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Class Rating System for Hiking and Climbing

Madeley Lake Aerial Video - Whistler TrailsWedgemount Lake Aerial Video - Whistler TrailsMeager Slide Aerial Video - Whistler Trails

Class Terrain Rating System                Glossary of Hiking Terms


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, very difficult terrain requiring ropes.

Class 1 Terrain: is defined as a well established trail with little or no steep sections.  Class 1 trails are easy to navigate and you would have difficulty getting lost or encountering problems such as dangerous falls or rock slides.  A class 1 trail in Whistler would range from the very easy Lost Lake trails in Whistler Village to the more adventurous Cheakamus Lake trail in Garibaldi Provincial Park.  Both trails are easy, relaxing, and pose few potential dangers and challenges.  The Garibaldi Lake trail(pictured below) is a good example of class 1 terrain.

Class 1 Terrain - Garibaldi Lake

Class 2 Terrain: is defined as terrain that may require basic routefinding skills over scree slopes and somewhat steep terrain where you may need your hands for balance or safety.  The last couple kilometres to Panorama Ridge in Garibaldi Park(pictured below) is considered class 2 terrain with the occasional short sections of class 3 terrain.

Class 2 Terrain - Panorama Ridge

Class 3 Terrain: is defined by steep terrain requiring the use of hand and foot holds, however, not steep enough to require ropes to navigate safely.  The final chimney to Black Tusk(pictured below) would be considered a difficult class 3 section, close to class 4 in difficulty.  The final section of the Wedgemount Lake trail in Whistler is a characteristic class 3 terrain.

Difficult Class 3 Terrain - Black Tusk

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(pictured below) requires climbing a short section of class 4 terrain to reach the summit.

Class 4 Terrain - The Lions West Lion Summit

Class 5 Terrain: technical climbing 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.  The vertical face of The Chief(pictured below) is an example of a class 5 terrain.

Class 5 Terrain - The Chief in Squamish

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.

  • 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.

Lost Lake Aerial Video - Whistler TrailsCallaghan Lake Aerial Video - Whistler TrailsBlackcomb Aerial Video - Whistler Trails

Whistler Trails Guide and Map

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