Glossary of Hiking Terms C to Z Sea to Sky Hiking Trails
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 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 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: 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.
Couloir: a narrow gully often hemmed in by sheer cliff walls. From the French word meaning passage or corridor. Often a couloir is a fissure or vertical crevasse in a mountain. Couloirs are often partially filled with scree and when covered in snow form a dramatically beautiful, near vertical channel in mountains. Couloirs are well loved by extreme skiers and snowboarders and feature in most extreme skiing/snowboarding movies.
Crevasse: is a split or crack in the glacier surface, often with near vertical walls. Crevasses form out of the constant movement of a glacier over irregular terrain. Crevasses are both revered for their dramatic beauty and feared for their inherent danger. Crevasses are often dozens of metres deep and less than a metre wide. The fear of slipping into one of these ever-narrowing chasms is well founded. When learning about safe glacier travel and roping techniques, extracting someone from a crevasse is a huge part of the training. Crevasses are sometimes hidden by recent snow and thus instantly plunging through a a snow bridge is a constant worry during glacier travel.
Cross-ditch: a ditch that carries water from one side of a road to the other, deeper than a waterbar. Though useful in directing water across roads, natural cross-ditches form on logging roads and can become so deep as to become serious obstacles to vehicles.
Culvert: a device used to channel water under a road or embankment. Many hiking trails in BC have culverts to direct water under, rather than over hiking trails to prevent erosion.
Diagonal Crevasses: form at an angle to the flow of a glacier. These are normally found along the edges where a glacier ends.
Drumlin: a ridge or hill formed from glacial debris. From the Gaelic “ridge”. Large drumlins often mark the final edges or border of a glaciers path. Drumlin's are generally about 1 to 2 kilometres long and between 100 and 500 metres wide. Most drumlins are less than 50 metres high.
Erratic or Glacier Erratic: is a piece of rock that has been carried by glacial ice, often hundreds of kilometres. Characteristic of their massive size and improbable looking placement. Erratics are frequently seen around Whistler and Garibaldi Provincial Park. Either as bizarre curiosities or a place to relax in the sun. On a sunny day, a large sun-facing erratic will often be warm and sometimes even hot, providing a comfortable and surreal place to rest.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pressure Ridges: wavelike ridges that form on a glacier normally after a glacier has flowed over icefalls. Pressure ridges are a beautiful and hostile looking feature of glaciers that, when approached, become menacingly huge and dangerous.
Pyramidal Peak: a mountaintop that has been carved by glaciation into a distinct, sharp horn-like shape. The Matterhorn in the Alps is a well know example of this striking phenomenon.
Retreation Glacier: a deteriorating glacier; annual melt of entire glacier exceeds the flow of the ice. Glaciers around Whistler and Garibaldi Provincial Park are retreation glaciers owing to the past few decades of warming temperatures.
Scree: from the Norse “skridha”, landslide. The small, loose stones covering a slope. Also called talus, the French word for slope. Scree is mainly formed from the annual freeze/thaw periods of spring and fall, where water seeps into cracks in the rock and expands when freezing.
Seracs: large pinnacles or columns of ice that are normally found in icefalls or on hanging glaciers.
Snow Bridge: a structure of snow that fills in an opening such as a crevasse or a creek. Often formed by a snow drift which begins as a cornice and grows into a snow bridge. In the summer, what was a small creek crossing, in the winter will be an often precarious snow bridge. Though, not terribly dangerous, this often encountered type may drop you in an instant, thigh deep in freezing creek, and armpit deep in snow.
Surging Glacier: annual flow of the ice exceeds the melt; the movement is measurable over a period of time.
Talus: a sloping jumble of boulders at the base of a cliff.
Tarn: a small alpine lake. The word tarn originates from the Norse word tjorn which translates to English as pond. In the United Kingdom, tarn is widely used to refer to any small lake or pond. In British Columbia however, tarn is used specifically for small mountain lakes. Around Whistler tarns number in the hundreds and many are so small and/or hidden as to remain unnamed. Russet Lake in Garibaldi Provincial Park could be called a tarn, however its relatively large size dominates the area and the term lake seems more appropriate. The nearby Adit Lakes are more accurately called tarns as they are small, shallow and sit in an alpine zone, buried in snow most of the year.
Traverse: crossing a slope at the same elevation.
Valley Glacier: A glacier that resides and flows in a valley. Many glaciers around Whistler and in Garibaldi Provincial Park are valley glaciers. The Wedge Glacier above Wedgemount Lake flows down the valley from Wedge Mountain. When you reach Panorama Ridge in Garibaldi Provincial Park, valley glaciers dominate the view along with the unnaturally brilliant Garibaldi Lake below.
Waterbar: a ditch that carries water from one side of a road to the other.