When I first climbed Cooper’s Spur in the early 1990s, much of the ridge was still under snow well into August, the route visible only by following stone cairns and wooden posts. By 2005, these high slopes on Mt. Hood were clear of snow by mid-July, if not earlier. This spring, after a blistering run of days in April, the snowpack on Cooper’s Spur had melted off by early May, exposing the mountains largest and most vulnerable glaciers to at least six months of unrelenting sun.
Even following a stormy winter of heavy rains and mountain snow, Oregon’s snowpack was reduced to 56 percent of normal, a trend that has been getting worse for the past twenty years. The story is the same up and down the Cascade Range, from North Cascades National Park on the Canadian border to Mt. Shasta in northern California. One consequence of the dwindling snowpack is the fact that the soggiest part of the country is now facing the prospect of water shortages. The prospect of diminished snowpacks and early melt-offs is even more dire for the salmon and trout that spawn in the mountains small rivers and streams.
Sjöström told me that the Eliot Glacier has lost more than 140 feet in thickness over the last century and has retreated more than 1,000 feet from the first photos of the glacier taken in 1901. Across the Northwest, Svensson said, glaciers have retreated by more than 50 percent and the pace of retreat is quickening. Dozens of northwest glaciers have disappeared entirely, including ten named glaciers in Oregon, along with hundreds of other smaller perennial ice and snow patches