Cirque or Cirque Lake Vancouver Hiking Terms
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 rays 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.
Cirque Lake in Whistler is accessible by a short canoe route across Callaghan Lake, then a very steep and challenging two kilometre hike. The trailhead to Cirque Lake is found at the far end of Callaghan Lake. The Callaghan Lake turnoff is 20km south of Whistler Village. From Whistler drive 20km towards Vancouver, then turn right at the sign for Whistler Olympic Park. Drive up the beautiful, winding road for about 8 minutes. The sign for Callaghan Lake will be just before Whistler Olympic Park, you will turn left, cross a bridge and drive a bumpy logging road for 8km.
To reach the very hidden trailhead to Cirque Lake, paddle your canoe towards the waterfall far off in the distance. Not until you are only 50 metres from the shore, nearest the sound of the now hidden waterfall, you will see a small clearing jutting out from the shore, this is the trailhead, despite it not looking like one. Pull your canoe up here and drag into the bushes. Only a few metres into shore you will notice an obvious trail. Callaghan Lake is a destination on its own. A beautiful alpine lake, well above the busy world around Whistler Village. Bring a canoe and paddle across the lake to find amazing rock cliffs and cute little islands.
Callaghan Lake Provincial Park is a relatively untouched wilderness of rugged mountainous terrain. The valley walls were formed by relatively recent glaciation. Evidence of this can be seen in the considerable glacial till and slide materials visible across the lake. Around the lake you will see talus slopes, flat rock benches, cirques, hanging valleys, tarns, waterfalls and upland plateaus with bogs. The wildlife that reside in the area include bobcats, cougars, coyotes, minks, wolverines, wolves, bears, deer, mountain goats and occasionally moose and grizzly bears.
The hiking trails are minimal here due to the steepness and deep forest surrounding the lake. From the main parking area some short trails extend in either direction. The trails to the left go for just a few dozen metres before ending at the lake and river outflow. The trail in the other direction(right if facing the lake from the parking area), takes you around the bottom of the lake and quickly fades into a bit of a bushwhacking route. You can, if you are determined, follow this route around the right side of the lake to its top end and connect to the Cirque Lake trail. The bushwhacking is not that bad and you can stay within sight of the lake the entire time.
Glossary of Hiking Terms Vancouver Hiking Trails
Firn: 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 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 Wedge 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 example, 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 environment. 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..
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 around 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. Moraine (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 lichen, usnea can be found world-wide. There are currently over 85 known species of usnea.
Piedmont Glacier: formed by one or more valley glaciers spreading out into a large area.
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.