The Wedgemount area near Whistler is one of the most popular access points to get into Garibaldi Provincial Park. A steep trail provides access to a small hut and camping area in the alpine next to Wedgemount Lake with the Wedge Glacier spilling off the highest peak and calving into the far side of the lake. Most of the hikers who come to the area turn back after reaching the lake but a few continue on, climbing, scrambling, or skiing on the peaks that surround the area. The beauty of the lake and valley are heightened by the dramatic relief of the five peaks that surround it, hemming it in on three sides. They form a mountain horseshoe going clockwise called Mt Cook, Mt Weart, Mt Wedge, Mt Parkhurst, and Mt. Rethel.
While I’m generally pretty keen to climb or run just about any type of route, I do have a preference for those that are particularly aesthetic. Preferably loops, with a majority of time in the alpine, with a large percentage of time spent on technical terrain, these all increase the aesthetics. The Spearhead Traverse from Blackcomb to Whistler is a good example. The standard route on Sky Pilot is an example of a less aesthetic route: out-and-back, mostly on old road bed below treeline, very little quality scrambling (however don’t get me wrong, I love running up Sky Pilot – it’s one of my most frequent runs!).
The five peaks that surround Wedgemount Lake present a very enticing route. Over a total of 25km and ~3300m of elevation gain (and descent), you actually spend about 18km above treeline. A good chunk of this is on the ridge crest with some amazing scrambling. On the map, it’s a lollipop with barely an imperfection.
In July of 2014, Nick and I had our eyes on the route and gave it a go. We made it over the majority, including all the technical sections but endless scree off of Wedge broke our (mostly my) spirit and we descended from the Wedge-Parkhurst Col with 3 of the 5 peaks complete.
Fresh off my skimo season in Europe, I was feeling pretty fit and mentally prepared for another attempt. Additionally the summer was shaping up to be an incredibly warm and dry one. The snow pack was much lower than the previous year. Nick was away at the Mt. Marathon race in Alaska (doing amazing) but the conditions lined up and I looked to Matt Hall to join me. He’s a very solid ultra runner, training for long races but also a climber who is into the mountain side of things. I figured he would be well suited to taking on the traverse and he was pretty easy to convince – within a few text messages I got the “I’m in”.
We had a rather un-alpine start from Squamish and were off from the trailhead around 8:00am knowing that regardless of what we did, we would certainly spend the heat of the day under the full force of the sun. The Wedgemount Trail passed uneventfully. Cruising up to Mt. Cook, we generally avoided each other to minimize the risk of sending surfboard sized rocks tumbling down. The summit is rather unimpressive and really doesn’t deserve a visit other than as a quick side trip on the way to something else. From here, we descended to the Cook-Weart Col to gain the NW Ridge of Weart. In 2014, this was the crux of the route for me as we didn’t know for sure that it would get us to the summit and has some quite exposed sections. It’s a pretty good example of true 4th class scrambling in a wild spot. This time around however, I wasn’t worried about if it would go, and could enjoy the scrambling. Arriving at the summit of Weart, we stopped for some food and to sign the log book. I found Nick and my entry from almost exactly a year earlier and noted that we were actually ahead of schedule!
Descending Weart on the standard Scrambles in BC route was more scree surfing. We continued along the ridge between Weart and Wedge until arriving at the Wedge-Weart Col where we were able to refill our water bottles from snow melt and join the climbing route for the classic NE Arete of Wedge. It’s abundantly clear why this is such a classic route. You get glacier travel, then a perfect snow ridge with a knife edge that is technically quite easy with dramatic exposure on either side and then arrive at the summit of the biggest peak in the area. We popped crampons over our running shoes and cruised up the mushy snow to the summit. Again, ahead of schedule, we started down the soul crushing W Ridge of Wedge.
I would never recommend this route to anyone unless on skis and think it should be stricken from the guidebook. A perfect combination of slope angle and scree size make it a slow process to descend without sending huge rock slides downslope. Matt was starting to get frustrated and we lost time struggling up to the Wedge-Parkhurst Col. Here I could see Matt was suffering. I was leaning towards pulling the plug but he wasn’t quite ready. Parkhurst didn’t seem too far away so we plugged on. We tagged the summit and jogged down to the Parkhurst-Rethel Col where Matt sat down and said he was finished. Despite my protests, he insisted that I go tag Rethel to complete the circuit while he waited there. I wasn’t too keen on splitting up and it seemed like it might be a bit of a fight to get back down to the car but Matt was having none of it.
I ran up and back down Rethel as quick as I could. There’s actually some fun scrambling here if you pick the correct route. When I got back to the Col, we descended the nasty melted out slopes below to Wedgemount Lake together. We had to detour around the South side of the lake and then cross the outflow – cold in bare feet – to return to the Wedgemount Lake Trail.
From here it was just one foot in front of the other to get back down the trail to the car. We made it just under 12hrs car to car and made a bee-line back to Squamish where Andrea kindly had a big dinner waiting. I haven’t found any record of the traverse being done in a day so I think it’s safe to call this an FKT.
- Salomon X-Alp Boots
- Grivel Alu Crampons
- CAMP Corsa Alu Axe
- Ultimate Direction Vest
- Dynafit Shorts, Shirt, Sleeves, Wind Jacket, Buff
- Suunto Ambit2 GPS Watch
Movescount GPS Data: Here