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Chapter VI

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Chapter VIII

VII

AROUND YOSEMITE WALLS

1864

LATE in the afternoon of October 5, 1864, a party of us reached the edge of Yosemite, and, looking down into the valley, saw that the summer haze had been banished from the region by autumnal frosts and wind. We looked in the gulf through air as clear as a vacuum, discerning small objects upon valley-floor and cliff-front. That splendid afternoon shadow which divides the face of El Capitan was projected far up and across the valley, cutting it in halves,--one a mosaic of russets and yellows with dark pine and glimpse of white river; the other a cobalt-blue zone, in which the familiar groves and meadows were suffused with shadow-tones.

It is hard to conceive a more pointed contrast than this same view in October and June. Then, through a slumberous yet transparent atmosphere, you look down upon emerald freshness of green, upon arrowy rush of swollen river, and here and there, along pearly cliffs, as from the clouds, tumbles white, silver dust of cataracts. The voice of full, soft winds swells up over rustling leaves, and, pulsating, throbs like the beating of far-off surf. All stern sublimity, all geological terribleness, are veiled away behind magic curtains of cloud-shadow and broken light. Misty brightness, glow of cliff and sparkle of foam, wealth of beautiful details, the charm of pearl and emerald, cool gulfs of violet shade stretching back in deep recesses of the walls,--these are the features which lie under the June sky.

Now all that has gone. The shattered fronts of walls stand out sharp and terrible, sweeping down in broken crag and cliff to a valley whereon the shadow of autumnal death has left its solemnity. There is no longer an air of beauty. In this cold, naked strength, one has crowded on him the geological record of mountain work, of granite plateau suddenly rent asunder, of the slow, imperfect manner in which Nature has vainly striven to smooth her rough work and bury the ruins with thousands of years' accumulation of soil and de´bris.

Already late, we hurried to descend the trail, and were still following it when darkness overtook us; but ourselves and the animals were so well acquainted with every turn that we found no difficulty in continuing our way to Longhurst's house, and here we camped for the night.

By an act of Congress the Yosemite Valley had been segregated from the public domain, and given--"donated," as they call it--to the State of California, to be held inalienable for all time as a public pleasure-ground. The Commission into whose hands this trust devolved had sent Mr. Gardiner and myself to make a survey defining the boundaries of the new grant. It was necessary to execute this work before the Legislature should meet in December, and we undertook it, knowing very well that we must use the utmost haste in order to escape a three months' imprisonment,--for in early winter the immense Sierra snow-falls would close the doors of mountain trails, and we should be unable to reach the lowlands until the following spring.

The party consisted of my companion, Mr. Gardiner; Mr. Frederick A. Clark, who had been detailed from the service of the Mariposa Company to assist us; Longhurst, an habitue´ of the valley,--a weather-beaten round-the-worlder, whose function in the party was to tell yarns, sing songs, and feed the inner man; Cotter and Wilmer, chainmen; and two mules,--one which was blind, and the other which, I aver, would have discharged his duty very much better without eyes.

We had chosen as the head-quarters of the survey two little cabins under the pine-trees near Black's Hotel. They were central; they offered a shelter; and from their doors, which opened almost upon the Merced itself, we obtained a most delightful sunrise view of the Yosemite.

Next morning, in spite of early outcries from Longhurst, and a warning solo of his performed with spoon and fry-pan, we lay in our comfortable blankets pretending to enjoy the effect of sunrise light upon the Yosemite cliff and fall, all of us unwilling to own that we were tired out and needed rest. Breakfast had waited an hour or more when we got a little weary of beds and yielded to the temptation of appetite.

A family of Indians, consisting of two huge girls and their parents, sat silently waiting for us to commence, and, after we had begun, watched every mouthful from the moment we got it successfully impaled upon the camp forks, a cloud darkening their faces as it disappeared forever down our throats.

But we quite lost our spectators when Longhurst came upon the boards as a flapjack-frier,--a role to which he bent his whole intelligence, and with entire success. Scorning such vulgar accomplishment as turning the cake over in mid-air, he slung it boldly up, turning it three times,--ostentatiously greasing the pan with a fine, centrifugal movement, and catching the flapjack as it fluttered down,--and spanked it upon the hot coals with a touch at once graceful and masterly.

I failed to enjoy these products, feeling as if I were breakfasting in sacrilege upon works of art. Not so our Indian friends, who wrestled affectionately for frequent unfortunate cakes which would dodge Longhurst and fall into the ashes.

By night we had climbed to the top of the northern wall, camping at the head-waters of a small brook, named by emotional Mr. Hutchings, I believe, the Virgin's Tears, because from time to time from under the brow of a cliff just south of El Capitan there may be seen a feeble water-fall. I suspect this sentimental pleasantry is intended to bear some relation to the Bridal Veil Fall opposite. If it has any such force at all, it is a melancholy one, given by unusual gauntness and an aged aspect, and by the few evanescent tears which this old virgin sheds.

A charming camp-ground was formed by bands of russet meadow wandering in vistas through a stately forest of dark green fir-trees unusually feathered to the base. Little, mahogany-colored pools surrounded with sphagnum lay in the meadows, offering pleasant contrast of color. Our camp-ground was among clumps of thick firs, which completely walled in the fire, and made close, overhanging shelters for table and beds.

Gardiner, Cotter, and I felt thankful to our thermometer for owning up frankly the chill of the next morning, as we left a generous camp-fire and marched off through fir forest and among brown meadows and bare ridges of rock toward El Capitan. This grandest of granite precipices is capped by a sort of forehead of stone sweeping down to level, severe brows, which jut out a few feet over the edge. A few weather-beaten, battle-twisted, and black pines cling in clefts, contrasting in force with the solid white stone.

We hung our barometer upon a stunted tree quite near the brink, and, climbing cautiously down, stretched ourselves out upon an overhanging block of granite, and looked over into the Yosemite Valley.

The rock fell under us in one sheer sweep of thirty-two hundred feet; upon its face we could trace the lines of fracture and all prominent lithological changes. Directly beneath, outspread like a delicately tinted chart, lay the lovely park of Yosemite, winding in and out about the solid white feet of precipices which sank into it on either side; its sunlit surface invaded by the shadow of the south wall; its spires of pine, open expanses of buff and drab meadow, and families of umber oaks rising as background for the vivid green river-margin and flaming orange masses of frosted cottonwood foliage.

Deep in front the Bridal Veil brook made its way through the bottom of an open gorge, and plunged off the edge of a thousand-foot cliff, falling in white water-dust and drifting in pale, translucent clouds out over the tree-tops of the valley.

Directly opposite us, and forming the other gatepost of the valley's entrance, rose the great mass of Cathedral Rocks,--a group quite suggestive of the Florence Duomo.

But our grandest view was eastward, above the deep, sheltered valley and over the tops of those terrible granite walls, out upon rolling ridges of stone and wonderful granite domes. Nothing in the whole list of irruptive products, except volcanoes themselves, is so wonderful as these domed mountains. They are of every variety of conoidal form, having horizontal sections accurately elliptical, ovoid, or circular, and profiles varying from such semi-circles as the cap behind the Sentinel to the graceful, infinite curves of the North Dome. Above and beyond these stretch back long, bare ridges connecting with sunny summit peaks. The whole region is one solid granite mass, with here and there shallow soil layers, and a thin, variable forest which grows in picturesque mode, defining the leading lines of erosion as an artist deepens here and there a line to hint at some structural peculiarity.

A complete physical exposure of the range, from summit to base, lay before us. At one extreme stand sharpened peaks, white in fretwork of glistening ice-bank, or black where tower straight bolts of snowless rock; at the other stretch away plains smiling with a broad, honest brown under autumn sunlight. They are not quite lovable, even in distant tranquillity of hue, and just escape being interesting, in spite of their familiar rivers and associated belts of oaks. Nothing can ever render them quite charming, for in the startling splendor of flower-clad April you are surfeited with an embarrassment of beauty; at all other times stunned by their poverty. Not so the summits; forever new, full of individuality, rich in detail, and coloring themselves anew under every cloud change or hue of heaven, they lay you under their spell.

From them the eye comes back over granite waves and domes to the sharp precipice-edges overhanging Yosemite. We look down those vast, hard, granite fronts, cracked and splintered, scarred and stained, down over gorges crammed with de´bris, or dark with files of climbing pines. Lower the precipice-feet are wrapped in meadow and grove, and beyond, level and sunlit, lies the floor,--that smooth, river-cut park, with exquisite perfection of finish.

The dome-like cap of Capitan is formed of concentric layers like the peels of an onion, each one about two or three feet thick. Upon the precipice itself, either from our station on an overhanging crevice, or from any point of opposite cliff or valley bottom, this structure is seen to be superficial, never descending more than a hundred feet.

In returning to camp we followed a main ridge, smooth and white under foot, but shaded by groves of alpine firs. Trees which here reach mature stature, and in apparent health, stand rooted in white gravel, resulting from surface decomposition. I am sure their foliage is darker than can be accounted for by effect of white contrasting earth. Wherever, in deep depressions, enough wash soil and vegetable mould have accumulated, there the trees gather in thicker groups, lift themselves higher, spread out more and finer-feathered branches; sometimes, however, richness of soil and perfection of condition prove fatal through overcrowding. They are wonderfully like human communities. One may trace in an hour's walk nearly all the laws which govern the physical life of men.

Upon reaching camp we found Longhurst in a deep, religious calm, happy in his mind, happy, too, in the posture of his body, which was reclining at ease upon a comfortable blanket-pile before the fire; a verse of the hymn "Coronation" escaped murmurously from his lips, rising at times in shaky crescendos, accompanied by a waving and desultory movement of the forefinger. He had found among our medicines a black bottle of brandy, contrived to induce a mule to break it, and, just to save as much as possible while it was leaking, drank with freedom. Anticipating any possible displeasure of ours, Longhurst had collected his wits and arrived at a most excellent dinner, crowning the repast with a duff, accurately globular, neatly brecciated with abundant raisins, and drowned with a foaming sauce, to which the last of the brandy imparted an almost pathetic flavor.

The evening closed with moral remark and spiritual song from Longhurst, and the morning introduced us to our prosaic labor of running the boundary line,--a task which consumed several weeks, and occupied nearly all of our days. I once or twice found time to go down to the cliff-edges again for the purpose of making my geological studies.

An excursion which Cotter and I made to the top of the Three Brothers proved of interest. A half-hour's walk from camp, over rolling granite country, brought us to a ridge which jutted boldly out from the plateau to the edge of the Yosemite wall. Upon the southern side of this eminence heads a broad, de´bris -filled ravine, which descends to the valley bottom; upon the other side the ridge sends down its waters along a steep declivity into a lovely mountain basin, where, surrounded by forest, spreads out a level expanse of emerald meadow, with a bit of blue lakelet in the midst. The outlet of this little valley is through a narrow rift in the rocks leading down into the Yosemite fall.

Along the crest of our jutting ridge we found smooth pathway, and soon reached the summit. Here again we were upon the verge of a precipice, this time four thousand two hundred feet high. Beneath us the whole upper half of the valley was as clearly seen as the southern half had been from Capitan. The sinuosities of the Merced, those narrow, silvery gleams which indicated the channel of the Yosemite creek, the broad expanse of meadow, and de´bris trains which had bounded down the Sentinel slope, were all laid out under us, though diminished by immense depth.

The loftiest and most magnificent parts of the walls crowded in a semi-circle in front of us; above them the domes, lifted even higher than ourselves, swept down to the precipice-edges. Directly to our left we overlooked the goblet-like recess into which the Yosemite tumbles, and could see the white torrent leap through its granite lip, disappearing a thousand feet below, hidden from our view by projecting crags; its roar floating up to us, now resounding loudly, and again dying off in faint reverberations like the sounding of the sea.

Looking up upon the falls from the valley below, one utterly fails to realize the great depth of the semicircular alcove into which they descend.

Looking back at El Capitan, its sharp, vertical front was projected against far blue foot-hills, the creamy whiteness of sunlit granite cut upon aerial distance, clouds and cold blue sky shutting down over white crest and jetty pine-plumes, which gather helmet-like upon its upper dome. Perspective effects are marvellously brought out by the stern, powerful reality of such rock bodies as Capitan. Across their terrible, blade-like precipice-edges you look on and down over vistas of cañon and green hillswells, the dark color of pine and fir broken by bare spots of harmonious red or brown, and changing with distance into purple, then blue, which reaches on farther into the brown monotonous plains. Beyond, where the earth's curve defines its horizon, dim serrations of Coast Range loom indistinctly on the hazy air. From here those remarkable fracture results, the Royal Arches, a series of recesses carved into the granite front, beneath the North Dome, are seen in their true proportions.

The concentric structure, which covers the dome with a series of plates, penetrates to a greater depth than usual. The Arches themselves are only fractured edges of these plates, resulting from the intersection of a cliff-plane with the conoidal shells.

We had seen the Merced group of snow-peaks heretofore from the west, but now gained a more oblique view, which began to bring out the thin obelisk-form of Mount Clark, a shape of great interest from its marvellous thinness. Mount Starr King, too, swelled up to its commanding height, the most elevated of the domes.

Looking in the direction of the Half-Dome, I was constantly impressed with the inclination of the walls, with the fact that they are never vertical for any great depth. This is observed, too, remarkably in the case of El Capitan, whose apparently vertical profile is very slant, the actual base standing twelve hundred feet in advance of the brow.

For a week the boundary survey was continued northeast and parallel to the cliff-wall, about a mile back from its brink, following through forests and crossing granite spurs until we reached the summit of that high, bare chain which divides the Virgin's Tears from Yosemite Creek, and which, projecting southward, ends in the Three Brothers. East of this the declivity falls so rapidly to the valley of the upper Yosemite Creek that chaining was impossible, and we were obliged to throw our line across the can´on, a little over a mile, by triangulation. This completed, we resumed it on the North Dome spur, transferring our camp to a bit of alpine meadow south of the Mono trail, and but a short distance from the North Dome itself.

After the line was finished here, and a system of triangles determined by which we connected our northern points with those across the chasm of the Yosemite, we made several geological excursions along the cliffs, studying the granite structure, working out its lithological changes, and devoting ourselves especially to the system of moraines and glacier marks which indicate direction and volume of the old ice-flow.

An excursion to the summit of the North Dome was exceedingly interesting. From the rear of our camp we entered immediately a dense forest of conifers, which stretched southward along the summit of the ridge until solid granite, arresting erosion, afforded but little foothold. As usual, among the cracks, and clinging around the bases of bowlders, a few hardy pines manage to live, almost to thrive; but as we walked groups became scarcer, trees less healthy, all at last giving way to bare, solid stone. The North Dome itself, which is easily reached, affords an impressive view up the Illilluette and across upon the fissured front of the Half-Dome. It is also one of the most interesting specimens of conoidal structure, since not only is its mass divided by large, spherical shells, but each of these is subdivided by a number of lesser, divisional planes. No lithological change is, however, noticeable between the different shells. The granite is composed chiefly of orthoclase, transparent vitreous quartz, and about an equal proportion of black mica and hornblende. Here and there adularia occurs, and, very sparingly, albite.

With no difficulty, but some actual danger, I climbed down a smooth granite roof-slope to where the precipice of Royal Arches makes off, and where, lying upon a sharp, neatly fractured edge, I was able to look down and study those purple markings which are vertically striped upon so many of these granite cliffs. I found them to be bands of lichen growth which follow the curves of occasional water-flow. During any great rain-storm, and when snow upon the uplands is suddenly melted, innumerable streams, many of them of considerable volume, find their way to the precipice-edge, and pour down its front. Wherever this is the case, a deep purple lichen spreads itself upon the granite, and forms those dark cloudings which add so greatly to the variety and interest of the cliffs.

I found it extremest pleasure to lie there alone on the dizzy brink, studying the fine sculpture of cliff and crag, overlooking the arrangement of de´bris piles, and watching that slow, grand growth of afternoon shadows. Sunset found me there, still disinclined to stir, and repaid my laziness by a glorious spectacle of color. At this hour there is no more splendid contrast of light and shade than one sees upon the western gateway itself,--dark-shadowed Capitan upon one side profiled against the sunset sky, and the yellow mass of Cathedral Rocks rising opposite in full light, while the valley is divided equally between sunshine and shade. Pine groves and oaks, almost black in the shadow, are brightened up to clear red-browns where they pass out upon the lighted plain. The Merced, upon its mirror-like expanses, here reflects deep blue from Capitan, and there the warm Cathedral gold. The last sunlight reflected from some curious, smooth surfaces upon rocks east of the Sentinel, and about a thousand feet above the valley. I at once suspected them to be glacier marks, and booked them for further observation.

My next excursion was up to Mount Hoffmann, among a group of snow-fields, whose drainage gathers at last through lakes and brooklets to a single brook (the Yosemite), and flows twelve miles in a broad arc to its plunge over into the valley. From the summit, which is of a remarkably bedded, conoidal mass of granite, sharply cut down in precipices fronting the north, is obtained a broad, commanding view of the Sierras from afar, by the heads of several San Joaquin branches, up to the ragged volcanic piles about Silver Mountain.

From the top I climbed along slopes, and down by a wide de´tour among frozen snow-banks and many little basins of transparent blue water, amid black shapes of stunted fir, and over the confused wreck of rock and tree-trunk thrown rudely in piles by avalanches whose tracks were fresh enough to be of interest.

Upon reaching the bottom of a broad, open glacier-valley, through whose middle flows the Yosemite Creek and its branches, I was surprised to find the streams nearly all dry; that the snow itself, under influence of cold, was a solid ice mass, and the Yosemite Creek, even after I had followed it down for miles, had entirely ceased to flow. At intervals the course of the stream was carried over slopes of glacier-worn granite, ending almost uniformly in shallow rock basins, where were considerable ponds of water, in one or two instances expanding to the dignity of lakelets.

The valley describes an arc whose convexity is in the main turned to the west, the stream running nearly due west for about four miles, turning gradually to the southward, and, having crossed the Mono trail, bending again to the southeast, after which it discharges over the verge of the cliff. An average breadth of this valley is about half a mile; its form a shallow, elliptical trough, rendered unusually smooth by the erosive action of old glaciers. Roches moutonne´es break its surface here and there, but in general the granite has been planed down into remarkable smoothness. All along its course a varying rubbish of angular bowlders has been left by the retiring ice, whose material, like that of the whole country, is of granite; but I recognized prominently black sienitic granite from the summit of Mount Hoffmann, which, from superior hardness, has withstood disintegration, and is perhaps the most frequent material of glacier-blocks. The surface modelling is often of the most finished type; especially is this the case wherever the granite is highly silicious, its polish becoming then as brilliant as a marble mantel. In very feldspathic portions, and particularly where orthoclase predominates, the polished surface becomes a crust, usually about three-quarters of an inch thick, in which the ordinary appearance of the minerals has been somewhat changed, the rock-surface, by long pressure, rendered extremely dense, and in a measure separated from the underlying material. This smooth crust is constantly breaking off in broad flakes. The polishing extended up the valley sides to a height of about seven hundred feet.

The average section of the old glacier was perhaps six hundred feet thick by half a mile in width. I followed its course from Mount Hoffmann down as far as I could ride, and then, tying my horse only a little way from the brink of the cliff, I continued downward on foot, walking upon the dry stream-bed. I found here and there a deep pit-hole, sometimes twenty feet deep, carved in mid-channel, and often full of water. Just before reaching the cliff verge the stream enters a narrow, sharp cut about one hundred and twenty feet in depth, and probably not over thirty feet wide. The bottom and sides of this granite lip, here and there, are evidently glacier-polished, but the greater part of the scorings have been worn away by the attrition of sands. A peculiar, brilliant polish, which may be seen there to-day, is wholly the result of recent sand friction.

It was noon when I reached the actual lip, and crept with extreme caution down over smooth, rounded granite, between towering walls, to where the Yosemite Fall makes its wonderful leap. Polished rock curved over too dangerously for me to lean out and look down over the cliff-front itself. A stone gate dazzlingly gilded with sunlight formed the frame through which I looked down upon that lovely valley.

Contrast with the strength of yellow rock and severe adamantine sculpture threw over the landscape beyond a strange unreality, a soft, aerial depth of purple tone quite as new to me as it was beautiful beyond description. There, twenty-six hundred feet below, lay meadow and river, oak and pine, and a broad shadow-zone cast by the opposite wall. Over it all, even through the dark sky overhead, there seemed to be poured some absolute color, some purple air, hiding details, and veiling with its soft, amethystine obscurity all that hard, broken roughness of the Sentinel cliffs. In this strange, vacant, stone corridor, this pathway for the great Yosemite torrent, this sounding-gallery of thunderous tumult, it was a strange sensation to stand, looking in vain for a drop of water, listening vainly, too, for the faintest whisper of sound, and I found myself constantly expecting some sign of the returning flood.

From the lip I climbed a high point just to the east, getting a grand view down the cliff, where a broad, purple band defined the Yosemite spray line. There, too, I found unmistakable ice-striæ, showing that the glacier of Mount Hoffmann had actually poured over the brink. At the moments of such discovery, one cannot help restoring in imagination pictures of the past. When we stand by river-bank or meadow of that fair valley, looking up at the torrent falling bright under fulness of light, and lovely in its graceful, wind-swayed airiness, we are apt to feel its enchantment; but how immeasurably grander must it have been when the great, living, moving glacier, with slow, invisible motion, crowded its huge body over the brink, and launched blue ice-blocks down through the foam of the cataract into that gulf of wild rocks and eddying mist!

The one-eyed mule, Bonaparte, I found tied where I had left him; and, as usual, I approached him upon his blind side, able thus to get successfully into my saddle, without danger to life or limb. I could never become attached to the creature, although he carried me faithfully many difficult and some dangerous miles, and for the reason that he made a pretext of his half-blindness to commit excesses, such as crowding me against trees and refusing to follow trails. Realizing how terrible under reinforcement of hereditary transmission the peculiarly mulish traits would have become, one is more than thankful to Nature for depriving this singular hybrid of the capacity of handing them down.

Rather tired, and not a little bruised by untimely collision with trees, I succeeded at last in navigating Bonaparte safely to camp, and turning him over to his fellow, Pumpkinseed.

The nights were already very cold, our beds on frozen ground none of the most comfortable; in fact, enthusiasm had quite as much to do with our content as the blankets or Longhurst's culinary art, which, enclosed now by the narrow limit of bacon, bread, and beans, failed to produce such dainties as thrice-turned slapjacks or plum-duffs of solemnizing memory.

One more geological trip finished my examination of this side of the great valley. It was a two days' ramble all over the granite ridges, from the North Dome up to Lake Tenaya, during which I gathered ample evidence that a broad sheet of glacier, partly derived from Mount Hoffmann, and in part from the Mount Watkins Ridge and Cathedral Peak, but mainly from the great Tuolumne glacier, gathered and flowed down into the Yosemite Valley. Where it moved over the cliffs there are well-preserved scarrings. The facts which attest this are open to observation, and seem to me important in making up a statement of past conditions.

We were glad to get back at last to our two little cabins in the valley, although our serio-comic hangers-on, the Diggers, were gone, and the great fall was dry.

A rest of one day proved refreshing enough for us to leave camp and ascend by the Mariposa trail to Meadow Brook, where we made a bivouac, from which Gardiner began his southern boundary line, and I renewed my geological studies east of Inspiration Point.

I always go swiftly by this famous point of view now, feeling somehow that I don't belong to that army of literary travellers who have here planted themselves and burst into rhetoric. Here all who make California books, down to the last and most sentimental specimen who so much as meditates a letter to his or her local paper, dismount and inflate. If those firs could recite half the droll mots they have listened to, or if I dared tell half the delicious points I treasure, it would sound altogether too amusing among these dry-enough chapters.

I had always felt a desire to examine Bridal Veil cañon and the southwest Cathedral slope. Accordingly, one fine morning I set out alone, and descended through chaparral and over rough de´bris slopes to the stream, which at this time, unlike the other upland brooks, flowed freely, though with far less volume than in summer. At this altitude only such streams as derive their volume wholly from melting snow dry up in the cold autumnal and winter months; spring-fed brooks hold their own, and rather increase as cold weather advances.

It was a wild gorge down which I tramped, following the stream-bed, often jumping from block to block, or letting myself down by the chaparral boughs that overhung my way. Splendid walls on either side rose steep and high, for the most part bare, but here and there on shelf or crevice bearing clusters of fine conifers, their lower slopes one vast wreck of bowlders and thicket of chaparral plants.

Not without some difficulty I at length got to the brink, and sat down to rest, looking over at the valley, whose meadows were only a thousand feet below; a cool, stirring breeze blew up the Merced Cañon, swinging the lace-like scarf of foam which fell from my feet, and, floating now against the purple cliff, again blew out gracefully to the right or left. While I looked, a gust came roaming round the Cathedral Rocks, impinging against our cliff near the fall, and apparently got in between it and the cliff, carrying the whole column of falling water straight out in a streamer through the air.

I went back to camp by way of the Cathedral Rocks, finding much of interest in the conoidal structure, which is yet perfectly apparent, and unobscured by erosion or the terrible splitting asunder they have suffered. Upon a ridge connecting these rocks with the plateaus just south there were many instructive and delightful points of view, especially the crag just above the Cathedral Spires, from which I overlooked a large part of valley and cliff, with the two sharp, slender minarets of granite close beneath me. That great block forming the plateau between the Yosemite and Illilluette cañons afforded a fine field for studying granite, pine, and many remarkably characteristic views of the gorge below and peaks beyond. From our camp I explored every ravine and climbed each eminence, reaching at last, one fine afternoon, the top of that singular, hemispherical mass, the Sentinel Dome. From this point one sweeps the horizon in all directions. You stand upon the crest of half a globe, whose smooth, white sides, bearing here and there stunted pines, slope away regularly in all directions from your feet. Below, granite masses, blackened here and there with densely clustered forest, stretch through varied undulations toward you. At a little distance from the foot of the Half-Dome, trees hold upon sharp brinks, and precipices plunge off into Yosemite upon one side, and the dark, rocky cañon of Illilluette upon the other. Eastward, soaring into clouds, stands the thin, vertical mass of the Half-Dome.

From this view the snowy peak of the Obelisk, flattened into broad, dome-like outline, rises, shutting out the more distant Sierra summits. This peak, from its peculiar position and thin, tower-like form, offers one of the most tempting summits of the region. From that slender top one might look into the Yosemite, and into that basin of ice and granite between the Merced and Mount Lyell groups. I had longed for it through the last month's campaign, and now made up my mind, with this inspiring view, to attempt it at all hazards.

A little way to the east, and about a thousand feet below the brink of the Glacier Point, the crags appeared to me particularly tempting; so in the late afternoon I descended, walking over a rough, gritty surface of granite, which gave me secure foothold. Upon the very edge the immense, splintered rocks lay piled one upon another; here a mass jutting out and overhanging upon the edge, and here a huge slab pointed out like a barbette gun. I crawled out upon one of these projecting blocks and rested myself, while studying the view.

From here the one very remarkable object is the Half-Dome. You see it now edgewise and in sharp profile, the upper half of the conoid fronting the north with a sharp, sheer, fracture-face of about two thousand feet vertical. From the top of this a most graceful helmet curve sweeps over to the south, and descends almost perpendicularly into the valley of the Little Yosemite; and here from the foot springs up the block of Mount Broderick,--a single, rough-hewn pyramid, three thousand feet from summit to base, trimmed upon its crest with a few pines, and spreading out its southern base into a precipice, over which plunges the white Nevada torrent. Observation had taught me that a glacier flowed over the Yosemite brink. As I looked over now I could see its shallow valley and the ever-rounded rocks over which it crowded itself and tumbled into the icy valley below. Up the Yosemite gorge, which opened straight before me, I knew that another great glacier had flowed; and also that the valley of the Illilluette and the Little Yosemite had been the bed of rivers of ice; a study, too, of the markings upon the glacier cliff above Hutchings's house had convinced me that a glacier no less than a thousand feet deep had flowed through the valley, occupying its entire bottom.

It was impossible for me, as I sat perched upon this jutting rock mass, in full view of all the cañons which had led into this wonderful converging system of ice-rivers, not to imagine a picture of the glacier period. Bare or snow-laden cliffs overhung the gulf; streams of ice, here smooth and compacted into a white plain, there riven into innumerable crevasses, or tossed into forms like the waves of a tempest-lashed sea, crawled through all the gorges. Torrents of water and avalanches of rock and snow spouted at intervals all along the cliff walls. Not a tree nor a vestige of life was in sight, except far away upon ridges below, or out upon the dimly expanding plain. Granite and ice and snow, silence broken only by the howling tempest and the crash of falling ice or splintered rock, and a sky deep freighted with cloud and storm,--these were the elements of a period which lasted immeasurably long, and only in comparatively the most recent geological times have given way to the present marvellously changed condition. Nature in her present aspects, as well as in the records of her past, here constantly offers the most vivid and terrible contrasts. Can anything be more wonderfully opposite than that period of leaden sky, gray granite, and desolate stretches of white, and the present, when of the old order we have only left the solid framework of granite, and the indelible inscriptions of glacier work? To-day their burnished pathways are legibly traced with the history of the past. Every ice-stream is represented by a feeble river, every great glacier cascade by a torrent of white foam dashing itself down rugged walls, or spouting from the brinks of upright cliffs. The very avalanche tracks are darkened by clustered woods, and over the level pathway of the great Yosemite glacier itself is spread a park of green, a mosaic of forest, a thread of river.

 

Chapter VI

Index

Chapter VIII