Every track can tell a story

2012-04-27 18:13:42.000 – Ryan Knapp,  Weather Observer/Meteorologist

Fresh snow on the path through the trees.

When we go out once an hour, part of our job is to look up and out. We look up to see how high clouds are as well as well as how much of the sky they are covering or what type of clouds might be present. When we are in the fog, we look up to see how high we can see in the fog. Then we look out, in clear and foggy conditions, to see how far we can see on the horizon. This can vary from a few feet to upwards of 130 miles. But in addition to looking up and out, I like to look down. While this is useful to see what weather might be falling onto the ground, the other reason I like to look at the ground around me are the tracks and footprints that are present. They all weave and imprint an interesting story for the summit each day.

In the winter, we obviously have snow, which kind of acts like memory-foam at times (when it isn’t windy enough to blow them away or fill them in). In it, you see snow tractor tracks in straight lines in addition to circular patterns from where they had to turn around at. You see hiker footprints, some with crampons and some without. The hiker prints may be short strides maybe indicating fog or exhaustion. Crampon scrapes maybe longer on one foot than the other meaning a possible injury or soreness was present in one of their legs. The footprints of animals or humans may go straight then circle about – maybe due to food for animals or a leading hiker waiting for the rest of their party. The steps may be steady then give way to long streaks where the wind pushed them or an ice patch was hit causing the person to slide. Smooth long tracks bob and weave around the rocks showing the paths of where skiers and snowboarders headed down. And occasionally we even get the bizarre and out of place tracks of a 10-speed bike that a hiker packs up to ride around the deck with.

In summer, the snow is gone but in its place is mud. While tracks and footprints aren’t nearly as abundant as they are in the winter, there is still plenty to see. Footprints remain on the trails until the very top of the summit where overlapping footprints create a sporadic mosaic of chaos as hikers scramble to the summit to get their picture taken. In the early morning, fox prints and bird prints overlay the boot prints from the day before as our little visitors scrounge around for scraps from the day before. Truck, van and car tracks head towards the summit buildings bringing employees up as well as visitors from around the globe. On special days, we have even had the tracks of moose, camels, and horses on the summit among other things.

Then there are the transition seasons of spring and fall where mud and snow compete with each other, creating a mix of familiar winter tracks and familiar summer tracks. The sloshy and rutted truck with chain tracks from the day before when the road was muddy are replaced with straight line tracks as below freezing temperatures have solidified the road once again. Fox and bird tracks in the mud the day before are frozen in place with their fresh tracks overlaying them in the newly fallen snow. Deep boot prints in the frozen mud from the day before are replaced by boot prints in the snow that zigzag around the frozen “mud” craters as they head towards the peak. And occasional ski tracks are seen and you just hope that they were using their rock-skies as the jagged peaks of rocks and pebbles poke through the snow like little razors. All-in-all, it creates a unique landscape of ragged browns contrasted with clean whites; with each track and print sharing a story, even if only for a few fleeting minutes or hours each day.


Ryan Knapp,  Weather Observer/Meteorologist

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