HomeOutdoorsViralHiker Stumbles Across Rare ‘Ice Pancake’ in Scottish Highlands

Hiker Stumbles Across Rare ‘Ice Pancake’ in Scottish Highlands

by Caitlin Berard
Ice Pancakes Floating on a River
(Photo by PavelRodimov via Getty Images)

While hiking through the Scottish Highlands, one lucky outdoorsman stumbled upon a rare sight: a massive “ice pancake” floating serenely in a small body of water.

The large, perfectly circular sheet of ice rested in a glen on Beinn Bhuidhe, a mountain north of Achadunan. The hiker, 32-year-old Dunoon resident Dan Brown, was hiking up the Munro with his father when the pair caught sight of the unusual phenomenon.

“We’d taken mountain bikes with us and, for the best part, had been carrying them up a hydro track,” Brown explained to Daily Mail. “Visibility wasn’t great, but after about an hour and a half, the snow stopped and cloud cover started to clear.”

“We took a break to fill our water bottles from the burn by the track,” he continued. “That’s when we noticed the ice disc slowly spinning at the foot of a small waterfall.”

At first, the duo was taken aback by the ice pancake. While they had seen ice-covered water before, this giant spinning disk was something entirely new. They were also the only people around for miles, making the moment even more surreal. The pair took plenty of photos and videos of the ice pancake, however, which rapidly circulated the internet after upload.

“Neither of us had ever seen anything like it, a perfect circle of ice slowly rotating in the water,” Brown said. “So we thought it must be a rare occurrence and took some photographs and videos. We assumed at the time that it was caused by the flow of the waterfall meeting the current of the burn.”

After some research, Brown realized that he and his father witnessed a rare ice pancake, cementing the hiking trip as a father/son outing they’ll never forget.

Where Do Ice Pancakes Come From?

According to experts at the Met Office, ice pancakes vary widely in size, ranging from a mere 7 inches to a massive 78 inches, and are relatively rare. The ice disk captured by the hikers was obviously on the larger side.

The location of the ice pancake was unusual as well. The phenomenon is most frequently spotted in the Baltic Sea and around Antarctica. They’re also found on the Great Lakes of the United States and Canada, though less frequently.

So, how do these frozen circles form? Well, it depends on the location. In oceans and lakes, ice pancakes form when waves toss pieces of ice against each other. The collisions wear down their edges as they freeze and grow, causing them to form large disks.

On rivers, their formation takes place in a different way. In moving freshwater, ice pancakes come from frozen foam. The foam joins together, and as it’s pulled by the swirling current, a circular shape begins to take form.

While the disks appear solid, they’re actually quite fragile. Attempting to move an ice pancake will cause it to break apart. In certain conditions, however, the icy rings can bind together, forming sheet ice or even ice ridges.