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Alpine Zone at Wedgemount Lake

Alpine Zone                                                           Glossary of Hiking Terms

Alpine Zone or Alpine Tundra: the area above the treeline, often characterized by stunted, sparse forests of krummholz and pristine, turquoise lakes.  The Sproatt Alpine is an excellent example of an alpine zone in Whistler.  Dozens of alpine lakes, rugged and rocky terrain and hardy krummholz trees everywhere you look.  The hostile, cold and windy climate in the alpine zones around Whistler make tree growth difficult.  Added to that, the alpine areas are snow covered the majority of the year.  Other good places to explore alpine zones in Whistler are Wedgemount Lake, Blackcomb Mountain, Whistler Mountain, Black Tusk and Callaghan Lake.  Click the image below to see an aerial video of the incredible alpine zone around Russet Lake in Garibaldi Provincial Park.

Alpine Zone at Russet Lake - Whistler Hiking Glossary

Click the image below to see and aerial video of the beautiful alpine zone that encompasses Wedgemount Lake.  Located within sight of Whistler Village, Wedge Mountain is the highest mountain in Garibaldi Provincial Park.  Just a relatively short, 7 kilometre hike takes you to this mountain paradise of impossibly turquoise water and jagged mountain peaks all around.  The shortness of the hike to Wedgemount Lake lulls hikers into thinking it is an easy trail.  The elevation gain, however is a staggering 1220 metres in this short distance.  If you are very fit and unburdened with a heavy backpack, you may get to the lake in 1.5 hours.  If you are carrying gear, however, you can easily double this time.

Alpine Zone at Wedgemount Lake - Whistler Hiking Glossary

The Wedgemount Lake trail is easy to follow and well marked, but it follows a constant and unrelenting, steep ascent to the end.  If you pack light, you will often pass a few hikers who didn't.  The tough trail makes arriving at this paradise in the mountains very rewarding and shows you a great example of an alpine zone in Whistler.  Another beautiful alpine paradise in Whistler is Mount Sproatt.  The recently built Sproatt Alpine Trail stretches from one side of Mount Sproatt to the other.

Sproatt Alpine Trail - Alpine Zone

Mount Sproatt, or as it is known locally as simply "Sproatt", is one of the many towering mountains visible from Whistler Village.  Above and beyond Alta Lake, directly across from Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain.  Next time you walk through Whistler Village and cross the pedestrian bridge (with Village Gate Boulevard below you), you will see Mount Sproatt in the distance.  It is the rocky giant, abruptly steep on one end and gently sloping on the other.  At its summit you may be able to make out the small weather recording structure.

Sproatt Alpine Trail - Alpine Zone Tent

What you can't see from Whistler Village is the extraordinarily beautiful alpine paradise that lays beyond it.  Lakes and tarns everywhere you look.  Fields of alpine flowers and wonderfully mangled, yet strikingly beautiful forests of krummholz.  Hostile looking fields of boulders and absurdly placed erratics the size of RV's.  Beyond, of course, endless stunning view of distant, snowy mountains.

Glossary of Hiking Terms                                       Whistler Hiking Trails

  • Arete in WhistlerArête: a thin ridge of rock formed by two glaciers parallel to each other. Sometimes formed from two cirques meeting. From the French for edge or ridge.  Around Whistler and in Garibaldi Provincial Park you will see dozens of excellent examples.  Below Russet Lake in Whistler, the glacier at the bottom of the valley, below the lake has a wonderful example of an arête.  The far side of Mount Price, near Garibaldi Lake also has an enormous arête.  The Wedge-Weart Col beyond Wedgemount Lake is a prominent arête to the summit of Wedge Mountain.

  • Backshore - Whistler Hiking GlossaryBackshore: the area of the shoreline acted upon by waves only during severe storms.  The West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island runs for much of its 77 kilometre length along a very distinct backshore route.  Often visible are signs of winter storms that have recently dislodged enormous trees from the rugged coastline.  A backshore can range from as little as a few centimetres high to hundreds of metres high.  The backshore route along the West Coast Trail is often as subtle as a sandy beach edged by a slightly higher border of grass and forest.  Other areas of the trail the backshore is a vertical, solid rock cliff with crashing waves cutting into it far below.
  • Bar - Whistler Hiking GlossaryBar: A ridge of sand or gravel in shallow water built by waves and currents.  Tsusiat Falls along the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island has an excellent example of a bar.  An enormous and ever changing sand bar created from the waterfall meeting the Pacific Ocean.  Often this bar is a dozen metres high and 400 metres long as it runs parallel to the ocean before flowing into it.  Similar to a barrier beach, however a bar is more pliable and recent than a barrier beach, which tends to have long-term plant growth on it.

  • Barrier Beach or Island: a land form parallel to the shoreline, above the normal high water level.  Characteristically linear in shape, a barrier beach extends into a body of water.  In Barrier Beach - Whistler Hiking GlossaryGaribaldi Provincial Park at Garibaldi Lake there is an excellent example a barrier beach leading toward the Battleship Islands.  The West Coast Trail has an ever-moving barrier beach at the famous Tsusiat Falls camping area.  The broad falls cascade off a sheer cliff and cut a constantly changing path to the ocean.  The barrier beach can only be reached by a precarious log crossing or by wading across the rushing flow of water.  A barrier island can be quite beautiful.  An excellent example is Sea Lion Haul Out Rock along the West Coast Trail.  This enormous, flat topped, solid rock barrier island sits just a few dozen metres from the trail.  Hundreds of sea lions make their home here and provide a constant show for passing hikers.
  • Bench - Whistler Hiking GlossaryBench: a flat section in steep terrain.  Characteristically narrow, flat or gently sloping with steep or vertical slopes on either side.  A bench can be formed by various geological processes.  Natural erosion of a landscape often results in a bench being formed out of a hard strip of rock edged by softer, sedimentary rock.  The softer rock erodes over time, leaving a narrow strip of rock resulting in a bench.  Coastal benches form out of continuous wave erosion of a coastline.  Cutting away at a coastline can result in vertical cliffs dozens or hundreds of metres high with a distinct bench form.  Often a bench takes the form of a long, flat top ridge.  Panorama Ridge in Garibaldi Park is an excellent example of a bench.  The Musical Bumps trail on Whistler Mountain is another good example of bench formations.  Each "bump" along the Musical Bumps trail is effectively a bench.

  • Bergschrund - Whistler Hiking GlossaryBergschrund or abbreviated schrund: a crevasse that forms from the separation of moving glacier ice from the stagnant ice above. Characterized by a deep cut, horizontal, along a steep slope. Often extending extremely deep, over 100 metres down to bedrock. Extremely dangerous as they are filled in winter by avalanches and gradually open in the summer.  The Wedge glacier at Wedgemount Lake is a great and relatively safe way to view bergschrund near Whistler.  At the far end of Wedgemount Lake the beautiful glacier window can be seen with water flowing down into the lake.  From the scree field below the glacier you can see the crumbling bergschrund separate and fall away from the glacier.  Up on the glacier you fill find several crevasses.  Many are just a few centimetres wide, though several metres deep.  Hiking along the left side of the glacier is relatively safe, however the right size of the glacier is extremely dangerous as the bergschrund vary in width and can be Bivouac or Bivy - Whistler Hiking Glossarymeasure only in metres instead of centimetres.  Hikers venturing up the glacier are advised to keep far to the left or only at the safe, lower edges near the glacier window.

  • Bivouac or Bivy: a primitive campsite or simple, flat area where camping is possible.  Often used to refer to a very primitive campsite comprised of natural materials found on site such as leaves and branches.  Often used interchangeably with the word camp, however, bivouac implies a shorter, quicker and much more basic camp setup.  For example, at the Taylor Meadows campground in Garibaldi Park, camping is the appropriately used term to describe sleeping there at night.  If instead you plan to sleep on the summit of Black Tusk, bivouacking would be more Bushwhack - Whistler Hiking Glossaryaccurately used.  In the warm summer months around Whistler you will find people bivouacking under the stars with just a sleeping bag.  The wonderful, wooden tent platforms at Wedgemount Lake are ideal for this.

  • Bushwhack: a term popularly used in Canada and the United States to refer to hiking off-trail where no trail exists.  Literally means 'bush' and 'whack'.  To make your own trail through the forest by whacking or cutting your way through.  Often used to plot a new trail and trail markers are used to mark various routes until a preferred route is found.  In Whistler and Garibaldi Provincial Park, bushwhacking may also refer to an early season trail that is littered with fallen trees from winter storms.  Existing trails can also become overgrown and require bushwhacking to navigate through.  The Brew Lake trail in Whistler requires some bushwhacking for some of the overgrown trail.  A bushwhacker is a term used to describe someone who spends a lot of time in the wilderness.Buttress - Whistler Hiking Terms

  • Buttress: a prominent protrusion of rock on a mountain, often column-shaped, that juts out from a rock or mountain.  They are often so distinct as to be named separately from the mountain they protrude from.  Buttresses often make a viable bivouacking option on an otherwise steep mountain.  Numerous in the mountains surrounding Whistler, the term buttress is frequently heard while hiking, scrambling, ski touring and climbing.

  • 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 which 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 of 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.

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