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As It Was: Klamath Ice Breakup Sets Horse Trembling with Fear

Most winters, Upper Klamath Lake becomes an immense sheet of ice for up to 20 miles.

The frozen lake served as a smooth passageway for travelers when weather was cold enough to form ice several inches thick in the days before good roads and before equipment for clearing roads had been acquired.

It was common knowledge to keep off the ice when it began to thaw.

One day as the weather warmed in the month of March 1879, one traveler reported seeing an amazing phenomena. 

The ice had melted along the edge of the lake a few miles north of Klamath Falls when strong westerly winds shifted ice in the middle of the lake toward the eastern shore.  Within a few hours, piles of shelf ice rose 20 to 30 feet high on the shoreline.

The observer, his name lost to history, said the noise of the ice shifting and crashing was “indescribably grand,” and loud enough to set his horse trembling with terror.

Under certain conditions, shifting shelf ice occurs even today on Upper Klamath Lake.


Source: Daily Astorian, 20 Mar. 1879 p. 8. genealogybank.com.

Todd Kepple has been a Klamath Basin resident since 1990. He was a reporter and editor the for the Herald and News from 1990 to 2005, and has been manager of the Klamath County Museum since 2005. He enjoys volunteering at Crater Lake National Park, the OC&E Woods Line State Trail, and the Pacific Crest Trail. He is also a founding member of the Klamath Tree League.