In my neck of the woods, old-timers talk about the winter of ’96 and the violence of Ice Jams slamming into the bridges of the Clark Fork. My imagination spun with conjured images. During my time in Montana, I hadn’t experienced a winter that produced such turbulence – until this year. Granted, we didn’t have a single event like the Christmas Blizzard of 96 which dumped four feet in a night. This winter was a slow grind of constant snow and bitter temperatures.
Then word spread of an ice jam on Lolo Creek. I gathered my gear, drove over the mountain and through the woods, imagining what waited. Mother Nature laid out a sublime welcome mat. An ice jam a half-mile long pushed against a undersized one lane bridge. No way it survives , I thought. Inspired, I believed I would be witness to a month long battle of wills between Man and Nature.
The next day, I paid homage with another pilgrimage. A new waterfall welcomed me. During the shoot, a Forest Service Engineer approached and said, “I’m glad someone else is fascinated by this.” He proceeded to explain what was happening out of sight. During the night, a half-inch of rain dumped on the forest, bringing with it a torrent of water and melted snow. The far side was lower and the water should have spilled there, but the weight of the ice forced the water to the ‘high bank’ of the creek. He went on to explain the water would compromise the ice and the jams would collapse into the creek. The temperatures would probably drop, the ice would solidify, and the process would repeat itself.
The next days brought real-life obligations and there was no pilgrimage for me. Sort of, the wife and I snuck up when free-time beckoned. Dodging a persistent wintry-mix , I was shocked to see the water fall had evaporated – it was gone, kaput. The creek had carved its way through the under-belly of the ice. After a couple of rain soaked snap-shots, we drove away with the idea of returning two days hence.
Tuesday arrived, packed my gear and drove into a wall of driving rain. The mountains were socked in. In short, it was miserable. Cold, driving rain… blah. The sound of a crackling fire beckoned me home. Who was I to argue?
Imagine my surprise Wednesday morning when I drove up and the ice jam was obliterated. Gone, vanished, no more. Regret set in. I cursed myself that comfort cost me shots of the jam melting under the torrent. Dry socks are worth it, I told myself. In reality, maybe I would have caught ice shattering like glass, but probably not. Such are the perils of photography. What was most disappointing? The month-long battle I expected washed down the creek with the ice. F expectations!