As far as I have been able to find out, these upper lakes are snow-buried in winter to a depth of about thirty-five or forty feet, and those most exposed to avalanches, to a depth of even a hundred feet or more. These last are, of course, nearly lost to the landscape. Some remain buried for years, when the snowfall is exceptionally great, and many open only on one side late in the season. The snow of the closed side is composed of coarse granules compacted and frozen into a firm, faintly stratified mass, like the neve of a glacier. The lapping waves of the open portion gradually undermine and cause it to break off in large masses like icebergs, which gives rise to a precipitous front like the discharging wall of a glacier entering the sea. The play of the lights among the crystal angles of these snow-cliffs, the pearly white of the outswelling bosses, the bergs drifting in front, aglow in the sun and edged with green water, and the deep blue disk of the lake itself extending to your feet,—this forms a picture that enriches all your afterlife, and is never forgotten. But however perfect the season and the day, the cold incompleteness of these young lakes is always keenly felt. We approach them with a kind of mean caution, and steal unconfidingly around their crystal shores, dashed and ill at ease, as if expecting to hear some forbidding voice. But the love-songs of the ouzels and the love-looks of the daisies gradually reassure us, and manifest the warm fountain humanity that pervades the coldest and most solitary of them all.
THE GLACIER MEADOWS
After the lakes on the High Sierra come the glacier meadows. They are smooth, level, silky lawns, lying embedded in the upper forests, on the floors of the valleys, and along the broad backs of the main dividing ridges, at a height of about 8000 to 9500 feet above the sea.
They are nearly as level as the lakes whose places they have taken, and present a dry, even surface free from rock-heaps, mossy bogginess, and the frowsy roughness of rank, coarse-leaved, weedy, and shrubby vegetation. The sod is close and fine, and so complete that you cannot see the ground; and at the same time so brightly enameled with flowers and butterflies that it may well be called a garden-meadow, or meadow-garden; for the plushy sod is in many places so crowded with gentians, daisies, ivesias, and various species of orthocarpus that the grass is scarcely noticeable, while in others the flowers are only pricked in here and there singly, or in small ornamental rosettes.