We had dipped our dredges in various ocean depths from the West Indies to the southernmost limits of the continent; we had examined the moraines of ancient glaciers and the craters of extinct volcanoes on Patagonian shores, and hunted guanacos and ostriches on the adjoining plains; we had roused the penguins and cormorants by hundreds in their breeding places on the cliffs of Magdalena Island, and seen the sea-lions lying on the beaches below, and so through manifold adventures by flood and field had come at last on a fine day in March to be lying off Glacier Bay § in the Straits of Magellan.
§ Bahía Glaciar.
Glacier Bay has been reported by all explorers of the straits in the present century, from Fitzroy, King, and Darwin,§ down to the last English surveying expedition under Captain Mayne. It derives its name from an immense glacier (not, however, exceptionally large in this land of glaciers), which seems, as you see it from the main channel, to plunge sheer down into the waters of the bay. There being no good anchorage for vessels in its immediate proximity, we took a boat to row to the foot of this great ice sheet. In our absence, Captain Johnson proposed to make a reconnoissance in Notch Cove, an adjoining inlet, where he hoped to find harborage for the night.
§ According to King, Glacier Bay was named by Lieutenant King and Mr. Kirke [Mate, James Kirke] of HMS Beagle. There is no known record of FitzRoy or Darwin ever mentioning this name.
§§ Caleta Notch.
Our boat party consisted of Mr. Agassiz, M. de Pourtalès, Dr. Steindachner, Mr. Blake, Mr. Kennedy, Mrs. Johnson, and myself. We rowed to the head of the bay, the Professor pointing out, as we passed along, the modelling and furrowing of its rocky walls, showing everywhere the rounded knolls and ridges, called in Switzerland roches moutonnées. They mark the track of the glacier in past times, when it filled the bay and ploughed its way down to the entrance. This was by no means the first time that we had observed them. Passing along the main channel of the straits, enclosed as it is between high rugged walls opening out on either hand into picturesque valleys which abut at their farther end against the loftier ranges of snow mountains, we had seen the same appearances. The sides of these valleys as well as the nearer cliffs in their lower portion, and sometimes, indeed, for their whole height, are moutonné, as the Swiss say of their Alpine surfaces; that is, the shoulders of the mountains are rounded as are all the inequalities on their lower slopes, forming sometimes long, softly swelling mounds, sometimes bulging knolls or protuberances, while above are the jagged peaks of the higher summits. In the Alps the action of the glaciers is going on in sight of all, and their immediate effects can be compared with the appearances produced by glaciers of past times in the same region. Even the ignorant Swiss peasant knows that his roches moutonnées have been produced by the masses of ice moving over the lower ridges of the mountains, while the upper peaks rising above the ice have not been subjected to any such contact, and therefore remain rough and abrupt. Here in the Straits of Magellan the aspect is the same. Looking up the lateral valleys or from base to summit of the nearer heights enclosing the channel, the softly moulded ridges and hummocks, the swelling shoulders, mounds, and knolls are exactly like those of the Alps, while the jagged peaks above stand out beyond the line of glacial action in the same strongly marked contrast. Indeed, upon comparing some of the plates from Mr. Agassiz's Études sur les Glaciers and Système glaciaire, taken in the Alps expressly to display this special feature, we have all agreed that the drawings might with very little change have been made in the Straits of Magellan. Upon reaching the beach at the head of the bay, we found that the glacier did not come down to the water, as it had appeared to do from the ship, but that we were separated from it by a transverse belt of woods spanning the valley from side to side and growing, as we afterwards found, on an accumulation of ancient moraines.* A glacial river poured through this wood and emptied into the bay, the water having the milky color so peculiar in the glacial streams of Switzerland.
* A moraine is the mass of loose materials, boulders, stones, pebbles, gravel, etc., collected along the sides, at the terminus, on the upper surface, or beneath the lower surface, of a glacier or of any moving sheet of ice.
There was no time to lose, and we plunged at once into the forest. Mr. Agassiz, M. de Pourtalès, Dr. Steindachner, and Mr. Blake followed the stream as the shorter path. Mrs. Johnson and myself with Mr. Kennedy took our way (not path, for path there was none) to the left of the river, where Mr. Kennedy thought he might cut a trail through the trees, and save us the fatigue of wading or fording. We had not gone many yards before we almost forgot the glacier to which we were bound, in the beauty of the forest. On first reading Darwin's delightful narrative of his journey through the Straits of Magellan, I was struck with his frequent use of the words “dusky forests”§ the phrase took hold of my imagination as at once vague and yet expressive, as if some dim mystery hung about these pathless woods. Being here, I understand its meaning.
§ Darwin uses the word “dusky” some fifteen times, six of which apply to forests and woods, as in this “dusky mass of forest” example.
Looking upon the forests from without as one sees them clothing the face of the country or rising from the shore upon the rugged hillsides, there is something sombre in their character. They lack the tremulous, lighter, more yellow greens which checker the deeper shades of the woods with us. They are, on the whole, darker in their general aspect; and near the shore, for some reason, perhaps on account of the prevalent winds, are apt to have blighted trees along their outer edge. But once within the forest, this impression disappears in great degree. I have never been more surprised than to find that this belt of wood separating us from the glacier, touching the ice on one side, the sea on the other, and situated in a region esteemed so dreary and wintry, held nevertheless as luxuriant a vegetation in its depths as any forest I had ever seen. In saying this I do not except even the forests of the Amazons, though the trees were neither so lofty nor so various. They did not perhaps exceed in height those of the temperate zone, and were chiefly the evergreen beech and the antarctic beech. But every trunk, every branch, every fallen log, every stone, was cushioned in deep, velvety moss and lichens, and these again overgrown by delicate ferns. Flowers were abundant. The lovely pink blossoms of the Phylesia, the closer and darker red bells of the holly-leaved Desfontainia, the small, white clusters of the Arbutus, and the rich crimson berries of the Peunetia, were brought out in bright relief against a background of mossy tree-trunks and rocks, often disposed with a picturesque effect which seemed intentional. It was not easy to force one's way through this overgrown wood, soggy with moisture, knee-deep in a soft verdure delicious to the eye but treacherous to the foot. Our indefatigable friend Mr. Kennedy preceded us with an axe, and cleared the way before us with untiring strength and patience. Still a single arm cannot hew an easy path through a primitive forest. The most he could do was to make the impossible possible, or rather the impassable passable. We climbed over and under great fallen trees, fell into holes and clambered out of them, and often took to the bed of the stream, wading through it where we could do no better. Where the river was too deep for us and very swift, we crossed on a fallen trunk. It would have been a perilous bridge, wet, slippery, and moss-grown as it was, had not Mr. Kennedy cut a smaller tree stem to serve as a hand-rail, he holding an end on one bank of the stream while the ship carpenter steadied it on the opposite side, and we crept cautiously across, one at a time. After about an hour of this walking we began to catch glimpses of the ice gleaming between the trees, and following the margin of the river, which assumed more and more the character of a cascade as we approached its source, we issued from the wood in front of an extensive wall of ice spanning the valley for its whole width, and broken at its terminus into numerous deep rifts, caves, and crevasses of that dark, transparent blue so well known to travellers in the ice caves of the Rosenlaui glacier.
I leave the reader to imagine, for it would be futile to describe, the feeling with which we found ourselves in face of this wonderful spectacle. A large glacier is always an impressive sight, but there was something in the loneliness of this one, so far removed from the haunts of men, rarely, if ever, visited before, that heightened the awe and admiration with which we looked upon it. The whole extent of the terminal wall is not seen at the spot where we came out from the forest. The glacier is about a mile in width, and near the centre the front wall makes an abrupt angle, so that the complete breadth is not presented at any one point of view. We found Mr. Agassiz, who had arrived half an hour before us, busily engaged in examining this end of the terminal wall, while his companions had followed the face of the glacier to its other extremity. We wandered about for a long time, enjoying the beauty of the scene and the fantastic forms assumed by the ice. We walked for a little distance up its surface; but as the glacier is very convex, the ascent is steep, and every step had to be cut with an axe, for the ice was smooth and shining as glass. The Swiss glaciers are usually broken and soiled at the terminus, and the surface so disintegrated towards the lower end that you can walk upon it as upon loose snow; but this was pure and spotless and hard as crystal to its very farthest extremity. We examined the many grottoes and niches cut into the face of the wall, and blue within as if they had borrowed color from the deepest hues of sea and sky. We went into one of these caves. It was some thirty or forty feet high, about a hundred feet deep, and two or three yards wide at the entrance, while it narrowed at the farther end to a mere gallery a foot or two across. Here there was a circular window, quite symmetrical in form, pierced in the roof, through which you could see the sky and the clouds sweeping across.
While we were thus engaged, Mr. Kennedy remained with Mr. Agassiz, adjusting signals for the measurement of the movement of the glacier. There was not time enough on this occasion to determine the rate with accuracy, but the next day, when the working party returned for a more careful investigation, it was ascertained that the ice advanced during the middle of the day at the rate of two inches and a fraction in five hours. This would, no doubt, be less than its advance on a warm day in midsummer, in January or February for instance, which are the hot months here, and more than its advance in the late fall or winter. It is probably about double the rate of advance at the lower end of the glaciers. I may as well add here, the dimensions of the glacier and some details as to its structure, obtained on the second visit, when carefully systematized observations were made; the scientific corps then dividing into parties and pursuing their work independently. M. de Pourtalès and Dr. Steindachner, accompanied by Dr. Pitkin, United States surgeon on board the Hassler, followed the mountain to the left of the glacier, hoping to discover its source, but they could never reach a position from which its whole length could be seen.
It is, in truth, but one of a network of glaciers running back into a large massif of mountains, and fed by many a névé § on their upper slopes. M. de Pourtalès estimated its length as far as he could see from any one point to be about three miles, beyond which it was lost in the higher range. Many lakes of considerable size lie round it in various directions; he counted three or four. The depth as well as the length of this glacier remains somewhat problematical, and indeed all the estimates in so cursory a survey must be considered as approximations, rather than positive results. The glazed surface of the ice is an impediment to any examination from the upper side. It would be impossible to spring from brink to brink of a crevasse, as is so constantly done by explorers of Alpine glaciers, where the edges of the cracks are often snowy or granular. Here the edges of the crevasses are sharp and hard, and to spring across one of any size would be almost certain death. There is no hold for an Alpine-stock, no grappling-point for hands or feet. Any investigation from the upper surface side would therefore require special apparatus and much more time than we could give. Neither is an approach from the side very easy. The glacier arches so much in the centre, and slopes away so steeply, that when you are in the lateral depression between it and the mountain, you face an almost perpendicular wall of ice, which blocks your vision completely. M. de Pourtalès measured one of the crevasses, in this wall, and found that it gave a depth of some seventy feet. From the remarkable convexity of the glacier, it can hardly be less in the centre than two or three times its thickness on the edges. Probably, however, none of these glaciers of the Straits of Magellan are so thick as those of Switzerland, though they are often much broader. The mountains are not so high, the valleys not so deep, as in the Alps; the ice is therefore not packed into such confined troughs. Indeed, the glaciers in this region often lie like broad fields of ice on open slopes of the mountains, or cap their summits in evenly rounded domes descending low upon their flanks. But while the general aspect differs in many respects from the Alpine glaciers, the action of the ice is the same. It has moulded its banks into the same rounded and polished surfaces, and has left its tide-marks in the successive moraines marking the steps of its retreat. On the second visit Mr. Agassiz reserved for himself the study of the bay, the ancient bed of the glacier in its former extension, accompanied by Captain Johnson, who is always ready to facilitate his researches by every means in his power. He passed the day in cruising about the bay in the steam launch, landing at any point he wished to investigate. His first care was to examine minutely the valley walls over which the glacier must have moved formerly. Every characteristic feature known in the Alps as the work of the glaciers was not only easily recognizable here, but as perfectly preserved as anywhere in Switzerland. The rounded knolls to which De Saussure first gave the name of roches moutonnées were smoothed, polished, scratched, and grooved in the direction of the ice movement, the marks running mostly from south to north, or nearly so. The scratches and furrows show by their general trend that they are continuous from one knoll to another. The furrows are of various dimensions, sometimes shallow and several inches broad, sometimes narrow with more defined limits gradually passing to mere lines on a very smoothly polished surface. Even the curious excavations scooped, out of the even surfaces technically called coups de gouge are not wanting. Sometimes the seams of harder rock stood out for a quarter of an inch or so above, adjoining decomposed surfaces; in such instances the dike alone retained the glacial marks which had been worn away from the softer rock. In short, the whole story is identical here with that of glacial action in the Alps or in the more northern parts of Europe. Even did these ice-worn surfaces not exist, the distribution of loose materials along the sides of the valley and the remains of old moraines would show, independently of all other signs, that the glacier had once extended far beyond its present limits.
§ névé: a young, granular type of snow which has been partially melted, refrozen and compacted, yet precedes the form of ice. Source: Wikipedia.
The moraines were admirably well preserved and numerous. Mr. Agassiz examined with especial care one colossal lateral moraine, standing about two miles below the present terminus of the ice, and five hundred feet above the sea level. It consisted of the same rock as those found in the present terminal moraine, part of them being rounded and worn, while large angular boulders rest above the smaller materials. This moraine forms a dam across a trough in the valley wall, and holds back the waters of a beautiful lake about a thousand feet in length and five hundred in width, shutting it in just as the Lake of Merrill in Switzerland is shut into its basin by the glacier of Aletsch. There are erratics some two or three hundred feet above this great moraine, showing that the glacier must have been more than five hundred feet thick when it left these loose materials at such a height. It then united, however, with a large glacier more to the west. Its greatest thickness as an independent glacier is no doubt marked, not by the boulders lying higher up, but by the large moraine which shuts in the lake. The direct connection of this moraine with the glacier in its former extension is still further shown by two other moraines on lower levels and less perfect, but bearing the same relation to the present terminus of the ice. The lower of these is only one hundred and fifty feet above the actual level of the glacier. These three moraines occur on the western slope of the bay. The eastern slope is more broken, and while the rounded knolls are quite as distinct and characteristic, the erratics are more loosely scattered over the surface. In mineralogical character, however, they agree with those at the present terminus of the glacier, and with those on the western wall of the bay. Upon the summits of small islands at the entrance of the bay there are some remnants of terminal moraines formed by the glacier when it reached the main channel, that is, when it was some three miles longer than now.
While Mr. Agassiz was studying the ancient glacier, and M. de Pourtalès was measuring the present one, Dr. Hill and Dr. White were photographing certain points of the internal structure of the ice and of its action upon surrounding surfaces; and Mr. Perry, one of the officers, with the assistance of the signals, adjusted on the previous day by Mr. Kennedy, ascertained the rate of actual movement.
The general progression of the glacier and its oscillations of advance and retreat within certain limits, are plainly shown by the successive moraines heaped up in advance of the present terminal wall. The central motion here, as in all the Swiss glaciers, is greater than the lateral, the ice being pushed forward in the middle faster than on the margins. But there would seem to be more than one axis of progression in this broad mass of ice; for though the centre is in advance of the rest, the terminal wall does not present one crescent-shaped face, but forms a number of more or less protruding angles or folds. A few feet in front of this wall is a ridge of loose materials, stones, pebbles, and boulders, repeating exactly the outline of the ice where it now stands; a few feet in advance of this is again another ridge precisely like it; a few feet beyond, another; and so on for four or five concentric zigzag crescent-shaped moraines, followed by two others more or less marked, till they fade into the larger morainic mass upon which stands the belt of woods we had crossed in order to reach the glacier. There are eight distinct moraines between the glacier and the belt of woods separating it from the beach. The belt of woods again rests, as Mr. Agassiz ascertained by examination, upon four concentric moraines.
On the spot it is easy to understand the process by which these moraines have been formed. Stooping down in any of the open rifts or caves in the ice, you can look between its lower surface and the ground and see the mass of materials, of all sorts and sizes, carried along under the glacier and pushed forward by it. Thus shoved onward they are crowded up into a ridge, which is left when the melting ice retreats after a hot summer, lying on the ground and retaining exactly the outline received from the glacier itself. Wherever the motion has been most rapid, the morainic material has been driven outward; wherever it has been retarded, the morainic material has been delayed also. It has, in short, advanced just so far, and no farther, than the ice itself. Thus the moraines, until time and the gradual growth of vegetation upon them have remodelled them, represent the outline of the glacier by which they were built. From their appearance Mr. Agassiz thought that the moraines immediately in front of the glacier marked its oscillation within a comparatively short period. They are entirely destitute of vegetation. In advance of them is one both higher and broader than the rest, which must be considerably older, since mosses, lichens, and a few other plants are scattered over it. This moraine leans against trees, which are all blighted and bent toward the valley below, the whole green forest being bordered by a row of dead trees brought out in grim relief against the verdure behind. It is plain that the glacier has ploughed into the forest, loosening and half uprooting the trees along its margin, and this at a period not very remote, for the dead trees are not yet altogether rotten and decayed. A little lower down, separated by a small pool from the barren moraines, the fresh forest covers the whole ground. That this also, so far as it fills the bed of the valley, grows upon morainic accumulation is seen, not only by the mass of loose stones and boulders forming the floor of the forest and bound together by overgrowth of moss and a verdant soil, but also from the cuts made by the river, the banks of which are wholly morainic.
In the presence of the glacier you cease to wonder at the effects produced by so powerful an agent. This sheet of ice in its present extension is, as we have seen, about a mile in width, several miles in length, and at least some two hundred feet in depth. Moving forward as it does ceaselessly, and armed below with a gigantic file consisting of stones, pebbles, and gravel firmly set in the ice, who can wonder that it should grind, furrow, round, and polish the surfaces over which it slowly drags its huge weight, fitting itself with anaconda-like flexibility to every inequality of the soil! At once destroyer and fertilizer, it uproots and blights hundreds of trees in its progress, yet feeds a forest at its foot with countless streams; it grinds the rocks to powder in its merciless mill, and then sends them down a fructifying soil to the valleys below. After we had wandered about till we were tired, the sailors, most of whom had by this time found their way up from the beach, built a fire on the moraine, near which Mrs. Johnson and I were glad to sit down and dry our feet, while we waited for the gentlemen to finish their work. We were beginning to discover that we were hungry, for the picturesque will not, after all, feed the carnal man or woman. We were making a mutual confession on this point, when we heard a shout from the woods, and saw the Captain, with several of the ship's company, issuing from the trees, followed by two men carrying a lunch-basket. By this time the other party had returned from the eastern end of the terminal wall, bringing a report that it was even more beautiful there, the ice being cut into very striking peaks and towers and other jagged, picturesque forms, while below were arches and caves pierced by windows. Mr. Agassiz had already gone on in this direction, but we had no time to follow him, even had our strength been equal to it. The Captain brought news that the Hassler could not safely cross the bar into Notch Cove, where he had hoped to anchor, and that we must return promptly in order to reach Playa Parda Cove, the nearest harbor, before nightfall. All stragglers were therefore recalled, and after a short rest, while we lunched around our fire, now a comfortable crackling blaze, we bade good by to the great, beautiful ice-sheet, and betook ourselves to the woods once more. Somewhat assisted by the tracks of the various parties who had followed each other through this labyrinth in the course of the day, we reached the beach in less time than we had spent in going to the glacier. The boat was pushed up into the little glacial river, and taking a parting draught from the icy cold water, which freshens the bay for a long distance, we stepped in and were off. Returning on board we dined gayly, not forgetting to christen the glacier in a glass of champagne. At Mr. Agassiz's suggestion it was called the “Hassler” glacier, in memory of the United States Coast Survey and of the vessel in which our trip was made. Two hours later we were quietly anchored in Playa Parda Cove.§ This beautiful little harbor is formed by a deep narrow slit, cut into the mountains on the northern side of the straits, and widening out at its farther end into a kind of pocket or basin, sunk so deep between rocky walls that it seems like a sheltered lake. At ten o'clock at night I went on deck; there was not a cloud in the sky, and it was brilliant moonlight. Looking toward the opening of the cove, a snow mountain lay dim and pale like a white dream in the distance; around us rose dark rugged walls of rock, and the water, still as glass, held it all as in a picture.
§ Caleta Playa Parda (Brown Beach Cove).
Google Earth 3D view of places mentioned above.
On Tuesday, the 19th of March, about noon, we left Sandy Point, where we had been passing several pleasant days. It is the only settlement in the Straits of Magellan, and lies midway between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Its position marks a sudden and decided change in the general aspect of the region, the shores in the eastern portion of the straits being open and low, and the passages between them wide as compared with those of the western portion. I like to remember that afternoon. To me it was full of vague anticipation, for we were on the threshold of the region where, we had been taught to believe, mountains rise sharply up from narrow ocean channels, and glaciers dip into the sea; where the scenery at once delights and stimulates the imagination, suggesting more than it reveals. The weather was beautiful, a mellow autumn day with a reminiscence of summer in its genial warmth. The cleft summit of Mount Sarmiento was clear against the sky, and its snowfields, swept over by alternate light and shadow, seemed full of soft undulations. Cloven peaks are, by the way, a common feature of mountains in the Straits of Magellan, as we afterward found. Indeed, from this time forward, for many days, our way was in the midst of scenery which, though constantly varied by local features, had a certain uniformity throughout. All those narrow passes marked on the map as Froward Reach, English Reach, Crooked Reach, and the still more intricate passage known as Smythe's Channel, are so many ocean defiles hemmed in between mountains, the lower slopes of which are heavily wooded. Bays and inlets, deep fiords and small sheltered harbors, break the base of these mountain walls on either side, while above the sombre forests, above the line of vegetation, lie vast fields of snow and ice, glaciers in which you count every rift and crevasse as you steam past them, and from which countless cascades descend to join the waters beneath. Such were our surroundings for three delightful weeks. On the particular afternoon in question we were bound to the bay of Port Famine, where we anchored before sunset. Its name recalls the sad story of the men who landed there nearly three centuries ago, and watched and waited for the help that never came. I do not know whether the slight vestiges of ruined buildings, and the mossgrown cannon still to be found on a height above the bay, mark the site of Sarmiento's ill-fated colony, but they naturally associate themselves with the old tradition. The beach at Port Famine is lined with singularly regular but completely upturned strata, their edges either worn down or cut to one level so as to be almost even with each other. As we returned to the ship that evening, the moon was just rising over the brow of the hill, and her light rippled across the still water, side by side with the red reflection from a huge fire built by our sailors on the beach. Sailors have a cheery affection for an open fire. Perhaps it recalls home and the domestic, cosey side of life, so far removed from the forecastle. Whatever be the reason, our men were never on shore for half an hour without building a glorious structure of drift-wood and dry branches, laid with such art that it was a pleasure to see the blaze creep through and finally burst in triumph from the top.
The great event of the next day was the rounding of Cape Froward, a huge mass of rock thrown out in a bold promontory from the north side of Froward Reach. So close did we coast along, that the geology was quite legible even in detail from the deck of our vessel. The contorted strata forming the base of Cape Froward's rugged cliffs, the rounded shoulders of the mountains in marked contrast to their peaked and jagged crests, the general character of the snow-fields and glaciers, not crowded into narrow valleys, but spread out on the open slopes of the loftier ranges, or fitted dome-like over their single summits; all these features passed constantly before us in an evershifting panorama. One of the most beautiful points in the view was a huge twin glacier, or rather a glacier single in its origin but divided at its lower end by a mountain spur. In the afternoon we passed Cape Holland, another very bold and striking headland, and anchored in Fortesque Bay early enough to have several hours of daylight before us. In this sheltered harbor, with Mount Cross for a breastwork against the west wind, we found ourselves in a different climate from the one in which we had passed the morning, with a strong breeze blowing dead against us.
We spent the remainder of the day in wandering along the rocky, pebbly beach; penetrating sometimes, though on account of the underbrush but for a little way, among the trees. Here I first saw the wild fuchsia in full bloom, growing along the shore in large banks as thick and abundant as those of the mountain-laurel in New England, and also the beautiful pink bells of the “Philesia buxifolia,” an exquisite flowering shrub. We came upon a Fuegian hut on the beach. We often saw their deserted camps afterward, but they never differed from this first specimen. Dwellings they can scarcely be called. A few flexible branches are stuck in the ground in a semicircle, and their ends are drawn together so as to form a kind of hood in the shape of a chaise-top. It is too low for any posture but that of squatting or lying down. In front is always a scorched spot where their handful of fire has smouldered; at one side is invariably a large heap of empty shells, showing that they had occupied this spot until they had exhausted the supply of mussels, their favorite, or at least their principal, food. We had already met Fuegian Indians in their canoes. The very day before, as we left Port Famine, a boat containing three men and two women had put off from a spot we had been watching with some interest, because a smoke on the edge of the wood, and a few figures moving about, indicated a camp. They showed no disposition to come on board, but seemed rather by their gestures inviting us to pay them a visit,—pointing to their fires, and frantically waving skins which no doubt they wished to barter for tobacco, though their wild shrieks and shouts were then unintelligible to us. One would hardly believe that five human beings could make so much noise. One of the men, the more prominent spokesman, (though where all screamed in unison it was difficult to give pre-eminence to any,) was decently dressed in a flannel shirt and drawers. The others were scarcely clad at all, unless scant skins hanging loose from their shoulders could be called clothing. The women were naked to the waist; their babies were lashed to them, leaving them free to paddle lustily with both arms and nurse their children at the same time. Their boats are usually of their own making, and one can only wonder that people ingenious enough to make bark canoes so neatly and strongly put together, and so well modelled, should have invented nothing better in the way of a house than a twig hut, compared with which a wigwam is an elaborate building; and that they should not provide themselves with a covering for warmth, if not for decency, in a climate where snow and rain are the rule rather than the exception.
The next morning as we steamed out of our snug anchorage, the snow-fields, spite of heavy clouds behind us, lay glittering on the mountains like purest marble in the early light. They were dazzling to look upon. The weather improved as we went on, and indeed we congratulated ourselves upon having in this unkind climate a day when freakish, capricious sunshine, like a moody artist, brought out bits of landscape here and there, while from time to time a rainbow's broken arch fell through the drifting fleece of clouds. We were bound through the so-called Narrow Reach, a long, winding corridor with rocky walls, opening right and left into narrow picturesque valleys which abut at their farther end against the loftier ranges of snow-mountains. The sides of these valleys as well as the walls of the channel itself in their lower portions, and indeed sometimes for their whole height, are moutonnés [sic, moutonnées]; that is, they are worn into gently rounded swelling mounds or knolls. The evening before at Fortesque Bay, Mr. Agassiz, who was always hunting the lost thread of a past glacial period and trying to recement its broken fragments, had found many glacial pebbles and boulders bearing all the characteristic marks of ice action. Did they belong to a former extension of local glaciers, or to the general all-embracing action of a still more ancient and universal ice-time ? However this may be, it became evident to him, as we advanced, that the two sets of phenomena existed together, one underlying the other, and that to unravel the whole story correctly they must be tracked separately. The well-known feature of glacial action just alluded to, the moutonnees surfaces, became a guide for him in tracing, not only the direction in which the ice-sheet had moved, but also its original thickness. The abrupt line where the undulating surfaces yield to sharply cut jagged crests indicates in the Straits of Magellan, as in the Alps, the highest limit of glacial action. One most remarkable instance of this is in Mount Tarn, whose long serrated edge is like a gigantic saw, while the lower shoulders of the mass are hummocked into a succession of rounded hills. Just at the entrance of Narrow Reach, Bachelor Peak forms a bold mountain bluff dividing two beautiful valleys, York Valley in which runs the little York River, and what we may call Jerome Valley, since Jerome Mountain forms its higher boundary.§ In both these valleys the summits of their lateral walls are jagged and rough, with snow-fields lying between their abrupt points; while lower down their slopes are all symmetrically rounded in the most striking way.
§ The author's Jerome is thought to be Jerónimo. Canal Jerónimo was so-named by Antonio de Córdova, Spanish captain of Santa María de la Cabeza in 1785-86.
We sailed prosperously along through this beautiful scenery till about three o'clock in the afternoon; but the fitful promise of the morning betrayed us in the end. The wind, which had been strong all day and coming upon us in flaws, increased with sudden fury. Rushing through the narrow tunnel in which we were caught, it seemed to gather strength and speed in proportion to its compression. I had never imagined such a tumult of the elements. In an inconceivably short time the channel was lashed into a white foam, the roar of wind and water was so great you could not hear yourself speak, though the hoarse shout of command and the answering cry of the sailors rose above the storm. To add to the confusion a loose sail slatted as if it would tear itself in pieces, with that sharp, angry, rending sound which only a broad spread of loose canvas can make. It became impossible to hold our own against the amazing power of the blast, and the captain turned the vessel round with the intention of putting her into Borja Bay, not far from which, by good fortune, we chanced to be. As she came broadside to the wind in turning, it seemed to my inexperience that she must be blown over, so violently did she careen. Once safely round, we flew before the wind, which now helped as much as it had hindered, and were soon abreast of Borja Bay. Never was there a more sudden transition from chaos to peace, than the one we made as we turned out of the main channel into its quiet waters,—a somewhat difficult manoeuvre under the circumstances, for a driving cloud of mist and rain now enveloped us. Our ship almost filled the tiny harbor shut in between mountains, and there we lay safe and sheltered in breathless quiet, while a few yards from us the storm raged and howled outside. These frequent, almost land-locked coves are the safety of navigators in these straits; but after this day's experience it was easy to understand how sailing vessels may be kept waiting for months between two such harbors, struggling vainly to make a few miles, and constantly driven back by sudden squalls.
The next morning fresh snow lay on the mountains around us, and we were still detained in our harbor by inclement weather. Spite of the storm, two of our companions ascended the peak on the side of the bay. They found the same smoothed and rounded surfaces which we had observed along our whole route to a height of fifteen hundred feet, above which the rocks were broken and rugged. From the brink of the snowcovered ridge on which they stood, they saw below them a cup-shaped depression holding two little lakes, and looking singularly green and peaceful as seen from the upper region of gusts, snow, and rain in which they found themselves. These lakes fed a pretty cascade, which poured over the rocks at the side of our vessel. In Borja Bay we made our first acquaintance with the so-called “Williwaws” of the straits. A “Williwaw” is a curious phenomenon to the inexperienced. All may be quiet, not a breath stirring; suddenly a gust strikes the ship, and she is shaken for a moment from masthead to keel as if in a giant's grasp, and almost before you have time to feel the shock the wind has passed, vanished into the calm out of which it came, leaving all still again.
On Saturday, the 23d of March, in weather which, though still doubtful, was not wholly unpromising, we started once more. We passed through what is called Straight Reach as distinguished from Crooked Reach, where we had been caught by the storm on Thursday. Like the latter it is narrow, bordered by the same picturesque scenery, but almost without a curve. The early part of that day is, however, like a shifting panorama in my memory. In truth, the fitful curtain of mist hanging for so much of the time over this whole region is deceptive; one hardly knows what may be the extent or height of the mountains. Sometimes a magnificent peak is suddenly revealed behind and above the nearer mountains, and is gone again almost before you can say you have seen it. You cannot but have constantly in your mind the adventures of the early explorers, feeling their way along in their small sailing vessels through this labyrinth of mountain and ocean, half hidden, half revealed by driving fog and rain; the channel sometimes narrowing suddenly between its rocky walls, a headland looming unexpectedly upon them out of the mist, an absolute ignorance of the safe harbors on either side, and the waters so deep that they might drop their anchor within a foot of the shore and find no bottom.
I pass over two or three days spent on and about the Hassler Glacier, having already given an account of their adventures in a previous number of the “Atlantic,” and come to a lovely afternoon when we entered Chorocua Bay [probably, Puerto Churruca], lying on the southern side of the straits, very near their opening into the Pacific Ocean. The scenery during the morning had had a new scientific interest, because we had kept along the southern side of the channel, having hitherto held our course nearer the northern shore. There is, in truth, a marked difference between the northern and southern sides of the straits; the latter being more abrupt and less generally rounded than the former. This fact had a special value for Mr. Agassiz, as an observer of glacial phenomena, for the following reason. In Switzerland it is well known that the surface of any rocky slope or ledge over which a glacier advances will be less influenced by its action than one toward and against which it moves. The ice, though flexible enough to fit itself to an inequality not otherwise to be passed over, is nevertheless a solid, and where it is possible will bridge a depression or hollow without touching it. A sheet of ice advancing across a valley from the south northward, for instance, will drop over the southern brink into the hollow, coming into contact only with its edge, just as a waterfall may shoot free of the ledge over which it springs; but once in the valley, in order to ascend the opposite bank this same ice-sheet must force itself up against the slope, wearing, furrowing, and grinding the surface as it goes. These are facts daily witnessed in the Alps; their results are readily recognized by any one familiar with glacial action. Supposing, therefore, that during the glacial period the ice sheet in the southern hemisphere advanced from south to north, (I speak now of a universal ice-time preceding and in its effects underlying all local glacial phenomena,) this difference between the two banks of the straits would be natural; the north side being the strike side, while the opposite wall, especially where most abrupt, might not have come in contact with the ice at all. At all events, their general aspect, as compared with each other, led Mr. Agassiz to believe what he had already theoretically inferred as probable, namely, that there has been a movement of the ice in the southern hemisphere from the south northward, corresponding to that which has taken place from the north southward in the northern hemisphere. For the sake of local accuracy, I may mention one of many instances. On the southern side of the straits, just opposite the Gulf of Xualtequa [sic, Xaultegua], a lofty wall of rock descends into the water, the upper portions of which are everywhere modelled by glacial action, while the abrupt, steep exposure forming its lower half is quite free of rounded surfaces. From its aspect one would say that the sheet of ice had ground over its upper slopes and then dropped over the lower wall, bridging the space between it and the water. These remarks would mislead were they understood in an exclusive sense. Both sides of the straits are rugged in parts; both are rounded and hummocked in parts; but the southern shore is much the more abrupt of the two.
We were tempted to turn into Chorocua Bay by Captain Mayne's mention of a glacier descending into the water. There is a large glacier in sight above it on the western side, though not directly accessible, as we had hoped to find it. Notwithstanding this disappointment, we rejoiced that we had entered this bay, for it is singularly beautiful. Deep gorges open on either side, bordered by steep richly wooded cliffs, and overhung by ice and snow-fields on loftier heights. Where these channels lead, into what dim recesses of ocean and mountain, it is impossible to say, for within them, so far as I know, no one has penetrated. The weather was most friendly to us. Chorocua Bay, with all its adjoining inlets and fiords, was glassy still; only the swift steamer ducks, as they shot across, broke the surface of the water with their arrowy wake. Quiet as in a church, voices and laughter seemed an intrusion, and a shout came back to us in repeated echoes, dying away at last in far-off, hidden retreats. We left the place with great regret; we would gladly have explored, if only for a little distance, these narrow, winding, ocean pathways within which mountains and forest-covered walls were mirrored on this tranquil afternoon with absolute fidelity. But we could not venture to stay, with the risk of being kept there by a change of weather. Provisions, coal, the necessities of the vessel, admonished us to keep on our way, and we crossed to Cape Tamar and anchored before nightfall within Sholl Bay, the vestibule as it were of Smythe's Channel. The shores of this large gulf, unveiled by mist, were clear in the evening light. Pearly tints, pale pink, blue, and amethyst, faded over the snow mountains opposite our anchorage; and when the same ashy paleness came upon them which follows sunset on the Alpine snows, the whole range was reflected in dead white in the water, as if it had been built of marble.
The next day we divided forces. Botanists, zoologists, sportsmen, and sundry nondescripts, such as Mrs. Johnson and myself, landed on the beach at about six o'clock in the morning, taking with us a tent, deck-blankets, lunch, everything needful, in short, to make us comfortable for half a day's sojourn, with possible vicissitudes of weather. The vessel put out into the straits again with the rest of the party, for the purpose of making soundings and dredgings in the neighborhood of Cape Tamar. Mr. Agassiz was much interested in the form and structure of the beach in Sholl Bay. The ridge of the beach itself is a glacial moraine, and accumulations of boulders, banked up in uniform morainic ridges concentric with one another and with the beach moraine, extend far out from the shore like partly sunken reefs. The pebbles and boulders of these ridges are not local, or at least only partially so; they are erratic and have the same geological character as those of the drift material throughout the straits. Our morning on this beach was very interesting. Having pitched our tent, deposited our wraps, provisions, etc.. and built our fires, we dispersed in various directions. It did not look like approaching winter. Luxuriant banks of fuchsia, Desfontainea, and Philesia crowned the beach ridge, and were brilliant with blossoms, while other bushes were full of sweet and juicy berries. Following a creek of fresh water that ran out upon the sands, we came to a romantic brook forming a miniature cascade and rushing down through a gorge bordered by old moss-grown trees and full of large boulders, around which the water surged and rippled. This gorge was a haunt of ferns and lichens carpeting all its nooks and corners. We tracked the brook to a small lake lying some half a mile behind the beach. The collections made along the shore were numerous, and included a great variety of animals. Among them were star-fishes, volutas, sea-urchins, seaanemones, medusae, doris, and small fishes from the tide-pools, beside a number drawn in the seine.
Toward the middle of the day we all strayed in one by one from our wanderings, and assembled around or within the tent for lunch. All luxuries and superfluities had long dropped off from our larder; mussels roasted on the shell, salt pork broiled on a stick, and hard-tack formed our frugal meal; but such as it was, we were called upon to share it with a numerous company. A boat rounded the point of the beach, and as it approached we saw that it was full of Indians,—men, women, and children. The men landed (they were five or six in number) and came toward us. I had wished to have a near view of the Fuegians, but I confess that, when my desire was gratified, my first feeling was one of utter repulsion and disgust. I have seen many Indians, both in North and South America, the wild Sioux of the West, and various tribes of the Amazons, but I had never seen any so coarse and repulsive as these; they had not even the physical strength and manliness of the savage to atone for brutality of expression. Almost naked (for the short, loose skins tied around the neck and hanging from the shoulders could hardly be called clothing), with swollen bodies, thin limbs, and stooping forms, with a childish yet cunning leer on their faces, they crouched over our fire, spreading their hands toward its genial warmth, and all shouting at once, “Tabac, tabac,” and “Galleta,”—biscuit. We had no tobacco with us, but we gave them the remains of our hard-bread and pork, which they seemed glad to have. Then the one who appeared, from the deference paid him by the rest, to be chief, sat down on a stone and sang in a singular kind of monotone. The words were evidently addressed to us, and seemed from the gestures and expression to be an improvisation concerning the strangers. There was something curious in the character of this Fuegian song. It was rather recitation than singing, but was certainly divided into something like strophes or stanzas; for although there was no distinct air or melody, the strain was brought to a close at regular short intervals, and ended always exactly in the same way and on the same notes with a rising inflection of the voice. When he finished we were silent with a sort of surprise and expectancy; his blank, disappointed expression reminded us to applaud, and then he laughed with pleasure, imitated the clapping in an awkward way, and began to sing again.
I do not know how long this scene might have lasted, for the man seemed to have no thought of stopping, and the flow of words was uninterrupted; but the Hassler came in sight, her recall gun was fired, and we hastened down to the beach landing. Our guests followed us, still clamorously demanding tobacco, and we signed to them that they might follow us on board the vessel, where they would get some. Meantime the women had brought their boat close to ours at the landing. They began to laugh, talk, and gesticulate with much energy. They are, or at least they seemed whenever we saw them, a very noisy people, chattering constantly with amazing rapidity and all together. Their boat, with the babies and dogs to add to the tumult, was a perfect Babel of voices, especially after the men joined them. We reached the ship first, but they presently came alongside, still shouting and shrieking without pause and in every key, “Tabac, tabac,” “Galleta, galleta.” We threw them down both, and they grabbed for them like wild animals. From the fierceness with which they snatched at whatever was thrown into the boat, it seemed that each one was the owner of what he could catch, and that there was no community of goods. I threw down some showy beads and bright calico to the women, who seemed pleased, though I should doubt their knowing what to do with the latter. They wore a coarse kind of amulet made of shells tied in a string around the neck, so that the beads would certainly come in play. They had some idea of trade and barter, for when they found they had received all the tobacco and biscuit they were likely to get gratuitously, they held up bows and arrows, wicker baskets, birds, and the large sea-urchin, which is an article of food with them.
Before we parted from our friends, they seemed to me more human than when I first saw them. Indeed the faces of one or two were neither brutal nor ugly. One boy was eminently handsome; a lad of some sixteen or seventeen years perhaps. He looked like an Italian, and in the garb of a lazzarone would have passed muster in a Neapolitan street without detection. His complexion was dark, but ruddy and rich in tone, his features were regular, his eyes large and soft, and his teeth superb. He showed them, for he was always on the broad grin. His figure remains in my memory as he clung like a monkey to the side of the ship, his free hand stretched toward us, his head thrown back, half laughing, and crying to the last minute, “Tabac, tabac.” Indeed, long after the steamer had started and when their position seemed really perilous, both men and women hung on the side of the vessel, dragging the boat below, trying to climb up, stretching their hands to us, praying, shrieking, screaming for more tobacco. When they found it at last a hopeless chase, they dropped off and began again the same chanting recitative which we had heard on the beach, waving their hands in farewell. So we parted. I looked after them as they paddled away, wondering anew at the strange problem of a people who learn nothing even from their own wants, necessities, and sufferings. They wander naked and homeless in snow and mist and rain as they have done for ages, asking of the land only a strip of beach and a handful of fire, of the ocean shellfish enough to save them from starvation.
Google Earth 3D view of places mentioned above.