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Best Trails This Week

Cairn - Whistler Hiking Glossary

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Cairns & Inuksuks(aka Inukshuk)      Glossary of Hiking Terms

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.

Inuksuk at the Summit of Whistler Mountain

Below is a simple rock cairn and rock barrier for a bivouac next to Russet Lake in Garibaldi Provincial Park in Whistler.

Cairn and Bivouac at Russet Lake

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.

Aerial View of Adit Lakes - Cairns

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.

Russet Lake in Garibaldi Provincial Park - Whistler Aerial Views

There is a considerable amount of exploring available in the valley around Russet Lake.  The fissile is a difficult but very feasible hike from Russet Lake.  Below Russet Lake is a very accessible glacier as well as a bonanza of glacier formed landscape features, inviting hours of interesting exploration.  Above Russet Lake there is a beautiful snow covered ridge that commands incredible views all around and if you have the energy makes for a spectacular tent site.

Russet Lake Aerial Views

Glossary of Hiking Terms                          Whistler Hiking Trails

  • 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..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.

  • 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 Post Holing - Whistler Hiking Glossarylichen, usnea can be found world-wide.  There are currently over 85 known species of usnea.
  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Traverse: crossing a slope at the same elevation.

  • 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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