Dave Bell expected a few good photos when he went to a partially frozen Fremont Lake to welcome the new year. What the celebrated Wyoming photographer got was a unique sensory experience as an epic battle between wind and ice howled across the lake.
“Every night, I could go out and listen to this roar,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “It was the wind and the ice just colliding with each other. It was it was the darndest thing.”
It was a perfect confluence of cold, calm and wind that crescendoed to the peak of a truly magnificent Wyoming natural symphony.
Freeze In Places
Fremont Lake in Bridger-Teton National Forest reaches a depth of 600 feet at its deepest point. It usually doesn’t freeze over until mid-January, so Bell was surprised when he learned the lake was partially frozen at the turn of the new year.
“The ice got to where it was 3 to 4 inches thick about a half a mile from the southern shore,” he said. “Then there was a large patch of open water that continued for several miles to the north.”
Bell spent 10 days at a cabin on the southern edge of Fremont Lake when he started observing the ice. Because of persistently cold temperatures and calm, almost breezeless days, the ice sheet was “as smooth and clear as a pane of glass.”
Ice turns cloudy because of impurities such as air, minerals and ice crystals that get trapped in water while it freezes. Water must freeze slowly and be free of crystals and debris to turn crystal clear.
It’s been a good year for lakes covered in clear ice. Bell and others noticed that several lakes in the same area were entirely or partially covered with perfectly transparent ice, and Bell got several pristine photos of them.
“Then the wind came up,” he said, “and so the ice and the wind essentially began a battle.”
The wind started buffeting and breaking the ice sheet once it picked up. Wind and waves pounded the ice, which created an unusual chorus of sound.
“It was a roar like a big waterfall was up at the head of the lake,” he said. “The ice in front of our cabin, which was between 3 and 5 inches thick, was popping and cracking and booming.”
The sounds of deep ice sheets cracking can be otherworldly. Bell noticed a variety of sounds emanating from the perfectly clear ice sheet.
“Some of it sounds like a pod of whales talking to each other. Other times, it's just a very sharp crack, and you can hear the crack moving across the lake through the ice,” he said. “It's an absolutely unbelievable sound.”
The variety, from deep cracks to high-pitched chirps, result from sound waves vibrating through the ice sheets. It’s the same sensation as the sounds made by a bending piece of metal.
The wind and waves kept up their assault on the ice sheet, which filled the area around Fremont Lake with the eerie sounds of cracking ice. Bell said ice skaters could feel the entire ice sheet moving underneath them while it cracked and resisted the forces battering the edge of the lake.
“It was truly a delight,” he said.
Since Bell left Fremont Lake, the battle has turned. The half-mile, perfectly clear ice sheet is only half as large now and has since been covered with layers of snow.
While it’s calmed down some there, Bell said the battle rages on.
“The wind has really wiped out a bunch of ice just because of the continuous wave action and ice chunks breaking off and pounding against other ice chunks and that sort of thing,” he said.
However, the coldest weather of the winter season could arrive this weekend. That could be enough for Fremont Lake to completely freeze over, which means the battle and its accompanying overture would come to a tenuous cease-fire.
“I suspect, with the temperatures that Don Day is predicting, the remaining ice will freeze sometime over the next four or five days,” he said. “But you never know. If the wind keeps blowing just enough to keep the wave action going, the lake won't freeze. It’s been an interesting, interesting couple of weeks.”
Ice Time With The Family
Bell tried to capture the unique sensory experience at Fremont Lake with his photography while conceding it needed to be seen and heard firsthand to truly understand. But the best part of the adventure was the family experience, particularly with his granddaughter, Rory.
“She enjoyed the ice so much that I could hardly get her to leave,” he said. “But yet her hands were frozen.”
There was even some friendly competition on the ice.
“She says, ‘Hey, Grandpa, we'll have a photo contest. My new iPhone that I got for Christmas versus your cameras,’” he said. “And so we had this photo contest at the lake of her shooting pictures, and she just loved it.”
Andrew Rossi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.