We’ve all seen them. Most frequently in bars and pubs… fraternity and sorority houses... lurking around in every high school in America… and rarely but occasionally spotted out in the great outdoors. It’s a North Face jacket.
Despite the North Face morphing from an outdoor clothing company into a lifestyle brand sold at Nordstrom’s and Niemen Marcus, they still make incredible jackets that can take you from the local coffee shop straight to the top of a Colorado fourteener. The North Face has been making outdoor equipment since 1968 and has become one of today’s most recognizable brands. So what’s the story with The North Face and how does it relate to geology?
The North Face is named after the coldest, harshest, most unforgiving side of a mountain. Think of a place similar to the pass on Caradhras that Gandalf tried to lead the fellowship of the rings through… maybe they could have made it if they were outfitted in subzero down suits from North Face. Maybe. Why is the north face of a mountain so harsh? Because the sun never shines on the north face of a mountain located north of the tropic of cancer, the cold is colder, the dark is darker, and the climb is oftentimes harder on the north face. Then, take into consideration that since the beginning of time man has always tried to conquer Mother Nature, so it is no surprise many elite climbers set their life goal on being able climb and overcome the harshest and most hostile side of a mountain. And yes, they need clothing and equipment for an expedition of that caliber, and The North Face is able to provide that gear. However, apart from their brand name referencing the most extreme part of a mountain, little do most people realize that the logo of The North Face is based on one of the most famous and recognizable geologic structures in North America; the Half Dome at Yosemite National Park.
|Half Dome at Yosemite Nat'l Park|
Half Dome. It took my breath away the first time I saw it. I had never seen something so massive. Pair that with El Capitan on the other side of Yosemite Valley and I will admit that I truly had never felt so insignificant. As I looked up at Half Dome, I began to wonder how if formed, why it was there, why it looked so strange and why The North Face made this rock a part of their logo. But since I opted out of the geologic hayride tour and went climbing on El Capitan instead, my question had to wait until I got home and was able to look into it. As I was doing some research I stumbled upon an amazing resource pertaining to all things Yosemite. A book that was recently adapted for the Internet, The Geologic Story of Yosemite National Park (1987) by N. King Huber. Huber has done extensive research on the formation, history and geology of Yosemite. After reading through his book I found the answers to all of my questions.
|Pacific plate subduction under the North American plate.|
Geologic Story of Yosemite
The formation of the Sierra Nevada mountain range can be traced back to the early Paleozoic, about 500 million years ago. During this time, the area that would one day become Yosemite National Park was located on the western edge of the North American Continent, located bordering the Pacific plate. However, by the end of the Paleozoic and a massive shift in the tectonics of the region, the overall geometry of the North American plate had undergone some transformations and the adjacent oceanic plate was beginning to be subducted beneath the North American plate.
It wouldn’t be until the early Mesozoic, more than 200 million years ago, that lithosphere would begin to visibly represent the chaos going on underneath. The magma that formed from this subduction event had an original composition of basalt, however, as the magma rose and experienced a change in temperature and pressure, a more siliceous magma was formed. This magma was not able to escape by being ejected out of a volcano, instead it stayed put. From the middle of the Jurassic through the late Cretaceous the magma cooled, then intruded and cooled again, eventually shutting off by the beginning of the Cenozoic. This massive granitic body resting in the upper crust of the Earth would eventually become known as the Sierra Nevada Batholith*.
Tectonic uplift and erosion eventually exposed the batholith around 63 million years ago. Intensive weathering and erosion of the Sierra Nevada batholith by glacial episodes resulted in the topography we see in Yosemite today. These natural processes shaped the batholith into one of the most beautiful places to visit in North America and have blessed us with cliffs of Yosemite, Hetch Hentchy valleys, waterfalls and many high peaks in the park, including my personal favorites, El Capitan and Half Dome.
The North Face Logo. 3 curved lines representing Half Dome. Smooth curved lines… not jagged and rough lines like you would expect to represent a mountain. Why? Because of that strange form of mechanical weathering known as exfoliation. Half Dome, and most of the granite rocks that can be found in Yosemite are extremely jointed. Since the batholith crystallized at significant depth and pressure, as it began to be uplifted it experienced a substantial amount of pressure release, which caused the rock to expand and become jointed. Huber explains the process of exfoliation as the result of expansion in a rock. “This expansion is taken up by adjustments along the numerous partings; but in a massive monolith, the stresses accumulate until they exceed the tensile strength of the rock, and the outer and more rapidly expanding layer bursts loose. Over time, the process is repeated, and the monolith becomes covered with several layers of shells. The outermost layer, exposed to the weather, gradually disintegrates, and the pieces fall off. The process of sheeting eliminates projecting corners and angles and replaces them with curves. As succeeding shells drop off, these curves become more and more gentle, and thus a smoothly rounded surface evolves (Huber 1987).”
|You know he has no idea.|
Who would have known that The North Face’s logo was so steeped in geology? If I was creating an outdoor clothing line, I would love to have a brand name and logo as cool as The North Face. I would definitely want my outdoor gear to be associated with these amazing geological sites. So, next time you are at a bar and you see a frat guy wearing a North Face jacket trying to hit on a pretty girl, go up to him and ask him about his jacket. When he tells you he just wears it to walk to and from class, tell him about the cool geology and history behind the brand. You will be sure to make him feel like a chump and undoubtedly impress the girl he was trying to hit on. How could you not, what, with your knowledge of north faces of mountains, subduction zones, batholiths and exfoliation domes… and well... If she isn’t impressed, then clearly she isn’t the girl for you.
*Batholith: A very large igneous intrusion extending deep in the earth's crust.
"Exfoliation." About Geology - The Complete Guide to Earth Science and Geology. Web. 06 Feb. 2012. <http://geology.about.com/od/geoprocesses/ig/mechweathering/exfoliation.htm.
"Half Dome, California, USA." The Complete Guide to Earth Science and Geology. Web. 06 Feb. 2012. <http://geology.about.com/library/bl/peaks/blhalfdome.htm>.
Kearey, P., Klepeis, K., Vine, F., 2009. Global Tectonics. 3rd Edition, Wiley-Blackwell. 271-272.
Schutter, Paul De. "Exfoliation Domes." Web. 06 Feb. 2012. <http://ougseurope.org/rockon/surface/exfoliation.asp>.
"The Geologic Story of Yosemite National Park (1987), “Genesis of Yosemite’s Rocks,” by N. King Huber." Yosemite Online. Web. 08 Feb. 2012. <http://www.yosemite.ca.us/library/geologic_story_of_yosemite/genesis.html>.
"Yosemite National Park." U.S. National Park Service - Experience Your America. Web. 06 Feb. 2012. <http://www.nps.gov/yose/naturescience/geology.htm>.