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Cirque - Glossary of Hiking Terms

Cirque or Cirque Lake                                       Glossary of Hiking Terms

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 rays 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.

Cirque Lake in Whistler - Glossary of Hiking Terms

Cirque Lake in Whistler is accessible by a short canoe route across Callaghan Lake, then a very steep and challenging two kilometre hike.  The trailhead to Cirque Lake is found at the far end of Callaghan Lake. The Callaghan Lake turnoff is 20km south of Whistler Village. From Whistler drive 20km towards Vancouver, then turn right at the sign for Whistler Olympic Park. Drive up the beautiful, winding road for about 8 minutes. The sign for Callaghan Lake will be just before Whistler Olympic Park, you will turn left, cross a bridge and drive a bumpy logging road for 8km.

Cirque Lake in Whistler - Glossary of Hiking Terms

To reach the very hidden trailhead to Cirque Lake, paddle your canoe towards the waterfall far off in the distance. Not until you are only 50 metres from the shore, nearest the sound of the now hidden waterfall, you will see a small clearing jutting out from the shore, this is the trailhead, despite it not looking like one. Pull your canoe up here and drag into the bushes. Only a few metres into shore you will notice an obvious trail.  Callaghan Lake is a destination on its own.  A beautiful alpine lake, well above the busy world around Whistler Village.  Bring a canoe and paddle across the lake to find amazing rock cliffs and cute little islands.

Aerial View of Callaghan Lake

Callaghan Lake Provincial Park is a relatively untouched wilderness of rugged mountainous terrain.  The valley walls were formed by relatively recent glaciation.  Evidence of this can be seen in the considerable glacial till and slide materials visible across the lake.  Around the lake you will see talus slopes, flat rock benches, cirques, hanging valleys, tarns, waterfalls and upland plateaus with bogs.  The wildlife that reside in the area include bobcats, cougars, coyotes, minks, wolverines, wolves, bears, deer, mountain goats and occasionally moose and grizzly bears.

Aerial View of Callaghan Lake

The hiking trails are minimal here due to the steepness and deep forest surrounding the lake.  From the main parking area some short trails extend in either direction.  The trails to the left go for just a few dozen metres before ending at the lake and river outflow.  The trail in the other direction(right if facing the lake from the parking area), takes you around the bottom of the lake and quickly fades into a bit of a bushwhacking route.  You can, if you are determined, follow this route around the right side of the lake to its top end and connect to the Cirque Lake trail.  The bushwhacking is not that bad and you can stay within sight of the lake the entire time.

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 Ablation Zone in Whistleraccumulation 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 with a steep and vertical wall of ice at the shores of Wedgemount Lake.  Today the glacier terminates a couple hundred metres above Wedgemount Lake.

  • Accumulation Zone: the area where snow accumulations exceeds melt, located above the firn line.  Snowfall accumulates Accumulation Zone in Whistlerfaster 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.  Around Whistler in the alpine you will find several distinct aiguilles.  Black Tusk in Garibaldi Provincial Park could be called an aiguille, however its long and prominent history has given it another descriptive term of "tusk".

  • Alpine Zone in WhistlerAlpine 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.

  • 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.

  • 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..Krummholz - Whistler Hiking Glossary

  • 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”.  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 Nunatuk - Whistler Hiking Glossaryaround Whistler.

  • 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 (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.  Old Man's Beard - Whistler Hiking GlossaryMoraine (ground): the rocky debris extending out from the terminus of a glacier.

  • Nunatuk: a rock projection protruding through permanent ice or snow.  Their distinct appearance in an otherwise barren landscape often makes them identifiable landmarks.  Nunatuks are usually crumbling masses of angular rock as they are subject to severe freeze/thaw periods.  There is a very prominent nunatuk near the glacier window of the Wedge Glacier.  The glacier has been retreating in the past few years, so this massive nunatuk marks the terminus of the glacier now.Post Holing - Whistler Hiking Glossary

  • 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.  A form of lichen, usnea can be found world-wide.  There are currently over 85 known species of usnea.
  • 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.  A common occurrence while hiking in and around Whistler in the spring and early summer months.  The alpine trails are often covered in snow well into June and some trails into July.  It is not unusual to see hikers in Whistler starting a trail in 25c weather in June with snowshoes strapped to their packs.  Post holing can be very frustrating and arduous.  The hard crust on top of the snow can sometimes support the weight of footsteps, however, often it is not, and one's foot will plunge deep into the snow.

  • Pressure Ridges: wavelike ridges that form on a glacier normally after a glacier has flowed over icefalls.  Pressure ridges are a beautiful and hostile looking Retreation Glacier - Whistler Hiking Glossaryfeature of glaciers that, when approached, become menacingly huge and dangerous.

  • Retreation Glacier: a deteriorating glacier; annual melt of entire glacier exceeds the flow of the ice.  Glaciers around Whistler and Garibaldi Provincial Park are retreation glaciers owing to the past few decades of warming temperatures.

  • 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.
  • 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.Tarn - Whistler Hiking Glossary

  • 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.  The word tarn originates from the Norse word tjorn which translates to English as pond.  In the United Kingdom, tarn is widely used to refer to any small lake or pond.  In British Columbia however, tarn is used specifically for small mountain lakes.  Around Whistler tarns number in the hundreds and many are so small and/or hidden as to remain unnamed.  Russet Lake in Garibaldi Provincial Park could be called a tarn, however its relatively large size dominates the area and the term lake seems more appropriate.  The nearby Adit Lakes are more accurately called tarns as they are small, shallow and sit in an alpine zone, buried in snow most of the year.Valley Glacier - Whistler Hiking Glossary

  • 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.

  • Valley Glacier: A glacier that resides and flows in a valley.  Many glaciers around Whistler and in Garibaldi Provincial Park are valley glaciers.  The Wedge Glacier above Wedgemount Lake flows down the valley from Wedge Mountain.  When you reach Panorama Ridge in Garibaldi Provincial Park, valley glaciers dominate the view along with the unnaturally brilliant Garibaldi Lake below.

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