appear in the dry Andes Mountain region on the border of Argentina and Chile. It is believed their formation is due to strong winds. This was Darwin’s explanation and no one has come up with a better one for their existence in over 170 years.
Blood Falls, a Natural Time Capsule Containing a Unique Ecosystem
This five-story, blood-red “waterfall” pours ever so slowly out of the Taylor Glacier in Antarctica’s McMurdo Dry Valley. Geologists first discovered the frozen waterfall in 1911, and believed the red color came from algae. Its true nature turned out to be more spectacular.
Roughly two million years ago, a small body of water containing an ancient community of microbes was sealed beneath the surface of the Taylor Glacier. Trapped below a thick layer of ice, the microbes have remained isolated inside a natural time capsule, in a place with no light, oxygen, or heat.
The trapped lake has very high salinity and is rich in iron, which gives the seepage its red color. A fissure in the glacier allows the microbial subglacial lake to flow out, forming the falls without contaminating the ecosystem within.
More photos of Blood Falls can be seen on Atlas Obscura
More like art than nature, these ice crystals display stunning design and symmetry. Andrew Osokin’s macro photographs of ice formations look like crystal sculptures. The Moscow-based photographer captures detailed photos of the intricate structures of individual ice crystals that are in the process of melting away. Why must beauty always fade.
Ice expedition in North Baikal, Russia, A.Trofimov and N.Demina, 2013.
The Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival, South Korea
Macabre “Landmarks” for Mount Everest Climbers
More than 200 people have died in their attempt to scale Mount Everest. The mountain offers seemingly endless options for kicking the bucket, from falling into the abyss to suffocating from lack of oxygen to being smashed by raining boulders. Yet climbers continue to try their skills – and luck – in tackling Everest, despite the obvious dangers. Indeed, the living pass the frozen, preserved dead along Everest’s routes so often that many bodies have earned nicknames and serve as trail markers.
The body of “Green Boots,” an Indian climber who died in 1996 and is believed to be Tsewang Paljor, lies near a cave that all climbers must pass on their way to the peak. Green Boots now serves as a waypoint marker that climbers use to gauge how near they are to the summit. Green Boots met his end after becoming separated from his party. He sought refuge in a mountain overhang, but to no avail. He sat there shivering in the cold until he died.
The Snowflake Man — The World’s First Picture of a Snowflake
In 1885, at the age of 20, Wilson Bentley, a farmer who would live all his life in the small town of Jericho in Vermont, gave the world its first ever photograph of a snowflake. Throughout the following winters, until his death in 1931, Bentley would go on to capture over 5000 snowflakes, or more correctly, snow crystals, on film. Despite the fact that he rarely left Jericho, thousands of Americans knew him as The Snowflake Man or simply Snowflake Bentley. Our belief that “no two snowflakes are alike” stems from a line in a 1925 report in which he remarked: “Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost.”
It started with a microscope his mother gave him at age 15 which opened the world of the small to young Wilson. A lover of winter, he made plans to use his microscope to view snowflakes. His initial investigations proved both fascinating and frustrating as he tried to observe the short-lived flakes. So that he could share his discoveries, he began by sketching what he saw, accumulating several hundred sketches by his seventeenth birthday. When his father purchased a camera for his son, Wilson combined it with his microscope, and went on to make his first successful photomicrograph of a snow crystal on 15 January 1885.
The Devil’s Footprints
The Devil’s Footprints was the name given to a peculiar phenomenon that occurred in Devon, England on 8 February 1855. After a light snowfall, during the night, a series of hoof-like marks appeared in the snow. These footprints, measuring 1.5 to 2.5 inches wide and eight inches apart, continued throughout the countryside for a total of over 100 miles, and, although veering at various points, for the greater part of their course followed straight lines. Houses, rivers, haystacks and other obstacles were travelled straight over, and footprints appeared on the tops of snow-covered roofs and high walls which lay in the footprints’ path, as well as leading up to and exiting various drain pipes of as small as a four inch diameter. There has never been a scientific explanation given for these anomalous, obstacle-unheeded footprints. Truly creepy.
Ice Caves in Ireland