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Drumlin - Glossary of Whistler Hiking Terms

Drumlin                                                  Glossary of Hiking Terms


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.  Click the image below to see an aerial video of the drumlin flanking the Overlord Glacier near Russet Lake in Garibaldi Provincial Park.

Drumlin Aerial Video

Russet Lake is a fantastic alpine lake that lays at the base of the Fissile.  The Fissile is the strikingly bronze coloured mountain so visible from Whistler Village.  From the Village look into the distance at the Peak to Peak hanging between Whistler and Blackcomb and you will see the Fissile.  Its pyramid shape in the distance perfectly separates the two mountains.

Russet Lake in Garibaldi Provincial Park - Whistler Aerial Views

Though Russet Lake is not terribly impressive in terms of size or colour, the valley around it is remarkably beautiful.  The colours change from moment to moment in and extraordinary way.  The distinctive colour of the Fissile and the stark grey of the mountains around contrast amazingly with the blue of the lake and green grass in the valley.  So many different factors fill the place with colour.

Glossary of Hiking Terms                          Whistler Hiking Trails


  • 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.

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

  • 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 crevass 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.

  • 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 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.
  • 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 - Whistler Hiking Glossary

  • Highpointing: the sport of hiking to as many high points(mountain peaks) 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. 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.

  • 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 Krummholz - Whistler Hiking Glossarygradient 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.

Alpha Lake Aerial VideoPanorama Ridge Aerial Video - Whistler TrailsRusset Lake Aerial Video

Wedgemount Lake Aerial VideoWedgemount Lake Aerial Video - Whistler TrailsMadeley Lake Aerial Video - Whistler Trails

Whistler Trails Guide and Map

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