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Accumulation Zone - Whistler Hiking Glossary

Accumulation Zone                               Glossary of Hiking Terms


Accumulation Zone: the area where snow accumulations exceeds melt, located above the firn line.  Snowfall accumulates faster than melting, evaporation and sublimation removes it.  Glaciers can be shown simply as having two zones.  The accumulation zone and the ablation zone.  Separated by the glacier equilibrium line, these two zones comprise the areas of net annual gain and net annual loss of snow/ice.  The accumulation zone stretches from the higher elevations and pushes down, eventually reaching the ablation zone near the terminus of the glacier where the net loss of snow/ice exceeds the gain.

Accumulation Zone at the Top of Wedge Glacier

The Wedgemount Glacier in Garibaldi Provincial Park in Whistler is an ideal place to see an accumulation zone up close.  From across Wedgemount Lake you can see the overall picture of both the accumulation zone and ablation zone of a glacier.  The Wedgemount Glacier is also relatively easy and safe to examine closely and hike onto.  The left side of the glacier is frequented in the summer and fall months by hikers on their way to Wedge Mountain and Mount Weart.

Accumulation Zone Aerial View - Overlord Glacier

Click the image above to see an aerial view of Overlord Glacier and the accumulation zone is visible to the left of the Fissile.  Click the image below to see an aerial video of the Wedge Glacier.

Weart Mountain and Wedge Glacier Aerial Video

Wedgemount Lake itself is a magnificent destination for a day hike or spectacular overnight beneath the dazzling mountain peaks and stars.  Many sleep under the stars on one of the many beautiful tent platforms that dot the landscape.  Solidly built, wooden tent platforms are everywhere you look at Wedgemount Lake.  Strategically positioned, these platforms manage to maintain an amazingly secluded feel despite their numbers.  In all Wedgemount Lake has 20 of these tent areas.  Most are wooden, but several down by the lake shore are gravel, yet every bit as nice.

Ablation Zone

At a fast hiking pace you can reach Wedgemount Lake from the trailhead in just an hour and a half but at a leisurely or backpack laden pace you will likely take over two hours.  The trail is well marked and well used.  The steepness of the trail doesn't require any technical skill, however that last kilometre before the lake you will be scrambling on all fours quite a bit.

Glossary of Hiking Terms                          Whistler Hiking Trails


  • Cairn: a pile of rocks used to indicate a route or a summit.  The word cairn originates from the Scottish Gaelic word carn.  A cairn can be either large and elaborate or as simple as a small pile of rocks.  To be effective a cairn marking a trail has to just be Cairn and Inuksuk - Whistler Hiking Glossarynoticeable and obviously man-made.  In the alpine areas around Whistler, above the treeline, cairns are the main method of marking a route.  In the spring and fall when snow covers alpine trails, cairns mark many routes.  An inuksuk(aka inukshuk) is the name for a cairn used by peoples of the Arctic region of North America.  Though an inuksuk can take many forms similar to a cairn, it is usually represented by large rocks formed into a human shape.  The word inuksuk literally translates from two separate Inuit words, inuk "person" and suk "substitute".  The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler used the inuksuk for the logo of the games.  Today you will find several giant rock inuksuks in Vancouver and Whistler at various places.  In Whistler there is an impressive inuksuk, several metres high a the peak of Whistler Mountain.

  • Chimney - Whistler Hiking GlossaryChimney: a gap between two vertical faces of rock or ice.  Often a chimney offers the only viable route to the summit of a mountain.  An example of this is Black Tusk in Garibaldi Provincial Park in Whistler.  The final ascent of Black Tusk requires climbing a near vertical chimney with crumbling rock all around.

  • Cirque Glacier: formed in bowl-shaped depressions on the side of mountains.

  • Cirque: a glacier-carved bowl or amphitheatre in the mountains.  To form, the glacier must be a combination of size, a certain slope and more unexpectedly, a certain angle away from the sun. In the northern hemisphere, this means the glacier must be on the northeast slope of the mountain, away from the suns Cirque - Whistler Hiking Glossaryrays and the prevailing winds. Thick snow, protected in this way, grows thicker into glacial ice, then a process of freeze-thaw called nivation, chews at the lower rocks, hollowing out a deep basin. Eventually a magnificently circular lake is formed with steep sloping sides all around.  Cirque Lake in Whistler is a wonderful example of a cirque lake.

  • Class 1,2,3,4,5 Terrain Rating System: a rating system to define hiking, scrambling and climbing terrain levels of difficulty.  Separated into 5 levels of difficulty ranging from class 1 to class 5.  Class 1 is easy hiking, to class 5 terrain, which is very difficult terrain requiring ropes.   Class 5 Terrain: technical Class Rating Systemclimbing terrain.  Rope required by most climbers.  If you are looking at a vertical rock wall, you are effectively looking at class 5 terrain.  A typical gym climbing wall is replica of a class 5 terrain rock wall.  Class 4 Terrain is one grade easier than class 5 terrain.  Class 4 terrain is defined as very steep terrain where rope belays are recommended.  Though experienced climbers will find class 4 terrain relatively easy and safe to navigate, novices to climbing will find class 4 terrain difficult, frightening and dangerous.  The Lions in North Vancouver requires climbing a short section of class 4 terrain to reach the summit.

  • Col: a ridge between two higher peaks, a mountain pass or saddle.  More specifically is the Col - Whistler Hiking Glossarylowest point on a mountain ridge between two peaks.  Sometimes called a saddle or notch.  The Wedge-Weart Col is a popular destination at the summit of the Wedge Glacier in Garibaldi Park.

  • Cornice: a wind deposited wave of snow on a ridge, often overhanging a steep slope or cliff.  They are the result of snow building up on the crest of a mountain.  Cornices are extremely dangerous to travel on or below.  A common refrain of climbers is that if you can see the drop-off of a cornice, you are too close to the edge.  Cornices are dangerous for several reasons.  They can collapse from hiking across or they can collapse from Cornice - Whistler Hiking Glossaryabove.  A third danger to consider is the fact that they can often trigger a massive avalanche that extends a considerable distance from its starting point.

  • Couloir: a narrow gully often hemmed in by sheer cliff walls. From the French word meaning passage or corridor.  Often a couloir  is a fissure or vertical crevasse in a mountain.  Couloirs are often partially filled with scree and when covered in snow form a dramatically beautiful, near vertical channel in mountains.  Couloirs are well loved by extreme skiers and snowboarders and feature in most extreme skiing/snowboarding movies.

  • Crevasse: is a split or crack in the glacier surface, often with near vertical walls.  Crevasses form out of the constant movement Crevasse - Whistler Hiking Glossaryof a glacier over irregular terrain.  Crevasses are both revered for their dramatic beauty and feared for their inherent danger.  Crevasses are often dozens of metres deep and less than a metre wide.  The fear of slipping into one of these ever-narrowing chasms is well founded.  When learning about safe glacier travel and roping techniques, extracting someone from a crevasse is a huge part of the training.  Crevasses are sometimes hidden by recent snow and thus instantly plunging through a a snow bridge is a constant worry during glacier travel.

  • Cross-ditch: a ditch that carries water from one side of a road to the other, deeper than a waterbar.  Though useful in directing water across roads, natural cross-ditches form on logging roads and can become so deep as to become serious obstacles to vehicles.Drumlin - Whistler Hiking Glossary

  • Culvert: a device used to channel water under a road or embankment.  Many hiking trails in BC have culverts to direct water under, rather than over hiking trails to prevent erosion.

  • Diagonal Crevasses: form at an angle to the flow of a glacier.  These are normally found along the edges where a glacier ends.

  • Drumlin: a ridge or hill formed from glacial debris.  From the Gaelic “ridge”.  Large drumlins often mark the final edges or border of a glaciers path.  Drumlin's are generally about 1 to 2 kilometres long and between 100 and 500 metres wide.  Most drumlins are less than 50 metres high.Erratic - Whistler Hiking Glossary

  • Erratic or Glacier Erratic: is a piece of rock that has been carried by glacial ice, often hundreds of kilometres. Characteristic of their massive size and improbable looking placement.  Erratics are frequently seen around Whistler and Garibaldi Provincial Park.  Either as bizarre curiosities or a place to relax in the sun.  On a sunny day, a large sun-facing erratic will often be warm and sometimes even hot, providing a comfortable and surreal place to rest.
  • Firn - Whistler Hiking GlossaryFirn: compacted, granular snow that has been accumulated from past seasons.  Firn is the building blocks of the ice that makes the glacier.  Firn is the intermediate stage between snow and glacial ice. Firn Line: separates the accumulation and ablation zones.  As you approach this area, you may see strips of snow in the ice.  Be cautious, as these could be snow bridges remaining over crevasses.  Snow bridges will be weakest lower on the glacier as you enter the accumulation zone.  The firn line changes annually.
  • Gendarme: a pinnacle sticking up out of a ridge. A steep sidedGendarme - Whistler Hiking Glossary rock formation along a ridge, “guarding” the summit.  From the French ”man-at-arms”.

  • Glacier Window: the cave-like opening at the mouth of a glacier where meltwater runs out.  Glacier windows are often extraordinarily beautiful.  A blue glow often colours the inside and the walls are filled with centuries old glacial till.  You can often see deep into the clear walls and the enormous magnitude of a glacier can be appreciated from up close.  The popular and easily accessible glacier window at the terminus of the WedgeGlacier Window - Whistler Hiking Glossary Glacier at Wedgemount Lake is a stunning example of this.

  • Glissade: descending down a snow slope on foot, partly sliding.  A quick alternative to simply hiking down a snow slope.

  • Hanging Glacier: separating portions of glaciers, hanging on ridgelines or cliffs.  Extremely dangerous, hanging glaciers are frequently the cause of death of mountaineers.

  • Headwall: a steep section of rock or cliff. In a glacial cirque it is it's highest cliff.

  • Highpointing: the sport of hiking to as many high points(mountain peaks) as possible in a given area.  For Highpointing - Whistler Hiking Glossaryexample, highpointing the lower 48 states in the United states.  This was first achieved in 1936 by A.H. Marshall.  In 1966 Vin Hoeman highpointed all 50 states.  It is estimated that over 250 people have highpointed all of the US states.  Highpointing is similar peakbagging, however peakbagging is the sport of climbing several peaks in a given area above a certain elevation.  For example, a highpointer may climb the summit of Wedge Mountain, the highest peak in the Garibaldi Ranges, then move to another mountain range.  Whereas a peakbagger may summit Wedge Mountain, then Black Tusk, Panorama Ridge, Mount Garibaldi and many more high summits in the region.

  • Hoary Marmot: the cute, invariably pudgy, twenty plus pound ground squirrels that have evolved to live quite happily in the hostile alpine areas of much of the world. In the northwest of North America, marmots have a distinct grey in their hair, a hoary colour, so have been named hoary marmots. They manage to survive quite happily in the alpine, largely by hibernating for 8 months of the year and largely for having a surprisingly varied array of food in such an inhospitable Hoary Marmot - Whistler Hiking Glossaryenvironment. They live off of grasses, berries, lichens, mosses, and roots and flowers. And live quite well it seems, as they always look chubby, which has one great drawback. They are sought after by bears and wolves. They have a wonderful defense system though. They are constantly on watch and whistle loudly at the first sign of danger, alerting the colony. The prevalence of these "whistlers" as they came to be locally called, in the early days of London Mountain resulted in it's name being changed to Whistler Mountain in the 60's. Hiking on Whistler, Blackcomb or Wedgemount Lake in the summer will almost guarantee an encounter with a chubby, jolly little whistler marmot..

  • Ice Mill: a hole in the glacier formed by swirling water on the surface.  These can be large enough for a human to slip into.

  • Krummholz - Whistler Hiking GlossaryIcefalls: a jumble of crisscross crevasses and large ice towers that are normally found where a glacier flows over a slope with a gradient change of 25 degrees or more.

  • Krummholz: low-stunted trees found in the alpine.  From the German “twisted wood”.  Continuous exposure to hostile, alpine weather causes trees to form in bizarre and stunted ways.  Many types of trees have formed into bizarre krummholz trees including spruce, mountain pine, balsam fir, subalpine fir, limber pine and lodgepole pine.  The lodgepole pine is commonly found in the alpine regions around Whistler.

  • Longitudinal Crevasses: form parallel to the flow of a glacier.  These are normally found where a glacier widens.

Cirque Lake Aerial 3 3Panorama Ridge Aerial Video - Whistler TrailsWhistler Bear Cubs

Russet Lake Aerial Video - Whistler AerialCirque Lake Aerial 3 2Panorama Ridge Aerial Video - Whistler Trails

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