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Cirque - Victoria Hiking Terms

Cirque or Cirque Lake                                             Victoria 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

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.

Cirque Lake in Whistler

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.

Aerial Video of Callaghan Lake Island Campsite

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.

Aerial Video of Callaghan Lake

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                                       Victoria Hiking Trails

  • Ablation Zone - Victoria 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 - Victoria Hiking TermsAccumulation Zone: the area where snow accumulations exceeds melt, located above the firn line.  Snowfall accumulates faster 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 Aiguille - Victoria Hiking Glossaryway 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".  You will find aiguilles on many hikes in British Columbia.

  • Bar: 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 - Victoria Hiking TermsBarrier 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 Garibaldi 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 - Victoria 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.

  • Bergschrund - Victoria 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 - Victoria 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.

  • Buttress - Victoria 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.

  • Cairns and Inuksuks: a pile of rocks used to indicate a route or a summit.  The word cairn originates from the Scottish Cairn - Victoria Hiking TermsGaelic 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 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 Chimney - Victoria Hiking Termsfrom 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.

  • 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, which is very difficult terrain requiring ropes.   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.  Class 4 Terrain is one grade easier than class 5 terrain.  Class 4 terrain is defined as very steep terrain which rope Col - Victoria Hiking Termsbelays 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 requires climbing a short section of class 4 terrain to reach the summit.

  • Col: a ridge between two higher peaks, a mountain pass or saddle.  More specifically is the lowest point on a mountain ridge between two peaks.  Sometimes called a saddle or notch.  The Wedge-Weart Col is a popular destination at the summit of the Wedge Glacier in Garibaldi Park.

  • Cornice - Victoria Hiking TermsCornice: a wind deposited wave of snow on a ridge, often overhanging a steep slope or cliff.  They are the result of snow building up on the crest of a mountain.  Cornices are extremely dangerous to travel on or below.  A common refrain of climbers is that if you can see the drop-off of a cornice, you are too close to the edge.  Cornices are dangerous for several reasons.  They can collapse from hiking across or they can collapse from above.  A third danger to consider is the fact that they can often trigger a massive avalanche that extends a considerable distance from its starting point.

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