On the first weekend in June, 2013 myself, Spring and our friend Ben decided to try a classic Alpine Mountaineering route in Garibaldi Provincial Park called the North East Arête of Wedge Mountain.
Myself and Spring had been to this peak before. Two years previously we had reached the summit of Wedge Mountain as a day trip that took us over 15 hours and required thousands of meters of elevation change. Back then we were still pretty green in our Mountaineering abilities so we didn’t even consider the NE Arête as an option to reach the summit so we took the West Ridge, which is considerably less classic as an ascent route due to it being a long, tedious slope of loose scree, talus and general Type 3 fun.
Still, on that trip I took the following picture, possibly my favorite picture of all time so Wedge Mountain has a special place in my heart.
We planned a revisit with Ben to attempt a more aesthetic route, but this time we’d do it in a more Mountaineering style by splitting the trip over 2 days, and getting an early alpine start from a base camp near the foot of the peak.
We set up our tent at Wedgemount Lake and introduced ourselves to some other parties staying in the modest shelter nearby who had intentions to climb the North East Arête also the following morning.
We had dinner lazily and turned in early for the coming alpine start which would have us up and ready well before sunrise.
The next morning we awoke, and after getting some calories and caffeine into us we were off. We moved briskly but immediately I noticed something different to this start than other alpine starts I had done before. It was no later than 4am but it was warm out and the snow underfoot did not have the satisfying crunch that I expected. Usually, snow in the alpine in the Spring softens up through the day and then hardens up again overnight as the temperatures drop. This snow had clearly not gone through this cycle as there had been no winds overnight and the freezing level had stayed high. It was a bad sign about conditions we might face higher on the mountain but we pressed on. There was still the chance that conditions higher up on the mountain might improve as it was less sheltered from the wind and more likely to be within the freezing level.
Shortly thereafter we met up with the other parties that had started earlier than us as we roped up for glacier travel. We would need to ascend a short ways up a glacier before gaining the ridge crest that is known as the start of the NE Arête route.
The going was slow on the glacier. Conditions were not improving and those breaking trail where sinking in up to their knees in places. A delicately thin crust had formed on the surface of the glacier, which was thick enough that you couldn’t kick through it, but when you’d lift your weight off your other foot it would break causing you to sink. I can’t describe how tiring this process is and we were thankful to be with other parties stronger than us who were breaking trail for us.
One member of the trail breaking party started getting leg cramps early on. We did not know his name so referred to him as “crampy” as he would mention the cramps quite frequently but never seemed to slow down or fall behind others breaking.
There was some debate about whether ascending to gain the start of the route was even worthwhile given the snow conditions. I pushed for continuing on to get a look at the route up close. It’s hard to predict snow conditions when you aren’t directly touching it.
We trudged on and eventually gained the crest of the ridge and got our first view of the route ahead. Wow! Of all the routes I’ve seen in the mountains this ranks up there as the most beautiful. I understood then why Mountaineers refer to the aesthetic of a line up a mountain.
The NE Arête is a serpentine knife-edge crest that you can follow with your eyes to the wedge shaped and aptly named summit.
You could feel the stoke in everyone lifting. Crampy and his partner, along with another team they were with blazed off ahead down the ridge. Snow conditions had not really improved much though and it was now a lot later in the day than we had expected. The east side of the ridge crest had been baking in the morning sun for a few hours now and the snow was turning to slush. We watched as Crampy stopped on a fairly precarious section of the ridge before starting to retreat back towards us. His cramps had finally gotten the better of him and he did not wish to continue. There wasn’t really passing room so everyone behind him had to retreat also to get to a point that he could pass safely.
The conditions of the snow, the time of the day and now this traffic jam on the ridge sealed the deal. We wouldn’t be progressing further than that point. I did however capture a shot of Wedge Mountain that has instantly become another one of my favorites, the portrait B&W shot of Wedge above showing the full NE Arête route.
We reversed our route, broke camp after a quick siesta and headed out. As my friend Ben said “I prefer to think of this trip as a summit deferred” which I agree with. We never really got to attempt the Arête itself, and, personally, I’d much rather complete it under true spring conditions to fully appreciate it. There’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll be back on this mountain again in the future. Immediately after getting in the car and leaving the dusty trail head behind we were already plotting our return.