March 23-26th, 2013.
With flexible jobs or a lack thereof and a forecast promising clear skies and stable powder, Christian Veenstra, Michal Rozworski and I headed to the Wedgemount Lake Hut in Garibaldi park with five days of food. The Wedgemount area is surrounded by the tallest peaks in Garibaldi Provincial Park, my favourite mountain playground. Guarded by a steep and densely forested approach trail, the hut is seldom visited in winter compared to most other huts in the Sea to Sky district. Michal and I had never before been to the area at any time of year.
We arrived at the trailhead and were skiing at some time after 10:30AM. The approach was quite bushy at first, and then steep and icy through the forest, until it came out into mellower subalpine terrain. We found bootpacking was much quicker than skining through the steepest, iciest sections. Arriving at the hut, at 1900m, with plenty of springtime daylight to spare, we decided to head up the Wedgemount Glacier, and around to the summit of Parkhurst to ski the Parkhurst Couloir. While crossing Wedgemount Lake, we heard a few whoomfs. Ascending the mellow slope just above the lake, Christian declared “WOAH! That is definitely the loudest whoomf I’ve ever heard!”
Not 30 seconds later, we were all stopped in our tracks by a shooting, resonating, cackling whoomf that was easily ten times louder than the previous one. A nervous laugh punctuated the silence that followed. I was pretty sure that despite being on a 10° slope, I was about to die. A quick snow profile revealed a horribly decomposing rain-crust 25cm down. The layer collapsed with one light tap. Still on safe, low angle slopes, we decided to climb a little higher in hopes that we’d soon be above the elevation of the rain crust. That indeed turned out to be the case as we climbed the Wedgemount Glacier and Parkhurst on a well-bonded snowpack.
Frightened of walking off the edge of a massive cornice, we spent a while probing around the top of Parkhurst (to make sure solid earth existed below us), looking for the entrance to the couloir. We then made a somewhat elaborate attempt to cut a chunk of cornice near the drop-in and send it down as our avalanche poodle. Much cutting with the rutschblock cord dislodged about 4kg of snow. About to volunteer myself as the avalanche poodle, Christian kicked the cornices and managed to break off an approximately human-sized chunk.
Right before I dropped in, Michal discovered that one of the pins on his La Sportiva tech bindings, that should normally fit into the tech fitting on his boot to make the binding bind, had come unpressed from the aluminum binding arm, and was missing. Through some miracle, he found the tiny pin in the powder. With the binding closed around his boot, the pin would stay in place. But, afraid to lose it – which would mean game over for our extended weekend – he would lock the toe-piece and side-slip anywhere he felt any risk of falling.
On that note, I skied down the couloir in glorious powder conditions and fading light, skiing as fast as my legs would allow. And it was good.
Christian followed, making groovy tele jump turn and making it look as good as it was. We waited for a while for Michal to appear, dejected, side-slipping down perfect boot-top 45° powder. Eventually he gave in and made some careful turns.
We spent all of the next morning trying to fix Michal’s binding. When all of our elaborate attempts to dismantle the hut and transform it into a rivet-flaring machine failed, Christian cut up a piece of his sardine can, punched a hole in it, and wired it around the toe pin. While closed around a ski boot, the pin would stay in. Now, the sardine can would keep the pin in place when the binding was open.
Since our fellow hut-mates had all headed for Mt Wedge, we reckoned we’d just follow their tracks that afternoon. Wedge, at 2892m (or 2903m, depending on who you believe) is the tallest in Garibaldi Park. But, the Wedgemount hut, being as high as it is, is only about 1000m vertical below it. So, it’s a pretty short trip to the summit. We left the hut shortly before a snowshoer on a daytrip, and he caught up to us as we lunched on the glacier. This was perhaps the fastest snowshoer I’ve ever seen or heard of, making it to the Wedge-Weart col on a day trip. Impressive.
Donning our skis after lunch, Michal discovered that one of the pins on his other binding toe piece had fallen out. That it would happen twice in two days, on different toe pieces makes me suspect that it is not a manufacturing defect so much as a design flaw in the La Sportiva RT Tech bindings. Having heard of another friend’s woes with Plum bindings, I will continue to carefully avoid aluminum tech bindings. My Dynafit TLT Speeds are wisely designed, at a relatively small weight penalty, with steel in all the parts that matter. Somehow Michal found the missing pin in the powder. With our mastered repair method, and some pre-cut sardine cans, we were our way again in minutes.
One ski group ahead of us boot-packed up the Wedge Couloir, and the other went for the west ridge. Boot-packing is generally not my preferred style (“there is no such thing as a boot-packing short-cut”), generally preferring to skin or do real climbing if I take my skis off, but with a stair case kicked into the Wedge Couloir, it was undeniably the fastest way up. We owe a thanks to the guys who spent several hours breaking that trail so that we could climb it in a few minutes.
Once on the summit ridge, we marveled at one of the most suicidal skin tracks I’ve ever seen. Whoever first broke trail decided that the views from 3m back from the edge of the huge cornice above the north face were worth the inherent risks of travelling on snow suspended above thin air. Amazingly, the next five people to follow decided that seemed like reasonable decision-making. The team of four also descended back along their skin trap after having a clear summit view of the massive cornice and terminal cliffs below. We broke a new trail 20m further away, along dead-easy terrain, with entirely satisfactory views. The next day as we climbed to the Wedge-Weart col, we saw a huge amount of that cornice in a heap on the Wedgemount Glacier, 500m below the skin-track.
We tore our skins off right on the tip of the summit. The first pair ahead of us skied down the north face, just to skier’s left of the NE arete, confirming my prior suspicion that this would be a cool line. We traversed into the line below a menacing cornice, moving fast when we didn’t have a good hiding spot. The snow varied from great to stellar at the top, and became pure stellar lower down. The bergschrund appeared below me just as the snow became perfect and I let my speed pick up. The huck was a cherry on top.
From some point on the glacier we put our skins back on, climbed back up to a high-point along the NE Arete of Wedge, and skied down another narrow couloir. The bottleneck, where I broke off and nearly took a ride on a small wind feature, gave way to knee deep powder on the apron. To escape, Christian and I aired off a natural serac jump while Michal took photos. We hooted and hollered as we gang skied down the mellow glacier, back to the hut.
Monday dawned blue-bird, and with preemptive sardine/wire wraps around all four of Michal’s toe pins, we were able to get an early start. Hoping to ski some of the more striking lines on Weart and The Owls, we made our way from the Wedge-Weart col, toward the south summit of Weart. Some technical, very exposed skinning got us up the southeast ridge without taking our skis off. But, from the top, we discovered that traversing to the slightly lower central summit would involve several pitches of technical double-cornice-gargoyle climbing. As we faffed on the summit, with me on belay, trying to see a way along the ridge, clouds rolled in below us. Finally we accepted that we would not make it to the north facing slopes off of Weart and The Owls, and skied back down sun-backed southeast ridge.
We dropped into the cloud and into the basin east of Weart, finding wonderful snow in shaded areas. We soon discovered that the looming cloud was only a thin layer, and dappled sunlight still filtered onto the expansive flats of the Weart Glacier. While browsing on Google Earth before the trip I had spotted an improbable couloir off the northwest side of Eureka. It seemed absurdly steep from the satellite imagery, and seemed blocked at the top, so I had referred to it as the Eureka Impossible Couloir. From the Weart Glacier, however, it was an obvious, aesthetic ski line that looked skiable from the top. We made this our new mission.
Gentler slopes up Eureka’s north bowl led to more challenging skinning on the northeast ridge of Eureka. Earlier, we hadn’t expected to be able to get to the summit from this side, but from the ridge it seemed at least possible. We removed our skis about fifty meters below the summit and, with delicate wallowing technique, swam up the steep sugar to the summit. Having forgotten my ice axe at the hut that morning, I pulled on my shovel handle for traction. Falling into the mountain seemed a greater risk than falling off the mountain as several moats tried to swallow us. One low peak stood out from the summit panorama; from five and a half kilometers away, Uke’s summit cornice dominated the scenery. Later calculations estimate that the horizontal overhang of this monster reaches 14 meters off the summit!
Further east, James Turner’s north face loomed over the Needle Glacier. Remote and alluring ski lines kept our attention in the aging afternoon light. Despite our relative proximity to Whistler, we were past some threshold where it felt truly remote.
The downclimb proved easier than expected, and with a quick traverse and a short boot-pack, we gained the top of the couloir on the northwest ridge. The drop in was guarded by a couple landsharks that seemed really awkward to straightline between, so I was reduced to side-stepping over the rocks on the first couple metres. From there, wonderful 45° powder led down for about 400m. I skied the whole thing in one go, as there was no obvious place to stop. I was perhaps a bit bold in this, as my sluff got a bit unruly at times, and threatened to knock me off my feet when I couldn’t stay in front of it. Christian followed behind, successfully making telemark turns the whole way down. Michal’s bandaged bindings were creaking menacingly at him, so he took his time.
A search the vast interwebs has turned up no evidence of this couloir ever being skied before. Though short and straight-forward, the setting of the Eureka couloir and the views from travel on the Weart Glacier are memorable.
The sun went down and a bright moon came up as we reached the Wedge-Weart col after an enlightening skin across the flats. Another wonderful run down the Wedgemount Glacier brought us back to the lake and the hut, where we could finally relieve our severe dehydration.
The next morning’s weather brought even more cloud than the day before. Nevertheless, we made our way up Mt Cook in hopes of a new access route to the north side of Weart and the Owls. We reached the summit in a white-out after a few hours. A phone call to Knut didn’t improve our optimism in the weather. So, satisfied with several classic lines, five summits, and a fantastic introduction to the Wedgemount area, we skied back down the hut, packed up our gear and headed down the bushy trail with an extra day of food in our packs. We’ll save the food for more sunshine. I have no doubt I could keep myself entertained in the Wedgemount area for several more days.
All rights reserved. All photos by Skyler Des Roches unless otherwise credited.