Cirque or Cirque Lake Sea to Sky 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 is a wonderful example of a cirque lake. Cirque Glacier: formed in bowl-shaped depressions on the side of mountains.
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 Squamish Hiking Trails
Ablation 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 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 way 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.
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.
Arête: a thin ridge of rock formed by two glaciers parallel to each other. Sometimes formed from two cirques meeting. From the French for edge or ridge. Around Whistler and in Garibaldi Provincial Park you will see dozens of excellent examples. Below Russet Lake in Whistler, the glacier at the bottom of the valley, below the lake has a wonderful example of an arête. The far side of Mount Price, near Garibaldi Lake also has an enormous arête. The Wedge-Weart Col beyond Wedgemount Lake is a prominent arête to the summit of Wedge Mountain.
Backshore: the area of the shoreline acted upon by waves only during severe storms. The West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island runs for much of its 77 kilometre length along a very distinct backshore route. Often visible are signs of winter storms that have recently dislodged enormous trees from the rugged coastline. A backshore can range from as little as a few centimetres high to hundreds of metres high. The backshore route along the West Coast Trail is often as subtle as a sandy beach edged by a slightly higher border of grass and forest. Other areas of the trail the backshore is a vertical, solid rock cliff with crashing waves cutting into it far below.
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 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.