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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.


Glossary of BC Hiking Terms

Glossary of Hiking Terms                                       Whistler Hiking Trails

  • Ablation Zone: the annual loss of snow and ice from a glacier as a result of melting, evaporation, iceberg calving, and sublimation which exceeds the accumulation of snow and ice. Located below the firn line.  Firn originated from Swiss German and means "last year's snow".  It has been compacted and recrystallized making it harder and more compact than snow, though less compact than glacial ice.  An excellent place to see an ablation zone is Wedgemount Lake in Garibaldi Provincial Park in Whistler.  The Wedgemount Glacier has been receding for decades.  In the 1970's the glacier terminated at Wedgemount Lake with a steep and vertical wall of ice at the shore of Wedgemount Lake.  Today the glacier terminated a couple hundred metres above Wedgemount Lake.

  • 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.  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.

  • Aiguille: a tall, narrow, characteristically distinct spire of rock. From the French word for "needle". Used extensively as part of the names for many peaks in the French Alps.

  • Alpine Zone or Alpine Tundra: the area above the treeline, often characterized by stunted, sparse forests of krummholz and pristine, turquois lakes.

  • Arête: 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.

  • Backshore: the area of the shoreline acted upon by waves only during severe storms.
  • Bar: A ridge of sand or gravel in shallow water built by waves and currents.

  • Barrier beach or island:  a land form parallel to the shoreline, above the normal high water level.
  • Bench: a flat section in steep terrain.

  • Bergschrund or abbreviated schrund: a crevasse that forms from the separation of moving glacier ice from the stagnant ice above. Characterised 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.

  • Bivouac or Bivy: a primitive campsite or simple, flat area where camping is possible

  • Bushwhack: to hike off-trail or where no trail exists.

  • Buttress: a prominent  protrusion of rock on a mountain, often column-shaped, that juts out from a rock or mountain.

  • Cairn: in modern times a pile of rocks used to indicate a route or a summit. Historically they were erected as sepulchral monuments.

  • Chimney: a gap between two vertical faces of rock or ice.

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

  • Cirque: a glacier-carved bowl or amphitheatre in the mountains.

  • Class 5 Terrain: technical climbing terrain.  Rope required by most climbers.

  • Col: a ridge between two higher peaks, a mountain pass or saddle.

  • Cornice: a wind deposited wave of snow on a ridge, often overhanging a steep slope or cliff.

  • Couloir: a narrow gully often hemmed in by sheer cliff walls. From the French word meaning passage or corridor.

  • Crevasse: is a split or crack in the glacier surface, often with near verticle walls.

  • Cross-ditch: a ditch that carries water from one side of a road to the other, deeper than a waterbar.

  • Culvert: a device used to channel water under a road or embankment.

  • 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”.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Firn: compacted, granular snow that has been accumulated from past seasons.  Firn is the building blocks of the ice that makes the glacier.

  • Gendarme: a pinnacle sticking up out of a ridge. A steep sided 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.

  • Glissade: descending down a snow slope on foot, partly sliding.

  • Hanging Glacier: separating portions of glaciers, hanging on ridgelines or cliffs.

  • 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 highpoints as possible in a given area.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Icefalls: 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”.

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

  • Massif: a cluster of mountains. A section of a planet's crust that is demarcated by faults or flexures.

  • Moat: is a wall formed at the head of a glacier.  Formed from heat reflected from the valley wall.

  • Moraine (lateral): formed on the sides of a glacier.

  • Moraine (ground): the rocky debris extending out from the terminus of a glacier.

  • Moraine (medial): the middle of a glacier.  Also formed as two glaciers come together or as a glacier moves around a central peak.

  • Moraine (terminal): formed at the terminus of a glacier.

  • Nunatuk: a rock projection protruding through permanent ice or snow.

  • Old Man's Beard(Usnea): The lichen seen hanging from tree branches in much of British Columbia.  It hangs from tree bark and tree branches looking like greenish-grey hair.
  • Piedmont Glacier: formed by one or more valley glaciers spreading out into a large area.

  • Post Holing: difficult travel through deep snow where feet sink.

  • Pressure Ridges: wavelike ridges that form on a glacier normally after a glacier has flowed over icefalls.

  • Pyramidal Peak: a mountaintop that has been carved by glaciation into a distinct, sharp horn-like shape. The Matterhorn in the Alps is a well know example of this striking phenomenon.
  • Retreation Glacier: a deteriorating glacier; annual melt of entire glacier exceeds the flow of the ice.

  • Scree: from the Norse “skridha”, landslide.  The small, loose stones covering a slope. Also called talus, the French word for slope. Scree is mainly formed from the annual freeze/thaw periods of spring and fall, where water seeps into cracks in the rock and expands when freezing.
  • Seracs: large pinnacles or columns of ice that are normally found in icefalls or on hanging glaciers.
  • Snow Bridge: a structure of snow that fills in an opening such as a crevasse or a creek. Often formed by a snow drift which begins as a cornice and grows into a snow bridge. In the summer, what was a small creek crossing, in the winter will be an often precarious snow bridge. Though, not terribly dangerous, this often encountered type may drop you in an instant, thigh deep in freezing creek, and armpit deep in snow.

  • Surging Glacier: annual flow of the ice exceeds the melt; the movement is measurable over  a period of time.

  • Talus: a sloping jumble of boulders at the base of a cliff.

  • Tarn: a small alpine lake.

  • Transverse Crevasses: form perpendicular to the flow of a glacier.  These are normally found where a glacier flows over a slope with a gradient change of 30 degrees or more.

  • Traverse: crossing a slope at the same elevation.

  • Valley Glacier:  resides and flows in a valley

  • Waterbar: a ditch that carries water from one side of a road to the other.

Whistler Aerial Views                                             Whistler Hiking Trails

Callaghan Lake Provincial Park up in the Callaghan Valley south of Whistler, is an often overlooked but beautiful and easily accessible mountain lake.  First impressions are important, and when you arrive at Callaghan Lake, the first thing you see is the main campground.  It looks more like a large gravel parking lot, which it pretty much is.  So, most visitors to Callaghan Lake don't rate it too highly.  When you take a look a bit further and see the lake, the views get a bit better.  But still the place is mediocre at best.

Aerial Video of Camping at Callaghan Lake Provincial Park

What you need to do is get out on the lake or hike along the easy-to-miss hiking trail that runs along the right side shore(if standing at the main parking/campsite area).  Once you get some distance between you and the main campsite area, Callaghan Lake becomes spectacular.  Surrounded by pristine wilderness and snowy mountains beyond, the lake is crystal clear and the shores are wonderfully devoid of humanity.  With a little effort you can find some amazing places to put up a tent, like this one on a little paradise island near the far shore.

More Whistler Aerial Videos and Hiking Info for Callaghan Lake Provincial Park >>

June Camping in Whistler is Spectacular

A perfect campsite on a beautiful June day in Whistler.  Only two of humans for several kilometres, but four bears spotted in the area.

More Whistler Aerial Views, Videos and Hiking Destinations >>

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