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Alpine Zone or Tundra - Vancouver Terms

Alpine Zone or Alpine Tundra                           Vancouver Hiking Terms

Alpine 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.  Click the image below to see an aerial video of the incredible alpine zone around Russet Lake in Garibaldi Provincial Park.

Alpine Zone - Vancouver Hiking Terms

Click the image below to see and aerial video of the beautiful alpine zone that encompasses Wedgemount Lake.  Located within sight of Whistler Village, Wedge Mountain is the highest mountain in Garibaldi Provincial Park.  Just a relatively short, 7 kilometre hike takes you to this mountain paradise of impossibly turquoise water and jagged mountain peaks all around.  The shortness of the hike to Wedgemount Lake lulls hikers into thinking it is an easy trail.  The elevation gain, however is a staggering 1220 metres in this short distance.  If you are very fit and unburdened with a heavy backpack, you may get to the lake in 1.5 hours.  If you are carrying gear, however, you can easily double this time.

Aerial Video of Wedgemount Lake

The Wedgemount Lake trail is easy to follow and well marked, but it follows a constant and unrelenting, steep ascent to the end.  If you pack light, you will often pass a few hikers who didn't.  The tough trail makes arriving at this paradise in the mountains very rewarding and shows you a great example of an alpine zone in Whistler.  Another beautiful alpine paradise in Whistler is Mount Sproatt.  The recently built Sproatt Alpine Trail stretches from one side of Mount Sproatt to the other.

Sproatt Alpine Trail in Whistler

Mount Sproatt, or as it is known locally as simply "Sproatt", is one of the many towering mountains visible from Whistler Village.  Above and beyond Alta Lake, directly across from Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain.  Next time you walk through Whistler Village and cross the pedestrian bridge (with Village Gate Boulevard below you), you will see Mount Sproatt in the distance.  It is the rocky giant, abruptly steep on one end and gently sloping on the other.  At its summit you may be able to make out the small weather recording structure.

Sproatt Alpine Trail - Vancouver Hiking Terms

What you can't see from Whistler Village is the extraordinarily beautiful alpine paradise that lays beyond it.  Lakes and tarns everywhere you look.  Fields of alpine flowers and wonderfully mangled, yet strikingly beautiful forests of krummholz.  Hostile looking fields of boulders and absurdly placed erratics the size of RV's.  Beyond, of course, endless stunning view of distant, snowy mountains.

Glossary of Hiking Terms                                   Vancouver Hiking Trails

Ablation Zone - Vancouver Hiking TermsAblation Zone: the annual loss of snow and ice from a glacier as a result of melting, evaporation, iceberg calving, and sublimation which exceeds the accumulation 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 faster than melting, evaporation and Accumulation Zone - Vancouver Hiking Termssublimation 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

Bench - Vancouver Hiking TermsBench: 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.

Bench - Aerial Video - Vancouver Hiking

Bergschrund - Vancouver Hiking TermsBergschrund 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 measure 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 - Vancouver Hiking TermsBivouac 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 accurately 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.

Bivouac - Vancouver Hiking Terms

Bushwhack - Vancouver Hiking TermsBushwhack: 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 - Vancouver Hiking TermsButtress: 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.  ToCairns and Inuksuks - Vancouver Hiking be effective a cairn marking a trail has to just be noticeable 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(aka inukshuk) 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".

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