Wedge NE Arête Trip – Quick Stats
- Range – Coast Mountains
- Alpine Rating (IFAS) – AD-
- Summit Elevation – 2,892m
- Difficulty Notes – steep ascent to Wedgemont Lake, short sections of mixed climbing may be necessary to access the glacier and arête, exposed sections on the arête, steep final ascent to the summit.
- Park – at the Wedgemont Lake Trailhead, turn at the Garibaldi Provincial shortly after passing Whistler and Green Lake on Highway 99
- Nessessities – Ice axe, crampons
Wedge NE Arête Trip in Photos
Wedge NE Arête in Detail
After spending the night in Whistler, Dan, Anthony and I had a slow start, heading up to Wedgemont Lake around 9:30. We met with friends, Melissa and Tavis, who would only be joining us for the day, as they had not been to the lake before. We warned them that the lake would not look like the photos we frequently see featured on lists like “12 Hiking Trails That Will Take Your Breath Away” and “16 Astounding Backpacking Trips To Add to Your Bucket List”, among others. The usual muted turquoise would still be frozen solid, but they were optimistic the ice would have started to melt, while we hoped that it would not have, easing our crossing to the glacier.
After about an hour climbing the snow free trail, we came across hard packed, icy snow. Our snowshoes stayed strapped to our backs; we had grown tired of them through the season. The day was overcast, which worked to our advantage and we made good time up to the final chute before reaching the hut. The chute was the site of a few small avalanches, and with the hard snow pack it was a bit of a challenge to make our way up with some of our group using summer style hiking boots. Luckily those wearing mountaineering boot kicked steps up the slope and we arrived at the still very frozen lake.
We spent about an hour relaxing in and around the hut, snacking and reading the hut’s activity log. We were surprised to find that a small group had spend 8 days in the area, exploring and tobogganing, but apparently with no interest in the surrounding peaks.
We made our way down to the lake, where Melissa marveled at the fact that we were standing on ice (her first time) and then said our goodbyes. Dan, Anthony and I headed east towards the glacier, and Mel and Tavis went the opposite direction, heading for the parking lot.
We crossed the lake quickly, and were amazed at the incredible change in the glacier since we had last seen it, less than two years before. Even with the snowpack, it was evident that the glacier had withdrawn significantly, the foot morphing into a bench with the base surrounded by icefall.
We made our way up onto the glacier with relatively little difficulty, climbing up a steep section of rock and snow via a small wind-scoop around a small knoll on the west side of the glacier. Walking along side the ice it wasn’t long before we came across an area where the rock and snow seamlessly became one with the ice and we were on the glacier. With our leisurely pace, it was about 4pm, so we set up camp. We dug out a little spot on a small bump on the glacier, ate our food, including a special treat – s’mores (or what can acceptably pass as s’mores while in the back country… freeze dried of course). We bundled up and monitored the impending clouds rising from the valley from our cozy spots inside then tent until we were immersed in it. It was dark shortly after, and both Dan and I fell asleep immediately, while Anthony (the night owl) studied the map before turning in.
The next morning we woke around 4:30am and suited up. The boys often tease me that I’m the last out of the tent and need to be coaxed to get out of my sleeping bag. Determined to prove to them that I was up for the challenge, I jumped out of bed, was first out of the tent with gear on and ready to go. I waited to be congratulated…
We set off on our way, crossing the glacier and climbing to the Wedge – Weart col. The distance was foreshortened, and it took us much longer to cross than expected, probably in part because our legs weren’t as awake as the rest of us. We made it to the ridge just in time for a spectacular sunrise, but concern over the possibility of instability in the heat of the day kept us motivated and moving without pause. Dan and I climbed a small but steep gully in the rocks to the start of the arête and the crux of the trip. Anthony climbed to the col and negotiated a committing gap in the arête before rejoining Dan and me. We began traversing around an exposed little bump in the arête, with much of the snow melted out, making it challenging to feel secure on the mixed terrain. I was anxious about what lay ahead.
We continued along the ridge, surprisingly without much difficulty at all. The snow was deep, but not too deep, and I felt secure and alert. Dan led the entire arête. Dan is a speedy gonzalas who spends much of his time waiting for me. I can’t complain – Dan and I have a similar stride and it’s always a treat to follow in his footsteps. The views were spectacular, and the day was clear.
We reached the final ascent much faster than originally anticipated when we first began to find our way along the arête. Though the arête appears to be very narrow and steep in photographs, for the most part I found it to be just wide enough and just gentle enough that following the top was simple and less intimidating than the scenes that had caused me panic while researching the route would suggest. Quickly cresting the steep section, I stepped onto hard snow with unique features fashioned by a strong wind. Though I was hot from the sun and the adrenaline of the final push, I immediately became cold and took a short break to layer up before walking the final sloping 150 horizontal meters to the summit. From the point where we stood, there was only about 15 meters elevation gain to the peak, which was an easy stroll. It was just before 9am.
We each took a turn standing on the summit, made crisp, square, and small in the snow. We dug a hole just big enough for the three of us a few feet away so we could have some food while enjoying the summit in the sun and out of the wind.
For the descent, we chose to follow Matt Gunn’s scramble route down the SW slopes – big mistake. Between the wind and the warm weather, what wouldn’t have been an intimidating gradient in the summer truly became a slippery slope. Dan managed to glissade much of the way down, and ended up waiting on us for some time. Even with my crampons on, I was extremely nervous. Many rocks protruded sharply from the slick snow. Anthony took a fall that left him sore though thankfully uninjured. Sliding over 50 meters before he was able to self-arrest, he hit a few of the rocks. We realized the severity of our mistake and pondered it even after safely arriving at the southwest bowl where we walked north back to the glacier.
Anthony and Dan took a quick trip up Parkhurst, and I made my way back to camp by myself. At one point I looked up and could see one of the boys, but couldn’t tell who it was. I planned and anticipated my return to the tent, where I hoped to relax for a few minutes, and then start filling up water bottles. Eager to prove my abilities (since usually I don’t do any of the cooking), I lit the stove and started to work shortly after I sat down. Much to my surprise, almost immediately Dan shows up… proof that he is in fact much quicker than I am. Anthony didn’t get there long after… he is also much faster than me. Since neither of them had said anything about my awesome start that morning, I thought I’d mention it to them – turns out they hadn’t noticed, making me realize that I can spend a few extra minutes in bed without consequence.
We quenched our thirst, ate some food, and packed up. We made it back to the car in 3 hours, where we happily got changed and enjoyed a drink. We were soaked from the snow melting in the hot sun, and our knees and toes were sore. As per routine, we stopped at Mag’s 99 for a bite to eat on the way home.