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Firn - Wedgemount Glacier

Firn and Firn Line                                Glossary of Hiking Terms


Firn(also called neve): 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.

Firn - Wedgemount Glacier

Wedgemount Lake and the amazing Wedgemount Glacier(pictured below) is zigzagged with bergschrund.

Aerial Video of Wedge Glacier Bergschrund

Extending from Wedge Mountain to Wedgemount Lake, the Wedge Glacier flows down the valley.  Extensively lined with schrund, the Wedge Glacier is a great place to see bergschrund up close in Whistler.  Overlord Glacier is another amazing glacier that can be hiked to in Whistler.  Click the image below to see an aerial video of Overlord Glacier as well as Adit Lakes, The Fissile and Russet Lake.

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.  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


  • 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.  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.

  • 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.  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. 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.

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

Meager Slide Aerial Video - Whistler TrailsMadeley Lake Aerial Video - Whistler TrailsTofino Aerial Video of Grice Bay

Joffre Lakes Aerial Video - Whistler TrailsAncient Cedars Aerial Video - Whistler TrailsBrandywine Falls Aerial Video - Whistler Trails

Whistler Trails Guide and Map

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Garibaldi Provincial ParkTop 10 Whistler - No Car, No ProblemWhistler Hiking - Black Tusk