CHAPTER D. JOSEPH LECONTE AT LAKE TAHOE
Joseph LeConte, from whom LeConte Lake is named, the best-beloved professor of the University of California, and its most noted geologist, in the year 1870 started out with a group of students of his geology classes, and made a series of Ramblings in the High Sierras. These were privately printed in 1875, and from a copy given to me many years ago by the distinguished author, I make the following extracts on Lake Tahoe:
August 20, (1870). I am cook to-day. I therefore got up at daybreak and prepared breakfast while the rest enjoyed their morning snooze. After breakfast we hired a sail-boat, partly to fish, but mainly to enjoy a sail on this beautiful Lake.
Oh! the exquisite beauty of this Lake - its clear waters, emerald-green, and the deepest ultramarine blue; its pure shores, rocky or cleanest gravel, so clean that the chafing of the waves does not stain in the least the bright clearness of the waters; the high granite mountains, with serried peaks, which stand close around its very shore to guard its crystal purity, - this Lake, not among, but on, the mountains, lifted six thousand feet towards the deep-blue overarching sky, whose image it reflects! We tried to fish for trout, but partly because the speed of the sail-boat could not be controlled, and partly because we enjoyed the scene far more than the fishing, we were unsuccessful, and soon gave it up. We sailed some six or eight miles, and landed in a beautiful cove on the Nevada side. Shall we go in swimming? Newspapers in San Francisco say there is something peculiar in the waters of this high mountain Lake. It is so light, they say, that logs of timber sink immediately, and bodies of drowned animals never rise; that it is impossible to swim in it; that, essaying to do so, many good swimmers have been drowned. These facts are well attested by newspaper scientists, and therefore not doubted by newspaper readers. Since leaving Oakland, I have been often asked by the young men the scientific explanation of so singular a fact. I have uniformly answered, "We will try scientific experiments when we arrive there." That time had come. "Now then, boys," I cried, "for the scientific experiment I promised you!" I immediately plunged in head-foremost and struck out boldly. I then threw myself on my back, and lay on the surface with ray limbs extended and motionless for ten minutes, breathing quietly the while. All the good swimmers quickly followed. It is as easy to swim and float in this as in any other water. Lightness from diminished atmospheric pressure? Nonsense! In an almost incompressible liquid like water, the diminished density produced by diminished pressure would be more than counterbalanced by increased density produced by cold.
After our swim, we again launched our boat, and sailed out into the very middle of the Lake. The wind had become very high, and the waves quite formidable. We shipped wave after wave, so that those of us who were sitting in the bows got drenched. It was very exciting. The wind became still higher; several of the party got very sick, and two of them cascaded. I was not in the least affected, but, on the contrary, enjoyed the sail very much. About 2 P.M. we concluded it was time to return, and therefore tacked about for camp.
The wind was now dead ahead, and blowing very hard. The boat was a very bad sailer, and so were we. We beat up against the wind a long time, and made but little headway. Finally, having concluded we would save time and patience by doing so, we ran ashore on the beach about a mile from camp and towed the boat home. The owner of the boat told us that he would not have risked the boat or his life in the middle of the Lake on such a day. "Where ignorance is bliss," etc.
After a hearty supper we gathered around the fire, and the young men sang in chorus until bedtime. "Now then, boys," cried I, "for a huge camp-fire, for it will be cold tonight!" We all scattered in the woods, and every man returned with a log, and soon the leaping blaze seemed to overtop the pines. We all lay around, with our feet to the fire, and soon sank into deep sleep.
August 21. Sunday at Tahoe! I wish I could spend it in perfect quiet. But my underclothes must be changed. Cleanliness is a Sunday duty. Some washing is necessary. Some of the party went fishing to-day. The rest of us remained in camp and mended or washed clothes.
At 12 M. I went out alone, and sat on the shore of the Lake, with the waves breaking at my feet. How brightly emerald-green the waters near the shore, and how deeply and purely blue in the distance! The line of demarcation is very distinct, showing that the bottom drops off suddenly. How distinct the mountains and cliffs all around the Lake; only lightly tinged with blue on the farther side, though more than twenty miles distant!