ON THE LYELL GLACIER — As melting water gushed off the ice in a tinseled maze of rivulets and tumbled through a gaping chasm, the hikers watched, wondered and worried.
Unlike most backcountry travelers who pitch their tents along the John Muir Trail in the upper reaches of the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River, these visitors had not pushed on to scale the summit of Mount Lyell — Yosemite's highest peak.
Instead, they scrambled up a ridge of rose-tinted granite and over a mound of dark, unstable boulders to tromp across this less well-known corner of the national park, a silvery-white sheet of ice fast becoming one of the first California landmarks to succumb to climate change.
Later in the day, Pete Devine, a veteran glacier observer who manages educational programs for the nonprofit Yosemite Association, sat on a log and opened a notebook. "Gaunt remnant of what I saw 10, 20 years ago," he wrote in his journal. "Lots of large boulders dot the surface. Lots of melt water flow."
As signals of climate change begin to come into focus in the Sierra Nevada, its melting glaciers spell trouble in bold font. Not only are they in-your-face barometers of global warming, they also reflect what scientists are beginning to uncover: that the Sierra snowpack the source of 65 percent of California's water is dwindling, too.
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