Konwakiton Glacier is one of the smaller glaciers located on Mount Shasta's southern slope just above Mud Creek. Konwakiton Glacier has produced several jökulhlaups in historical times (Finch and Anderson, 1928; Hill, 1984; Biles, 1989; Miesse, 1993) as well as during the last 10,000 years (Miller, 1980). There are two major mechanisms whereby jökulhlaups occur: warm weather resulting in the rapid melting of a glacier (which often leads to the break-up of dam-like material resulting in the rapid release of meltwater) and volcanic activity which melts glacial ice (Hill, 1984; Biles, 1989; Walder and Driedger, 1993; Hanson, 1996). Although Mount Shasta is subject to both, it has been warm weather which has produced the historic mud flows on Mount Shasta. Mud Creek is especially vulnerable to flooding and mud flows because it is on the south side of the mountain and carves through 1,500 feet of ash deposits, which easily erode (Finch and Anderson, 1928).
The heaviest runoff of meltwater occurs during the summer months of July and August (Finch and Anderson, 1928). Mud Creek commonly overflows its banks, covering the railroad tracks and highway that run in an east-west direction on the south side of Mount Shasta. The town of McCloud is especially vulnerable to these glacial outburst floods.
News of the to-be-historical mud flow was of course known and talked about by the local residents from the earliest episodes. As the impact of this flow reached further afield, the story began to be told in outside newspapers. Following is a August 7, 1924 article from the Siskiyou News which attests to the spreading influence of the mud flows from Mud Creek.
Sacramento River Is Rather Milky
For the last
few days the Sacramento river in southern Siskiyou has been something
like a stream of milk. The water is ashy colored and murky, whereas at
this time of the year, when there are no rains up the valley, the water
is always as clear as crystal.
Ashes from Mt. Shasta
The discoloration at present is due to the heavy flow of ashes from the eastern slope of Mt. Shasta down the McCloud and the Pit into the Sacramento.
Only in McCloud in the Past
In years past it has been common that the McCloud should become milky when the flow of ashes is started by the melting snows on Mt. Shasta, but the discoloration has seldom extended farther than Pit river. The milky McCloud would discolor the Pit for only a very short distance and then the water of the whole stream would be clear.
First Time for Redding
The "oldest inhabitant" cannot recall ever before having seen the Sacramento murky at Redding at this time of the year. Redding is at least 20 miles from the mouth of the McCloud and at least 75 miles from the source of the ashes on the eastern slope of Mt. Shasta.
The 1924 mud flow from Konwakiton Glacier made front page news in the Redding Courier-Free Press six times during the months of August and September. The first article covering the story in this newspaper, on the front page, was:
BREAKING UP OF GLACIER AT TOP
OF MT. SHASTA MUDDIES WATER
Water of River Muddiest It Has Ever Been
Roads Washed Out by Rush of Water Down Mountain
(By the Associated Press)
SACRAMENTO, Aug. 18
A veritable river of mud, boulders and ashes extending in width from a few hundred yards to half mile, in some places fifteen to 20 feet deep, is flowing from the mouth of Mud Creek canyon, eight miles above McCloud, on the slope of Mount Shasta, into the McCloud river, says a dispatch to the Sacramento Bee. The sudden flood is attributed by old residents to a sudden break up of the glacier exposed to sun's rays at the top of an extinct volcano. McCloud's water pipes were broken for two days.
The water of the Sacramento river was the muddiest it has been for years, Sunday, in the middle of the season when the river is usually as clear as crystal.
...A great stream of water loaded with ashes from the side of the mountain had swept down across the country and covered everything with a yellow mud...
One of the most interesting articles in the Redding Courier Free-Press was about a carcass found in glacial ice; but beware of accuracy, as the article in the next column is entitled "MARS HAS BIG AREA COVERED BY VEGETATION."
MOUNTAIN SHEEP FROZEN IN ICE
FOR 50 YEARS
Party of Hikers Find Carcass of Mountain Sheep
Among Blocks of Glacial Ice
August 21, 1924
One of the most startling finds that has been made by the many hikers who are now attempting to get to the point where the glacier broke off on the side of Mt. Shasta is the frozen carcass of a mountain sheep, almost perfectly preserved.
A party of ten climbers located the carcass while they were inspecting the huge ice blocks that had broken away from the main part of the glacier.
Carcass 50 Years Old
There are no sheep on Mt. Shasta in these days and none are recalled by the present dwellers of the mountain region. John Muir recorded seeing a small band of sheep on the upper reaches of the mountain in 1872 and none have been observed since that time.
According to this, the specimen discovered in the ice of the glacier must be at least 50 years old, an indication of the great depth to which the sun has penetrated thru the layers of annual snow and ice.
Avalanche Peril Over
McCloud people are confident that what is left of the glacier near the top is frozen tight to its moorings. There will be no more avalanches, for the present at least, tho there is no telling what will happen if the weather should turn warm again.
Hundreds daily visit the "devastated area," which has become an asset as an attraction.
It should be noted here that the "mountain sheep" later proved to be a pronghorn antelope (Hill, 1976). A little over two years later (September 22, 1926), the Mount Shasta Herald had an article about a skull of a plains antelope (Antilocapra americana) recovered from a glacier which was later donated to the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, according to a October 12, 1926 issue of Courier-Free Press.
News of this flood finally made it into the San Francisco Chronicle on August 19, 1924. Their explanation of events follows:
Shasta Glacier Mud Flow Cause
River Rise and Bad Roads Follow Obstruction
REDDING, Aug. 18
That a glacier on the eastern slope of Mount Shasta slipped down the mountain side two weeks ago and since has been dissolved by the heat of the sun is the explanation given in McCloud for an unprecedented flow of mud and ashes coming from the north.
The mud flow starts four miles north of McCloud and three miles below the intake of the McCloud water system. The flow carried away the pipe line and left McCloud without water over Tuesday and Wednesday. For two days a supply was hauled in by train. Until today the mud and ashes came down the valley in amounts four or five times as great as known before.
Today the weather turned colder and the water and mud is diminishing. Mud has made the county road from McCloud to Bartle impassable, six miles from the source of the flow.
It is considered certain that the four-inch rise in the Sacramento river here last week was caused by the melting glacier.
Another article appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle the following day, nestled between "Narcotics found in Hair of Suspect" and "Two Plans Given in L.A. Phone Problem" in the August 20, 1924 edition of the newspaper. The article reads as follows:
Fear of Flood at McCloud Quieted
Mud Flow Caused by Mt. Shasta Glacier
McCLOUD, Aug. 19
Excitement over the flood from the melting glacier which threw this district into a panic yesterday was slowly subsiding today, although some fears were felt that another chunk of the glacier might break loose.
The main glacier is located near the peak of St. [sic] Shasta. Observers declared the flood was undoubtedly caused when part of the glacier broke loose from its moorings and slid four miles down the mountain into Mud Canyon.
This particular summer the volume of water was heavier than usual and by August 12th flooding had occurred which "so buried the railroad tracks that traffic was stopped." The area around the RR tracks and highway were covered with material ranging from fine mud to "boulders weighing over a ton" and the material "was over a mile wide in places" (Finch and Anderson, 1928). Mount Shasta received an early snowfall on August 18th. The cold temperatures stopped the flooding temporarily. An eyewitness, J. M. Olberman, reported on August 20th, "The glacier was sloughing off in tons into the creek, great chunks coming down every few minutes with a rumble like that of distant thunder."
The San Francisco Chronicle later reported the following articles in rapid succession:
Shasta Glacier On New Rampage
Warm Weather Causes Mud River to Grow
McCLOUD, Aug. 25
glacier is on a rampage again. The warm weather of the last four days
has caused the glacier that slid down the side of Mount Shasta several
days ago, to once more send down a torrent of mud and ashes. Mud canyon
is today a sort of sluiceway, down which the mushy mud of the texture
of concrete pours out onto the flat, sweeping with it boulders as big
as a small house.
The situation was so bad Saturday and Sunday that little hope is held for any improvement today.
The mud is now spread over an area eight miles in length and half a mile in width, blocking the McCloud river railroad and preventing the movement of trains yesterday.
McCloud's water supply is still intact, though for a time Saturday night it seemed impossible to keep the water mains in place. Hundreds of motorists from nearby towns visited the area yesterday.
The McCloud river is again more like a river of mud than a sparkling, clear mountain stream. The Sacramento, which cleared up greatly last Wednesday and Thursday, was again as murky today as it was a week ago, the discoloration extending far below Redding, through Red Bluff to Tehama and beyond.
McCloud Battles Mt. Shasta's
Mud Torrent to Save Its Water Supply
With Railway Inundated and Main in Danger of Being Snapped, Situation Serious
McCLOUD, Aug. 28
While Mount Shasta continues to spew an unstoppable torrent of mud and bowlders [sic] and icebergs from her glacier-clad peak into the vast mud-sea formed in the valley below, the citizenry of McCloud is waging a fight to save its water supply.
Already the water main has been broken two times in five separate places by the unceasing flow of mud and rocks and repaired, but it appears inevitable the line will be snapped irreparably at any moment.
Railroad Under Mud
The mud river has inundated the McCloud River Railroad, thus cutting off the possibility of water supply by rail. The break in the rail line has also cut off communication with the back Siskiyou Country, including the Pacific Gas and Electric hydroelectric camps with their 1500 men.
Pouring down Mud gulch, a gully which forms a natural sluice for the torrent from the mountain top, the mud comes washing from the melting glacier down into the Mount Shasta national forest. An area a mile wide by twelve miles long has been submerged by the mud, which has hardened.
Mount Shasta Mud Flow Halts
Melting Glacier's Torrent Suddenly Dries
McCloud is Saved Isolation
McCLOUD, Aug. 29
The flow of glacial mud from Mt. Shasta's melting glacier halted abruptly late today and Mud canyon was almost dry, according to a report from a point four miles north of here. The news was received with some alarm at McCloud, as it is believed the channel has been choked higher up the mountain and that the viscous flood is being damned up only to break loose later with added force.
People in McCloud are waiting patiently for the glacier to exhaust itself. The water supply of the city was repaired again today after the town had been without water for thirty-six hours due to the mains being broken by the mud flow. The McCloud Lumber Company has 150 men at work building levees in an effort to divert the flow from the tracks. The railroad was kept in operation throughout the day.
Reports from Weed are to the effect that a second river of mud has started to flow down the north side of Mt. Shasta past Hoey, a point off the Weed-Klamath branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad, four miles from Weed. During the morning the flow was negligible, but in the afternoon the stream attained a width of fifty yards.
Work on hydro-electric projects of the Pacific Gas and Electric Company on the Pit river, near the scene of the flood, continues uninterrupted, according to a statement by Frank A. Leach Jr., vice-president and general manager of the company. He said that there was six weeks supply of food and plenty of material on hand, and that in an emergency supplies could be brought in over the Redding-Fall River highway.
The mud flow, which has about the texture of pouring concrete, has been practically continuous now for two weeks. The mud-covered flat east of the mountain is now more than a mile wide and from eight to twelve miles long.
The reason that the mud flows had an affect on McCloud's water supply was that their source of water was Elk Spring, located at 4,200 feet elevation just to the east of Mud Creek. The pipeline which carried the water to the town crossed Mud Creek at about 3,920 feet before entering a reservoir a little further downhill.
News of the mud flow continued. By September 6th it had reached the Stockton Record which reported that "boulders float like feathers on mud stream". Several excellent photos and a nice map appear in this issue. By September 18th, news of the flooding had reached the front page of the San Francsico Chronicle with these bold headlines:
MT. SHASTA CAVE-IN CRUSHES CANYON
TOWNS AT BASE OF HILLS FEAR NEW MUD FLOW
Terrific Roar of Collapse Startles Residents for Many Miles
DUST CLOUDS BLINDING
Fear Expressed Damned-Up Waters May Overflow and Inundate Valleys
DUNSMUIR, Cal. Sept 18
Approximately fifteen acres of the top southeastern section of the top of Mount Shasta caved in today, causing the collapse of Mud Creek canyon, which has recently been overflowing with mud and rock. The walls of the canyon for a distance of eight miles crumbled with a terrific road [sic], which was immediately followed by a great cloud of dust and volcanic ash that hung over the mountain for several hours.
According to Karl L. Rigor of McCloud, who witnessed the breaking off of the mountain today from different angles, the aura of dust, smoke and ash that hung over Mount Shasta could be seen a distance of twenty miles.
(Several other articles occur in the same edition of this paper, covering the topics in the headlines above.)
Even though Lassen erupted the following day, news regarding the recent problem made front-page headlines:
MT. SHASTA TOWNS SAVED
Cave-in Dams Flood of Lava, Glacier Mud
Sudden Cold Spell Sets Natural Formation, Saving McCloud from Torrent
DANGER IS INCREASING
Lake Forming on Mountainside as Snow Waters are Impounded
SACRAMENTO, Sept. 19
Freezing temperatures at the base of Mount Shasta early today checked the stupendous flow of ashes, mud and lava formation, which poured down the sides of the mountain before a torrent of flood waters, imperilling the lumber town of McCloud, five miles distant.
The walls of Mud Creek canyon, which held the onrush after the weight of the rolling formation caved in fifteen acres on the side of the peak, became more rigid early this morning with the dropping of the thermometer.
Engineers Declare Flood Danger Great
Soon after the rampage of the volcanic formation gained impetus engineers of the United States geologic station went to the scene of the disturbance and pronounced a flood imminent unless the flow was abated.
Preparations were being made tonight to reinforce the temporary reservoir walls which hold the McCloud water supply when the sudden change in weather conditions froze the soft rolling elements, coating the surface with a thin, rigid layer of ice.
Cold Weather Checks Flood of Mud, Water
V. V. Vostmeyer, Forest Service official at the geologic station here, told the Sacramento Union tonight that a sudden change in the temperature is all that held back the rolling torrent from the low-lying valley. He said that if the Mud Creek canyon walls had opened there would have been no way to have halted the progress of the flow.
Vostmeyer declared that he believes the warm weather for the year has ended and from now on the weather will become colder, climaxing in heavy snowstorms along the slopes of the mountains.
Now ice fields above the glacial formations, which were not known to exist on the mountain, are declared to be the cause for the avalanche, Vostmeyer said. These fields are located at about the 10,000 and 11,000-foot levels and have been protected from the rays of the sun by snows which in some sections were from ten to twenty feet in depth.
J. R. Hall, supervisor of the Shasta National Forest, scouts the report that a glacier has slipped from the northern slope of Mount Shasta and is sliding down hill at the rate of five miles an hour [this is in reference to a different glacier, probably Whitney, which was reported from Yreka on September 10th]. Glaciers travel only a foot or two a year, he explains. Even the glacier that has given Mud creek canyon such a deluge did not slip from its moorings. The glacier is still "at home," but the heat of the summer and fall has transformed it into a steaming water pot with the aid of the volcanic ashes which caved away.
I have to wonder what McCloud residents thought about one of the last articles written about the 1924 Mud Creek jökulhlaup when they read the following account printed in the Redding Courier Free-Press:
SHASTA IS ALL DOLLED UP NOW
IN SNOW COAT
Mountain Takes on Brilliant Mantle of White;
End of Disturbance is Expected
McCloud, September 20
Mt. Shasta was "all dolled up" Saturday. From one to five inches of new snow caused her to sparkle brilliantly in the cold, clear atmosphere. Colder weather is expected to decisively end the minor disturbances of the week on the slopes of the mountain which have given rise to several reports of large earth movements on the peak. These are held to be principally heavy clouds of dust.
By the end of the summer of 1924, the mud flow deposited 5.4 million cubic meters of mud which covered over 6 square kilometers on the south slope of Mount Shasta near McCloud (Miller, 1980). Untold amounts of mud flowed down the McCloud River and eventually into the Sacramento River, causing the Sacramento River to rise 4 inches early on in the episode according to an August 19th newspaper report from Redding. An interesting notion was presented in a September 25, 1924 article entitled "McCloud Mud Flow to be Fossil Bed" in the Siskiyou News. As the mud flow dries and hardens "...like that of rough concrete ...it is evident from the nature of the deposit that thousands of animals, birds, reptiles, plants and trees caught in the flow will provide the material for a marvelous fossil bed."
In July of 1925 the U.S. Corps of Engineers undertook a study of the mud flow problem. At that time they stated that Konwakiton Glacier was 800 feet wide at its base and 100 feet thick. A waterfall, from the meltwater draining through the many moulins or vertical shafts at the downslope end of transverse fissures, poured forth from beneath the glacier through glacial portals. A west branch of the glacier also had a waterfall pouring forth from it. This study pointed out that future mud flows could not be prevented but that it was possible to divert the flows to the old bed of Elk Creek by constructing a diversion dam which would then divert the flows along a diversion training dike over to Kavinaugh Flats, an old alluvial cone (Hill and Egenhoff, 1976).
The 1926 mud flows were not as devastating as the 1924 mud flows. The McCloud River Lumber Company built a 100 foot dam to divert mud flows to Kavanaugh Flats. This method worked for awhile but by the end of July the mud was flowing down its old course. The Lumber Company succeeded in diverting the mud several times over the course of the summer. It is estimated that 1,300,000 cubic yards of mud were diverted onto Kavanaugh Flats via Elk Creek during the 1926 season while 700,000 cubic yards eventually made it into the Sacramento River (Hill and Egenhoff, 1976). An August 13, 1926 article in the Courier-Free Press stated that "well drillers in the city of McCloud, located at the base of Mt. Shasta, have found this mud flow formation at a depth of 300 feet..." The same article has several photos of the mud flow. The following July 29, 1926 article from the Courier-Free Press references the 1924 mud flow:
Mud Creek On Rampage Runs In
Breaks Away From Dam Built Early in Season to Divert It Out Over Kavanaugh Flats Where Mud Was Deposited and Is Sweeping Boulders, Trees and Tons of Muck Down Its Former Course
McCLOUD, July 29
Mud Creek, the stream flowing from the melting glacier high up the eastern slope of Mt. Shasta, is on a rampage only a little less devastating than the memorable flow of two summers ago.
Creek Breaks Away
The creek broke Monday from its new channel into the old channel and the mushy mud is once more coursing directly to McCloud river across the flat between McCloud and Bartle.
Bartle Road Blocked
The wagon road between McCloud and Bartle is blocked. This shuts off travel to and from Fall River Mills. The blockade will last a month or more, it is predicted.
$6000 Dam Fails
Early in the season the McCloud Lumber company at an expense of $6000 built a dam at the base of Mt. Shasta which was effective in diverting Mud creek into a new channel, which conducted the mud flow to Kavanaugh Flat, where it was spread over a great area and thus kept from pouring in full volume into McCloud river.
Flows In Old Channel
The creek broke away Monday, tearing its path into the old channel. The company has fifty men at work today trying to bridle the creek and throw the torrent back into the new channel. A tractor is on the job and it is believed the creek can be put back into the new channel.
Water Supply Safe
There is no danger of wrecking McCloud's water supply as was done two years ago.
Can't Bridge The Creek
The creek between McCloud and Bartle is of course unfordable. A bridge could be thrown across the creek at small expense today, but there would be no assurance that the bridge would be in place tomorrow.
Boulders Roll Along
Where the creek crosses the road to Bartle is five miles from the dam. Thruout this long stretch thick muddy water flows in a torrent, rolling boulders over and over and sweeping along tree trunks and wooden rubbish.
More Mud Than Ever
McCloud river was never more laden with mud than at present. The creek, swerving off into its old channel, has carried along with it a good deal of mud and ashes deposited in the memorable flow of two years ago.
May Bridle Mud Creek
If the company succeeds in throwing the creek back into the new channel, Redding and other points down the Sacramento river that are now complaining of the great muddiness of the water will be given relief. The McCloud railroad is not affected.
Although 1928 was apparently not a notable year, an June 21, 1928 article in the Mount Shasta Herald shows the concern, albeit in a light-hearted manner, of the public in a segment of an article: "There has been considerable discussion in the papers in the northern valley section about Mud creek, but as the creek never starts capering up until the latter part of July, with the heavy flow in August it is yet too early to tell what it will do. But as this is a dry year, prospects are bright for another heavy flow during the latter part of the summer."
This event was larger than the 1924 and 1926 flows combined. An estimated 18,000,000 cubic yards of debris were diverted to Kavanaugh Flats (Hill, 1976). Although the 1924, 1926, and 1931 are the largest historical mud flows from Konwakiton Glacier, these are small compared to the debris flows of 600 and 1,200 years ago (Osterkamp, Hupp, and Blodgett, 1986).
There have been about three more jökulhlaups since 1931 (Osterkamp, Hupp, and Blodgett, 1986) as well as the recent mud flow (not a jökulhlaup, as it was caused by heavy rains rather than a melting glacier) caused by the storms of December 1996 and January 1997. The Mud-Ash debris fan, composed of mud flows from Mud Creek and Ash Creek, is 300 km2 (Osterkamp, Hupp, and Blodgett, 1986).
Governmental aid at various levels were requested over the years to help divert mud flows away from McCloud. Several persuasive arguments were provided in various newspaper clippings between 1924 and 1934. In 1927 the Englebright Bill was put before Congress but failed. Finally, in 1936, a joint-governmental "dedication of Mud Creek Dam Project" was held. An October 8, 1936 article in the Mount Shasta Herald summarized the history of the Mud Creek diversion project.
In 1971 a 3,467 acre region on Mount Shasta's southeast slope was designated as a Research Natural Area by the U.S. Forest Service (Mount Shasta Herald, November 11, 1971). This study site will allow soil scientists, botanists, geologists, and others a chance to study soil and vegetation development on mudflows over time, as there are several dated flows in the area.
Mount Shasta offers the researcher, climber, skier, boarder, hiker, artist, historian, and all those who gaze upon its beauty a chance to experience the wonder and excitement of new discoveries. This feeling is captured in the book Mount Shasta ... Where Heaven and Earth Meet (English and Coyle, 1996). I encourage those who live here who have stories to tell about the mountain to tell them. I encourage those with the qualifications to choose Mount Shasta as their laboratory. Mount Shasta is one of the grand peaks of the Cascade Range. In California it is the peak with the most glaciers, the longest glacier, the biggest glacier, and the only valley glacier. Mount Shasta provides a unique opportunity to study alpine glaciers. The current concerns and interests regarding Mount Shasta's glaciers include:
glacial hazards, mainly in the form of mudflows, which can result from warm weather or renewed volcanic activity,
climbing on Mount Shasta and its glaciers,
geological and glaciological studies of Mount Shasta, and
historical studies of Mount Shasta, including its glaciers.
Articles, books, photographs, and historical documents concerning Mount Shasta would be greatly appreciated by the Mount Shasta Collection. You can receive a brochure about the Collection and how to donate materials to it by writing:
College of the Siskiyous Library
Mount Shasta Collection
800 College Avenue
Weed, California 96094
You can also contact the Mount Shasta Collection
by calling (916) 938-5331
or sending e-mail to email@example.com
I would like to thank Bill Miesse, for all his
work in preparing the
"map and guide to the documents of Mount Shasta;"
the College of the Siskiyous library staff,
especially Nancy Shepard and Dennis Freeman,
for providing me with assistance and information;
the University of Colorado at Boulder for providing additional material
to the Mount Shasta Collection; and my family.
This page prepared for Earth Science 767 Quaternary
taught by James S. Aber at Emporia State University
©1997 Linda Freeman