Crystal Caverns


The Crystal Caverns are not just a fairy tale out of some text based UNIX game on a teletype. They exist frozen in time for a moment, carved by the fierce north winds of winter yet dynamic and changing over the weeks as I photographed the growth of the sow level ice sculpture. Standing almost eight feet tall with a base that is over five feet wide by eight feet long, it is one very impressive ice cube. I never did get around to testing it with the sledge hammer – it has been way too fascinating watching its evolution.


Since I originally wrote about the ice sculpture back on December 8th and then again about it’s progress around Christmas it has expanded considerably. Yet the whole time the water has flowed to the pigs despite the sub zero temperatures. During the warmer days the ice has waned a little here and there which is interesting as it revealed cavities within the formation filled with globules of ultra clear ice that later took on bristling furs of hoar frost.

Click on any of the photos for a larger view which will show some of the more intricate details of the porcine ice palace here in northern Vermont.

Think of it as our own Piggy Winter Carnival festival center piece on the commons like at Dartmouth College just down the road from us. While the wind and the cold have done most of the artwork, some of the sculpting has been adjusted by the hogs. The water flows out freely from it’s base where they drink but every once in a while I see a sow or grower pig chewing away at some of the ice. Perhaps they found something that does not meet their critical eye for art and needs adjusting.


Above is the breathing hole at the top of the sculpture. This has stayed open in all but the coldest nights. I suspect that the warm air (just above freezing) from the spring keeps that spot free of ice. That same warm air is super saturated with water vapor which is probably why we get the delicate feathers of hoar frost growing so large in that spot.

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This is a view down the throat of the sculpture. The core is hollow where the water falls down the cliff face from the output pipe of our spring overflow. The relatively warm water keeps this ice polished smooth as it travels down to splash eight feet below on the rocks.


I suspect that it is the splash back from the falling water impacting on the rocks that is responsible for these fascinating formations at the bottom of the frozen falls. And if that is not enough alliteration for you then please come back tomorrow. :) This view was taken through a hole in the structure. Suggestion: don’t stick your digital camera underwater falls. Especially frozen ones.


Here we have the front of the base of the ice sculpture as it descends to the sow drinking area. This is where they are most wont to chew on the ice at times. Although, on occasion they climb higher up the sculpture to adjust other less accessible details. Given that there is fresh, clean flowing water pooling there I think they are just playing with the ice like some people I know. Bad for the teeth though – at least for people.


And finally the water is free of the ice where it flows under and out into the little pond at the base. The pond, about 20′ long by 8′ wide and 3′ deep is mostly frozen over as it gets away from the area heated by the spring water. The ice is thick enough to support several 700 lb sows at one time. At one point I chopped through the pond ice and found it to be about 6″ thick. I trust it!


The back of the falls in a protected nook where feathery hoar frost has formed on roots projecting from the cliff face. I like the contrast in colors as well as materials. The dark rough stone and soil vs the bright smooth ice. The strong vs the feathery delicacies. Through the clearer areas of the ice I can see plants and roots frozen in for the winter.

Our son Ben was just asking how long will the ice sculpture last in to summer. I think that once spring comes it will melt fairly quickly. Mostly because the water coming out of the spring is about 45째F which is well above freezing. Even with being cooled a bit in the overflow pipe it is still relatively warm and will probably melt the ice long before the snows of winter are gone. This led to a discussion of how we might create our own iceberg that could last all summer to the following year’s snows… Guess what tomorrows homeschool math problem involves!

20째F/15째F, 2″ Snow, Partially Sunny

“Why bother repeating mistakes when there are so many new ones to make!”

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About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor…

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5 Responses to Crystal Caverns

  1. Urban Agrarian says:

    That’s a great idea for a math problem. For history your kids might look up Fredrick Tudor. He made tons of money shipping ice out of the port of Boston in the 1800s. Ice was harvested from local ponds and shipped as far away as India.

  2. pablo says:

    I’d been wondering about the status of the ice sculpture for a while. Wonderful pix and background.

    Have you read Mosquito Coast? The central character is much like you (well, except for the insanity part). Much of the story involves ice.

  3. Hick says:

    Pablo: ha! That’s funny.

    Walter: As usual, your photos are wonderful. I was by yesterday to check out your pigs…so cute. But these photos of the ice are terrific.

    Last year I was watching the progress of these two guys that rigged up an ice palace using a fancy sprinkler…I think it was up in Alaska. It got to be so big that they actually had to use climbing gear to get to the top. They had to keep adding pipe to keep the thing growing. It was fascinating to watch their blog. Wish I could remember the address.

  4. Jim says:

    What a wonderful and interesting post Walter, I too love the art in ice although it’s been a bit scarce around these parts lately.

    After the right conditions have prevailed, I’ve seen large areas of our forest decorated in those lacy feathers of ice.

  5. Jim says:

    What a beautifully photographed and interesting post Walter.

    I’m always intrigued by the designs and patterns in ice and when the neccesary conditions have prevailed I’ve also seen those lacy feathered ice crystals decorating large sections of our forest.

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