The Mountains of California eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 313 pages of information about The Mountains of California.

[Illustration:  Mount Hood.]

CHAPTER II

THE GLACIERS

Of the small residual glaciers mentioned in the preceding chapter, I have found sixty-five in that portion of the range lying between latitude 36 deg. 30’ and 39 deg..  They occur singly or in small groups on the north sides of the peaks of the High Sierra, sheltered beneath broad frosty shadows, in amphitheaters of their own making, where the snow, shooting down from the surrounding heights in avalanches, is most abundant.  Over two thirds of the entire number lie between latitude 37 deg. and 38 deg., and form the highest fountains of the San Joaquin, Merced, Tuolumne, and Owen’s rivers.

The glaciers of Switzerland, like those of the Sierra, are mere wasting remnants of mighty ice-floods that once filled the great valleys and poured into the sea.  So, also, are those of Norway, Asia, and South America.  Even the grand continuous mantles of ice that still cover Greenland, Spitsbergen, Nova Zembla, Franz-Joseph-Land, parts of Alaska, and the south polar region are shallowing and shrinking.  Every glacier in the world is smaller than it once was.  All the world is growing warmer, or the crop of snow-flowers is diminishing.  But in contemplating the condition of the glaciers of the world, we must bear in mind while trying to account for the changes going on that the same sunshine that wastes them builds them.  Every glacier records the expenditure of an enormous amount of sun-heat in lifting the vapor for the snow of which it is made from the ocean to the mountains, as Tyndall strikingly shows.

The number of glaciers in the Alps, according to the Schlagintweit brothers, is 1100, of which 100 may be regarded as primary, and the total area of ice, snow, and neve is estimated at 1177 square miles, or an average for each glacier of little more than one square mile.  On the same authority, the average height above sea-level at which they melt is about 7414 feet.  The Grindelwald glacier descends below 4000 feet, and one of the Mont Blanc glaciers reaches nearly as low a point.  One of the largest of the Himalaya glaciers on the head waters of the Ganges does not, according to Captain Hodgson, descend below 12,914 feet.  The largest of the Sierra glaciers on Mount Shasta descends to within 9500 feet of the level of the sea, which, as far as I have observed, is the lowest point reached by any glacier within the bounds of California, the average height of all being not far from 11,000 feet.

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The Mountains of California from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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