The Beauty of Rime

Rime on a boulder on the summit of Glyder Fawr in Snowdonia National Park, North Wales.
Rime on a boulder on the summit of Glyder Fawr in Snowdonia National Park, North Wales.

I love rime.  I love how these tails of ice seem to form on rocks, fences, walls, posts and anything bold enough to stand upright on a frozen, windy mountain.  I love how rime’s strange, white crystalline structures seem to sprout from the dark surfaces of rocks to either bring them into relief or bury them in ice.  It amazes me that rime can form as a razor of ice down one side of a single blade of grass and as an icy lattice inches deep on a wire fence.  What I especially love about rime is how it adds a new beauty and character to these small things as well as to a whole mountain landscape.  Rime is also wonderful for being something that is superficially simple – frozen water – that forms from an interesting process into something varied and complex.

Rime on a boulder and a tuft of grass on Tryfan in Snowdonia National Park, North Wales.
Rime on a boulder and a tuft of grass on Tryfan in Snowdonia National Park, North Wales.

Rime is essentially the white crust of ice that builds up on exposed objects in cold conditions, often on the tops of mountains.  It is formed when the tiny, super-cooled water droplets in cloud or fog make contact with an object which has been cooled below 0 degrees Celsius.  These droplets immediately freeze to that object.  As more droplets make contact, this ice builds-up and forms into feathers and tails.

Me on the summit of a rime covered Foel Grach in Snowdonia National Park.
Me on the summit of a rime covered Foel Grach in Snowdonia National Park.

When I first saw rime I assumed, like a lot of people, that it forms away from the wind.  It seemed to make sense that these fans and flutings were an icy wake or cloak blown behind whatever it had formed on.  The fact is that rime forms into the wind.  This makes it more amazing and striking for me, as the build-up of these tiny, frozen drops seem to defy the elements that brought them into being.  This fact also makes rime potentially more valuable.  This is because it can provide an indication of recent wind direction and so can be a useful bit of information when trying to work out which slopes of a snowy mountain might be avalanche prone.

A close-up of rime.
A close-up of rime.

Yet what I really value about rime is it’s intrinsic beauty and the beauty it gives to the objects it coats.  It not only makes me see a place differently, it makes me feel differently too because I associate encountering rime on a mountain with getting higher.  Rime clings to the windy summits I’m trying to get to, and that’s why most of my photos featuring rime are the summit shots taken to show I made the top of the mountain.

It may be that getting to that summit has been made harder by the rime coating the rock, but I still smile to see it and to wonder at it.  It is because of rime’s beauty that I’m putting some of my favourite photos of rime here.

Me on the summit of Glyder Fawr.
Me on the summit of Glyder Fawr.

Rime links

Weather FAQs
An explanation of how rime ice, dew and hoar frost and glaze ice form.

Wikipedia 
The online dictionary’s definition of hard rime ice.

Ultimate Chase
Some stunning photos of the rime that forms on the summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire, USA.

AccuWeather.com – Rime ice
A blog post from 2008 by someone stationed at the weather observatory on top of Mount Washington.  It describes the incredible rate at which rime forms at the summit and has a couple of cool photos of rime several inches deep.

The trig point on the summit of Red Screes in the Lake District.
The trig point on the summit of Red Screes in the Lake District.

I’d wondered about doing this post as a rhyme, but decided better of it.  That was probably a good idea.  However, if anyone has any rhymes about rime, please feel free to add them as a comment.

6 thoughts on “The Beauty of Rime

  • It could be easy, when writing a blog about climbing, to focus on the science. The Severe Climber has previous written about the technical; geographic; geological and even the commercial aspects of the discipline. Mountaineering is a highly scientific discipline – rightly so, especially from a safety perspective. But like all good sciences, in its purest form, there is also beauty and art in climbing. So a complex process can result in miraculous ice sculptures. The Severe Climber gives another wonderful piece which combines a personal homage to these creations with explanations and some very useful advice. I like the way that ultimately the reward for the challenge of a cold ascent is reaching some otherworldly landscape – in the welcome knowledge that the summit is near. And you know…you don’t even need to understand the science to appreciate the art. Next time you climb, take a moment to admire the rime.

    • Thank you Richard. That’s very kind of you to say and I’m very pleased that you’ve liked the blog so much.

      There’s definitely a beauty and an art in mountains. I try to keep my mind and my eye open so that I can see that beauty as it can make that last, hard push to the summit easier and make a day a really special.

      I like your little rhyme – like mountains, it was sublime.

      Best wishes,
      Robin

  • Yep, I imagined that it formed away from the wind. I’m delighted to have a new understanding today. I’ll look at rime with new eyes now, because I had the events leading up to it exactly wrong. Good photos and interesting writing–a killer combo.

  • Excellent post, very well-written, and awesome pictures! I’ve always liked hoar frost, pretty much for the same reasons you mention. A rime rhyme would have been great 🙂

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