We left town at 6:00 a.m., bound for the Wedgemont Lake Trailhead, which is about 15 kilometers north of Whistler Village and about 5 hours north of Seattle. Normally a popular trail in summer, with two parking lots and overflow parking along the shoulder, we had the place to ourselves when we arrived in early May.
A short but steep hike leads to Wedgemont Lake (8 miles and 4,000 feet of elevation gain round-trip). My brother and I planned to set up a base camp at the lake and get a 1:00 a.m. alpine start the next morning to tackle Wedge Mountain (another few horizontal miles and 3,000 vertical feet).
During the summer, most people can hike up to the Wedgemont Lake in 1.5 to 2.5 hours, depending on the size of their pack. May, however, is not a summer month.
The trail started with a scramble down and up a creek gully, but then we had dry ground beneath us for the next mile. We walked through the forest with only one opening in the trees where we could see the surrounding mountainside.
A mile or so into the hike, we encountered snow. We knew we’d face spring conditions, so we came prepared snowshoes and ski poles.
We followed boot prints and glint markers through woods.
Four thousand feet of elevation gain in four miles was exhausting, especially with full backpacks and wet snow. Even with snowshoes, we slipped or postholed continually, and our boots filled up with snow.
When we broke out of the trees, we saw British Columbia’s mountains all around us.
The last push to the lake sent us up a steep slope (35–40-degrees?). Each step sunk deep into the snow, and we had to rest every dozen yards. (This photo shows the approach to the steep section, where the slope is less than 10 degrees.)
Wedgemont Lake has an elevation of 6,106 feet. Our ultimate goal, Wedge Mountain, has an elevation of 9,488 feet and is the high point of Garibaldi Provincial Park.
Our hike to Wedgemont Lake took four hours.
In summer months when the parking lots fill up, dayhikers, campers, climbers, and mountaineers swarm Wedgemont Lake. British Columbia’s Parks Service maintains bear wires, tent platforms, an outhouse, and a hut.
The BC Mountaineering Club built this hut at Wedgemont Lake in 1970. They later donated it to Garibaldi Provincial Park, and now anyone can use it, free of charge.
Although campers have to reserve a spot at Wedgemont Lake, individual tent platforms and spots in the hut are first-come, first-serve. Twenty tent platforms dot the area around Wedgemont Lake, but in early May, all but two were completely hidden by snow.
The hut has two tables and a loft. The metal walls absorb heat, so the loft was warm enough that I slept without a sleeping bag for most of the night, although “slept” overstates things. We climbed into the loft around 7 p.m. and dozed off and on in the bright, too-warm hut before my alarm woke us up at 1:00 a.m.
The soft, slippery snow we faced yesterday had frozen overnight, but the spring conditions hadn’t yet condensed into a solid enough layer. Our snowshoes cracked the frozen crust and sunk into the snow. As we ascended the glacier, the snow became more and more powdery until we lost all traction. Even a gradual, switchbacking route up the mountain ended being a purely horizontal traverse; each step slid downhill and erased any vertical progress.
We turned back around 3:45 a.m. in the moonless morning and returned to the hut for a few more hours of sleep. We passed two backcountry skiers and one dayhiker on our descent.
Once called “a modern-day Jack Kerouac” by NPR after he hitchhiked 7,000 miles through the United States, Josh deLacy has since found homes in the Pacific Northwest, the Episcopal Church, and the post calvin. He is the managing director of Branded Look LLC and communications director at St. Luke’s Church. Josh’s writing has appeared in places such as The Emerson Review, Front Porch Review, and Perspectives.