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Recommended This Week

Alpine Zone - Sea to Sky Trails

Alpine Zone                                                             Sea to Sky 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 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 British Columbia are Wedgemount Lake, Blackcomb Mountain, Whistler Mountain, Black Tusk and Callaghan Lake.

Alpine Zone Aerial Video

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 View 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.

Alpine Zone - Sproatt Alpine Trail

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 - Sea to Sky Trails

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                                    Squamish Hiking Trails

Bivouac - Squamish 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 on the Flank Trail

The image above is bivouacking along the Flank Trail in the Winter.  The image below is of Bivouac Island, Callaghan Lake.  More free places to bivouac in and around Whistler, click here.

Bivouac Island - Callaghan Lake

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 Cairns and Inuksuks - Squamish Hiking Termsrocks.  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 from 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.

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 Highpointing - Squamish Hiking Termsstates.  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.

Highpointing Aerial Video

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. Hoary Marmot - Squamish Hiking TermsAnd 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 - Squamish Hiking TermsIcefalls: 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.

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