The Illecillewaet Valley, From The Loops, Showing Three Tracks.
Ottertail Range, Near Field, Mount Hurd On The Right.
The Chancellor, Ottertail Range.
The Illecillewaet Glacier And Glacier House.
There is to me something weird and awful in the sight of one of these pallid monsters of the upper world. Without haste, without rest, yet always irresistibly advancing, the glacier is a symbol of inexorable fate, inevitable as the day of death. Its attributes are so mysterious and paradoxical as to appear unnatural, until they are explained by science. Thus, though apparently motionless, it is continually moving at a rate that can be accurately measured. Though seemingly the inert, helpless prisoner of the surrounding mountains, it is in reality their master, forever planing down their flinty sides, and deepening their granite gorges, like a huge plowshare driven by a supernatural power. It even bears away upon its surface the spoils of many an avalanche lured down from their sides. Emblem of death, it nevertheless intrudes its ghostly form, as an unwelcome guest, among the life and vegetation of the valley. Viewed from a distance, also, it appears as silent as a tomb; but one discovers on close approach that its domain, though frozen, is not still. Fleet-footed rills of water, loosened by the sun, as they run swiftly over its slanting surface, or plunge into its sapphire caverns, make the glacier musical; while the expansion and contraction of its marvelous substance, which, although solid, flows in a viscous mass, and bends and breaks into profound crevasses, cause it at times to give forth fearful sounds, as if the wearied monster, inching down its rocky path, were groaning from unutterable pain or agonized unrest.
The Foot Of The Glacier.
In such a place we are reminded of the almost unimaginable quantity of ice still burdening our globe, not merely at the frostcapped poles, but on the higher sections of our mountain ranges. When we consider that the frigid mantle that now covers Greenland has an area of twenty thousand square miles, and that a mighty fleet of icebergs every summer drifts forth from her glaciered shores; when we recall the fact that in Alaska five thousand ice streams are now traveling slowly to the sea, and that the Muir Glacier alone, with the awe-inspiring thunder of a cannonade, discharges daily into the ocean one hundred and forty million cubic feet of ice; and when we add to these the eleven hundred glaciers of the Alps, and the uncounted ice floods of the Himalayas, the Andes, the Pyrenees, and the Caucasus, we form a slight idea of the important role still played by these great natural agents on our planet, and shudder to imagine what the glacial epoch must have been, when half of Europe and America lay coated by an icy mantle two or three thousand feet in thickness!
A Viscous Mass.
The reason why the Selkirks have so many and such enormous glaciers is easily explained. Just as the Gulf Stream brings to the British Isles and the west coast of Norway some of the heat accompanying it from the tropics, and renders thus their climates mild and supportable in winter, so through the broad Pacific sweeps a similar equatorial current, called by the Japanese, on account of its dark blue color, the Kuro Siwo, or "Black River." This also brings a flood of warmth to the west coast of North America and Alaska, making their climate likewise much more temperate than that of latitudes farther south along the eastern margin of the continent. Three notable effects are thus produced, not merely on the shores of British Columbia, but inland to a considerable distance. Along the coast the humid winds from the Pacific cause certain forms of vegetation to attain a marvelous development. This is especially true in the case of the colossal firs and cedars, whose magnitude is, till actually seen, almost incredible. Thus in the neighborhood of Vancouver fir-trees frequently reach a height of three hundred feet and a circumference of thirty-six, while their straight trunks will measure one hundred and sixty feet before putting forth the first branch. In the same region the cedars are even larger, and hemlocks are often two hundred feet in altitude. Still farther inland, the warm air from the ocean is condensed upon the mountains, and this precipitated moisture produces and maintains upon those heights the glaciers which astonish us by their size and grandeur. Nor is this all; for these same western winds, completely drained of moisture on the Pacific slopes of the mountains, descend, as we have seen, upon the prairies of Alberta in the form of absolutely dry "Chinooks," which cause the snowfall on the plains to be as light as that upon the Selkirks was severe.