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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Beauty of Rime

Scenic North Carolina

photo by Rich Stevenson ©2006
What happens to water when the temperature falls to 32 degrees or lower? It freezes right? Well, not necessarily. Water molecules need something - a nucleus - to grab onto in order to form ice crystals. These microscopic nuclei, which can be dust, smoke or any very tiny solid particle provide the impetus for freezing. Even in temps well below freezing, water droplets can remain in a liquid state, and are known as supercooled droplets. In winter when a cloud of these super cooled water droplets come in contact with exposed objects like tree branches, they immediately freeze into a milky deposit we call rime ice. The branches become the substrate for water to crystallize, and the result is a stunning transformation of the mountain landscape.

These beautiful yet fragile patterns are very delicate. The bright white colour of rime ice verus "clear ice" comes from the fact air is trapped within the structure as it grows sometimes at a rate of more than a foot per hour! It's frequent wintertime event in the Appalachian Mountains whose forested peaks are often shrouded in clouds. Notice in the photos below no snow on the ground just the trees covered in rime ice.

Max Patch Photos by SCJack © 2006

Scenic Max Patch Mountain sits upon a high knob overlooking the Great Smoky Mountains, and the Black Mountains. The 350 acres was purchased in order to relocate the Appalachian Trail off the highway, and onto national forest service land. The elevation here is about 4,500 feet. So the next time you venture out for a winter hike to the high country, the landscape can be cast in frozen beauty called rime ice.

Drive directions: From I-40 take Exit 7 Harmon Den on the NC side. Turn left at the end of the exit ramp onto a gravel road. Follow this road for about 6 miles then turn left until it ends. Turn left onto Max Patch Road. The parking area is about 2.5 miles on the right. There is a 1 mile loop trail.

For more images of Max Patch winter scenery check out these galleries by SCJack and Rich Stevenson

Update: Tonight I found a website featuring more images of rime ice and snow in the NC mountains. Check it out...the images are gorgeous!

Roan Mountain Winter Hiking near Asheville


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