John Muir


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Circa Date

circa 1887



passed with tremendous pressure polishing them so well that they reflected the sunlight like glass in some places. [Examining them closely] while fine striae seen clearly through a lens [appeared which] indicated the direction of the ice had flowed [moved in]. In some of the broader [areas] like sloping pavement polished [pavements] abrupt steps occur showing that occasionally large masses of the rock gave way before the pressure of the glacier [in some places no doubt more than 100 tons to square foot] as well as small particles, moraines too, some scattered others regular occur here & there giving the general surface a young new made appearance. I watched the gradual dwarfing of the pines as I ascended [and as you may today] & the corresponding dwarfing of nearly all the rest of the vegetation. On the slopes of the Mammoth mountain to the south of the pass I saw many gaps in the woods reaching from the upper edge of the timberline down to the level meadows when avalanches of snow had descended sweeping away every tree [great & small] in their paths as well as the soil they were growing on [&] leaving bed rock [the ground] bare [rock]. The trees are nearly all uprooted but a few that had been extremely well anchored [rooted] in clefts of the rock were broken off near the ground. It seems strange at first sight that trees that had been allowed to grow for a century or more undisturbed should in their old age be thus swept & swished away at a stroke. Such avalanches can only occur under rare conditions of weather & snowfall. No doubt on some portions of the mountain slopes the inclination & smoothness of the surface is such that


avalanches must occur every winter or even after every heavy snowstorm & of course no trees or even bushes can grow there. I noticed a few swept slopes of this kind. The uprooted trees that had grown in the pathways of what might be called Century Avalanches were piled in windrows, tucked snugly in against the wall trees of the gaps heads downward [hill] excepting a few that were carried out into the open ground of the meadows where the head of the avalanche stopped. Young pines, mostly the two-leaved & the white-barked, are already springing up in these cleared gaps. It would be interesting to ascertain the age of the saplings for thus we would ascertain a fair approximation to [measure of] the time that the great avalanches occurred. [No doubt] Perhaps most or all of them occurred the same winter. How glad I would be if free to pursue such studies!

Near the summit at the head of the pass I found a species of dwarf willow perfectly flat on the ground making a nice carpet. Not a single stem or branch was more than three inches high, but the catkins which are now nearly ripe stood [straight] erect & made nearly regular growth the catkins being larger than all the rest of the plant. Some of the small branches had only one catkin. A willow bush reduced to its lowest terms. I found patches of dwarf vaccinium also in flower [the] pink round [flowers] bells flowers in lavish abundance [seemed to be] scattered [over the ground in] forming a smooth carpet, closely pressed to the [surface of the] ground or against the sides of stones & covered with [then a] little higher, almost at

Date Occurred


Resource Identifier

MuirReel31 Notebook 009 Img033.jpg

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Holt-Atherton Special Collections, University of the Pacific Library

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