Page:A book of the Pyrenees.djvu/23

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7
CIRQUES

about two and a half miles long. It is usually frozen over from September to the end of June.

But if the lakes be insignificant, the cirques are of the most imposing character. There are none in Europe comparable to that of Gavarnie. This consists of an immense cul-de-sac, a vast amphitheatre, the stages of limestone capped with snow and ice, and above it tower five huge snow-clad mountain crests. The arena is heaped up with rubble brought down by the cascades. The mighty walls are wept over by water from the thawing glaciers. The highest fall of all is that in the lap of the cirque; it is a stream that precipitates itself from a height of 1270 feet, and, speedily resolving itself into spray, waves in the air like an ostrich plume. Superb as is the Cirque de Gavarnie in summer its appearance in winter is even more sublime. Especially is it so when the mountain-tops are enveloped in vapour. Then the aspect is as of a series of walls with snow bars intervening, mounting as a giant staircase into heaven; and the cascades are transformed into crystal columns.

There are other cirques deserving of notice, as that of Estaubé, commanded by the Pic de Pinède, behind which rises the Mont Perdu, on Spanish ground.

Troumousse, to the east of Estaubé, is a basin of pasture, girded about by a rampart 3000 feet in height, above which soars the Munia, a mass of snow and ice.

From the French side long lush valleys run to the roots of the first chain between the buttresses, but above this the character of the scenery changes abruptly. The melted snows descending from peak and terrace have sawn their way through the barrier imposed by the northern belt of limestone, feeling for and finding faults, through which they have torn their way, and debouch abruptly on to the lower broad