Incredible! West Virginia’s Natural “Refrigerator Mountain”

Photographed by Justin A. Wilcox of Washington, D.C
Photographed by Justin A. Wilcox of Washington, D.C

It’s no secret that West Virginia is home to some incredible natural wonders, but it’s hard to imagine any place in the entire Mountain
State being any more fascinating than Hampshire County’s “Ice Mountain”.

Ice MapWith an elevation of 1,509 ft above sea level, the mountain’s height isn’t overwhelmingly impressive; however, what it lacks in stature, it more than makes up for in natural wonder.

According to the West Virginia Division of Archives & History, the site is a “Huge natural refrigerator… where ice is found several hundred yards on the hottest summer days.”

But why?  What is it about this relatively small mountain that makes it so cold?

The answer to this question is found in some incredible geological science!

Millennia of erosion have eroded away massive holes in the mountain’s base, creating vents that are 50 ft. thick in some places.

During the cooler months, as cold air sinks into the broken rocks of the mountain’s base, massive chunks of ice form in the vents of the mountain.

In warmer months, cool air is expelled from the ice buried within the mountain, creating a natural refrigerating effect — even in the hottest of months.

Though vent air temperatures vary throughout the year, the mean annual temperature can be as low as 35 °F.

Within the area of ice vents there are approximately 60 different pockets and the cold air escapes through more than 150 small openings in the talus.

Both Native Americans and early European settlers took advantage of the mountain’s unique feature, using it as a storage site for perishable food items during the warmer months of the year.

In the closing days of the 1800s and early 1900s, local residents of the Eastern West Virginia community would celebrate Independence Day and other occasions as late as September by digging up ice from the mountain for the making of ice cream and lemonade.

Ice Mountain was purchased by The Nature Conservancy in 1991 and is open for visits by small groups of hikers.

Like articles like this? Then you would love Appalachian Magazine’s Mountain Voice: 2017: A Collection of Memories, Histories, and Tall Tales of Appalachia!  Click here to check out the book on Amazon!

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