A sackung structure can be a trench (small-scale graben) or an upslope-facing scarp. They are found most commonly in Alpine glaciated regions near the crest of a range. Their origin is interpreted to be a result of post-glacial, gravitational spreading of the ridge crest and over-steepened ridge flanks. Plural of this German word is sackungen.

Uphill-facing, sackung scarp on Keystone Mountain

Figure 1 – Uphill-facing, sackung scarp (yellow arrows) on Keystone Mountain. Future State Geologist for scale. Photo: J. Stanesco

In searching for evidence of young faulting in Colorado, it is possible to be fooled by sackungen scarps (Figure 1) that may on first examination appear to be young tectonic features. Although it is possible that these features might be used to understand major earthquakes on nearby tectonic faults, it is not believed that these features, in themselves, can generate earthquakes. Sackungen are post-glacial features found in heavily glaciated mountainous areas.

Sackungen on Trail Ridge Road

A sackung (Figure 2) is a linear scarp that usually parallels an elongate ridge and faces uphill. In general, the valleys on either side of the ridge have been carved and over-steepened by Pleistocene glaciers.

Sackungen diagram

Figure 2 (left) – Trail Ridge Road Sackung,Photo: V. Matthews

Figure3 (above) – Diagram of sackung formation (Modified from Varnes, et al, 1989)

When ice filled the valleys, the interfluve ridge was essentially supported on both sides by glacial ice. With the melting of the glaciers, the over-steepened flanks caused the ridge to be out of gravitational equilibrium. Body forces within the ridge caused lateral spreading into the once ice-filled valleys. This can lead to the formation of ridge-top grabens and uphill-facing, normal faults on the flanks (Figure 3). Sackungen formation is thus commonly referred to as ‘ridge-top spreading’.

Along Bald Eagle Mountain, west of Leadville, geologists have measured slow spreading of sackungen by repeat measurements over several decades ( However, following a large earthquake on a nearby fault, a sackung in Alaska was observed to have experienced the creation of a fresh scarp from sudden movement that was triggered by the earthquake on a tectonic fault. This has led to an interest in trenching sackungen, to see whether they have any sudden displacements, in addition to the slow displacements. These sudden displacements could indicate large earthquakes on nearby tectonic faults. The sackungen are good places for datable organic material because of their uphill-facing nature which can provide catchment for ponded sediments. The organic material could be a good source for radiocarbon dating of sudden events.

Colorado’s Sackungen

Click on sackung locations throughout Colorado to view images and information on these features. How many of these places have you visited?

Sackungen technical references – Colorado Geological Survey

Field Trip Guidebook on the Geology and Geologic Hazard of the Glenwood Springs Area

Trail Ridge sackungen Old Baldy sackungen Ute Peak sackungen Eisenhower Tunnel sackungen Keystone Mountain sackungen Surprise Ridge sackungen Mount Nast sackungen Bald Eagle Mountain sackungen Crested Butte sackungen Dolores Peak sackungen Bear Mountain sackungen page