Shortly after Christmas on a chilly, wet morning, I came across something on the trail that I thought might’ve been Santa Claus’ beard. After looking around for reindeer tracks to no avail, I played around with the silky white hairs before they melted away in my hand, which assured me that Santa himself had not wrecked his sleigh in the Alderbrook Woods. Rather, the wintery weather created an ice structure known as hair ice.
Hair ice forms in moist deadwood of broadleaf trees when temperatures drop below freezing. It usually occurs at latitudes between 45 and 55 °N (Portland, Oregon to the southern tip of Alaska). Water near the surface of the wood expands as it freezes and gets pushed out through the wood’s narrow pores. Usually ice would recrystallize and clump together, but the presence of the fungus Exidiopsis effusa allows it to hold its wispy structures that are less than 0.001 of an inch thick, which is generally the same thickness as human hair.
This is just one more thing that you have to experience at Alderbrook Resort and Spa. It can be hard to get out the door for a hike in freezing temperatures, but the magical forest will always reward you. Maybe we will come across Santa’s actual beard next Christmas.