This a a tale of an unrelenting hike up… then an unrelenting hike down.
It’s been an abysmal year for me and long distance travelling – very unusual. So you know it’s sad when I view a 2 hour drive as long distance travelling! However, finally circumstances conspired to allow me to do an alpine hike this year. And of course, I make an immediate bee-line for one of the most difficult hikes in the Vancouver area…
A friend sent me a link of Vancouver hikes, and the banner of the webpage was a beautiful turquoise lake. So being one who sees a beautiful photo and then wants to see it with their own eyes, I immediately suggest we go and do that hike, the beautiful lake being Wedgemount Lake, its beautiful turquoise colour due to the rock flour from the glacier at the high end of the lake. Doesn’t matter that this hike has the steepest gradient of just about any hike in the area and I haven’t been doing a lot of strenuous field work this year – this is the hike I want to do! Luckily, my friend was game…
And so it was I found myself outside a coffee shop at an ungodly hour on Saturday, picking up my friend (after a purchasing a hot chocolate) and then in my car driving north to Whistler. The drive was a relatively quiet one, the traffic moderate and the road windy! We got to the turn off to Wedgemount Lake a little (*cough*) considerably ahead of the 2 hours and 20 minutes recommended on the website (possibly because they have upgraded the road since that was written??? Or… *cough*). As I turned off, my friend commented that he’d read that the gravel road was suitable only for 4WD vehicles. As I blew him off, I hiccuped inside, knowing the clearance on my Honda Civic is a lot lower than my previous cars as evidenced by the fact I keep hitting the front of the car on the curb when parking which I’ve never done before on any of my previous cars…
At first the gravel road was fine, and then it started to go uphill… and then we started to see cars abandoned on the roadside… Slightly worrying. And then we came to a hill which I fired up to… then the wheels began spinning and I could see these big pot holes! Groan. We were probably no more than a third of the way along the 2km track to the parking lot at the trail head. I reved up my car, tyres spinning and… but I’d paused too long to vet the trail ahead and with no 4WD, I wasn’t going forward again with out another run up. I figured I could have taken another stab at it and cruising up the left side of the road but one unexpected swivel or slide, and my car would get an awful dent! In the end, I rolled the car back down and reversed it into the next available space off to the side of the road behind all the other abandoned cars.
10 minutes later we were kitted out and hiking up the gravel road to the car park. As we hiked, a slew of 4WD expensive SUV’s passed, choked to the gills with Asians. Uh oh, looked like the quiet difficult hike we had planned on taking was going to be fraught with battling through a large contingent of some Asian outdoor club. Or two. Or three…?
When we got to the parking lot, it was crowded with a thick throng of ever-increasing Asians, all kitted out in expensive backpacks, gaiters, walking sticks, water bottles, radios, ipods, carabina’s, whistles, Arcteryx rain jackets, bear spray and just about anything else you might need(?!) for an arduous hike. The noise was awful!
After a small detour, we forged ahead, only to be overtaken quickly by some very game mountain bikers… I was damn impressed they were going to try to cycle up this reportedly steep climb. However, when we rounded a corner, they had pulled over and had a couple of maps out and were trying to work out where they had gone wrong – apparently Wedgemount Lake was not their destination and they had taken a short cut….
We had barely been hiking along the (what we were to learn was the ‘flat’ bit) trail, before we could hear this ever ascending volume of noise behind us. The Asian outdoor club was on the march. I just wanted to let them pass, knowing we’d hear them all the way up, but if we were behind, we’d hear very little. After a minute or two, we pulled off to let the pass. And pass… and continue to pass… Finally when about 30 had overtaken us, we moved on again, the radio chatter scaring us!
According to the notes from the website, it was to be a 20 minute hike through second-generation growth forest to 2 bridges which cross Wedge Creek. The floor of the forest was soft with pine needles. As we started to emerge out of the forest, more rocks appeared underfoot and then we came to a small rock slide with a restricted view of the valley below. Straddled across this rockslide were about 10 Asians all taking photos. We were effectively trapped until they moved. And as we waited, more Asians started to pour out of the forest from the car park trail. And these one’s had even MORE radio’s! We just stood there and let them all get past… Another 10 or 20 of them….
Finally we thought there might be a break in them and most of them seemed to have moved off the rockslide and we pushed on. However, in short order, we came to the two ‘bridges’ that crossed Wedge Creek, to find it choked with the Asians taking photographs again. Getting a bit impatient, I stood menacingly over a few until they finally moved. Fortunately the bulk of them had moved on.
And then began what can only be described as the ‘up’ section. Now, the extreme vast majority of hikes I’ve been on, tend to undulate in a general up direction and are interspersed with flatter sections and even downhill bits. This one was straight up. And apart from 2 sections, both less than 100m, never flat, and no down at all. Just up.
At first we began climbing up through more forest, but along a ridge through which we could glimpse a rock slide to the left. It was a very steady push… I was quite relieved it was mainly scrambling over roots and the odd rock – I am probably even less fond of hikes like the Grouse Grind where steps have been put in. But. I am by no means as fit as I was when last working in the field….
The path meandered for an hour (at my pace) through the forest, and we could occasionally hear the waters of Wedge Creek to our right. Eventually we caught up and overtook the back stragglers of the Asian group, radio’s blaring loudly with chatter as the people who owned the radios had them cranked up to hear it over their ipods… Seriously people, hiking with music in your ears???? Seems to somehow violate the whole spirit of being out for a hike in nature to not be able to hear the sounds of nature!
We reached the half way point at lunch time which was a rock slide with a small brook babbling away next to it. As we were both suffering hunger pangs, we broke out our lunch and shared ourselves with the mosquito’s that rose up around us. The backwash of the Asians overtook us… but since we didn’t last too long in the company of the mosquito’s, we overtook them as they paused on the trail to eat as well.
From the half way point, our notes informed us it was an uphill trail to a ‘steep’ part just before the top. Well, if I had thought the bit before was unrelenting uphill…. This didn’t stop, meandering ever upwards and at a pretty steady gradient which I would say is comparable to the lower section of the Grouse Grind. Every now and then we caught a glimpse of Wedgemount Falls through the trees on the other side of the valley. According to the notes, Wedgemount Falls was 300m… at first glimpse we could probably still see a conservative 200m of the fall tumbling from the lip of a cliff above us…Oh my.
My friends GPS was by now practically registering a vertical line for our elevation plot – we had already hiked up about 750+ meters over just under 3km… This 171.5m rise for every 1km seemed to be a bit flat – afterall the road near my place is a 17% gradient according to the sign warning trucks to be careful – and it is not as steep as this!
Just as I was beginning to wonder if we’d ever get out of the trees and hit the legendary ‘steep’ bit before the top, we began encountering people coming down. I asked one party and they assured us we were only about 10 minutes away. Sure enough, about 10 minutes later we suddenly emerged from the trees and were standing on the edge of a gorgeous alpine valley. Green meadows, scrub and rock covered the valley but it was beautiful and above the treeline.
We scrambled over rocks and rounded some trees, when my friend suddenly commented, “Look at them! They are like ants!” I looked up to see the bulk of the Asians meandering up a steep rock slide for the final ascent. They did indeed look like ants, colourful ants completely covering the rock scree…. However, personally, I was relieved it was going to be a steep scramble up over rocks because they tend to go quicker than never ending trails, and also relieved the Asian outdoor club(s) were a good 10-15 minutes ahead of us (except for the stragglers behind us)! That would have been a nightmare scrambling past them.
Pausing only to take photos of a small alpine meadow still with some flowers, we quickly reached the bottom of the rock climb and began going up. I cannot speak for my friend who was beginning to fret about the descent by now, I was relieved it didn’t take long to do the scramble! Going down…pshaw. I dont’ get puffed going down…
Before long, we were cresting the first false crest and paused briefly to look back down the Whistler Valley, very stunning but unfortunately very unphotogenic owing to some unforecast cloud having rolled in. Then we quickly scrambled up the last bit and got our first glimpse of, well, I have to admit, the BCMC mountain hut there, absolutely swarming with Asians… But a few steps further along and there was the glorious turquoise lake! My friend detoured off down a small valley to a snow patch and I dawdled after him, taking photos. After he’d stamped and slid on the snow (newbie?!), we meandered back up to the BCMC hut… threaded our way through the milling Asians and continued on to the gentle trail that led around the lake to the glacier.
From the hill the hut sat on, I could just glimpse a bluish bit on the glacier and wondered if there was some deep crevasse of a small serac there or something. Anyway, would find out soon enough! The trail was a pretty easy one with the first 3/4s of is clearly marked out with strategically rolled and flattened boulders. The last little bit was yet another scramble over a mixed jumble of moraine debris and rock slides. And then I crested the last mound of rocks and boulders to find my friend enthusiastically photographing not a blue crevasse but a deep blue cave at the foot of the glacier! A small stream, filled with slabs of glacial ice flowed out from the cave. Wow!!!!
Many photo’s later, we had a shot of drambuie to celebrate doing the hike, took more photos and then after glancing at the time, reluctantly began walking back. By now the clouds were beginning to thicken and the temperature was falling (or we were just close to a glacier!) so it was becoming a bit dim. However, when we scrambled over the last moraine, we could see the BCMC hut was now bereft of people. Nice… the Asians had all begun to go back down. Seemed a bit weird to spend all the time getting up to the lake, and then not making the comparatively short and flat walk around to the glacier, but… we shouldn’t complain – we had had the glacier almost to ourselves apart from a couple of campers sweep through briefly.
By now though, I was running a little low on creating ‘potential energy’ (energy created when an object is lifted) so took a few minutes longer (I hope it was only a few minutes longer… felt that way to me) to get back up the shallow hill to the hut. Kinetic energy was good though. I would have no problems going downhill….. It took us 5 hours to get up, surely it would only be 2.5 hours to get back down?
With one last glance at Whistler Valley (still utterly unphotogenic with its high cloud ceiling), we began scrambling down the steep rocky bit. This is not a descent you’d want to do on a rainy day! In relatively short order, we were crossing the boulders of the alpine valley before entering the tree line and continuing our descent.
It was rocky and it was root choked and it was down, down, down! Although I had no problems keeping up with my friend, it was an arduous task making sure I didn’t trip over a root or slide the wrong way down a rock! Every now and then he’d turn around and remind me that going downhill was worse because it was more technical – uphill was all plodding, downhill was about having to focus on where to put your foot etc…
Down and down and down we went… We were probably only nearing the rockslide where we’d had lunch when I began questioning if I had seriously climbed this??? Maybe I’d been teleported at some point – I just couldn’t recall it being this long and steep! Down and down we went…
Eventually we did hit the rock slide. Quick consultation with the elevation plot on the GPS. Not looking good. We were half way down, but apparently had only descended just over 500m – we still had another 700m to descend if the GPS was to be believed! Good grief!!!
The rock slide was terribly short (being rather flat in nature, it was a welcome relief to step from rock to rock…) and before we knew it, we were back on the trail in the forest going down and down and down… It never ended. By now I was verbally questioning many times if I had seriously climbed up all of this! It just hadn’t seemed to bad or so long or so steep. I was pretty impressed my legs seemed to be holding up, although I was definitely fatigued.
Down… down… down…. We entered a part of the forest I recalled a ‘flat stretch…’ It took us another 10 minutes to get there – and it was only about 100m long. Surely it had been longer than that??? Or was it the gentle incline it rapidly turned to had seemed flat when coming up relative to the steep bit below – the steep bit which we all to quickly found ourselves back on?!
The descent continued on down and just as I was very literally going to ask we pause for a moment, really our first pause apart from the GPS consultation up above at the half way point, my friend collapsed on a log ahead of me. His legs were killing him. Spasming from the unrelenting down. He needed a break as well! Out came the GPS, more depression as we tried to estimate how much more elevation we still had to loose. It looked like we still had another 400m to go down over a distance less than 2km. Believe me, that sounded steep!
No where near refreshed but filled with a real need to get off the mountain and this trail, we pushed ourselves off the log and began going down again. There was no conversation at all – we’d both retreated into our heads trying to will ourselves to get down. Eventually the trail turned and began paralleling a rock slide. Ok. We were nearing the end!
However, the ridge trail seemed to be twice as long as memory served before we encountered the two bridges across Wedge Creek. I can’t speak for my friend, but my legs were aching horribly and despite being elated to hit the bridge, I did recall it was still all downhill back to the carpark…. However, it wasn’t as difficult. Sure, every step down hurt my m. rectus femoris thigh muscles, but I don’t know why… cycling??? – my legs continued to hold me up even when I jumped down from a rock or over a root.
Finally we entered the ‘2nd generation regrowth forest’ where it flattened considerably and the groud was relatively root free and covered in soft sawdust. I felt like I had large braces on the sides of my thighs and I was walking very rigid like. May not have looked like it but I sure felt like it! Although I had no energy left to speak of, I still raced through that bit – desperate to exit and be back on the relatively easy road. I think my friend felt the same way – he almost galloped through that forest.
And then… the car park. Oh if only my car had been able to get up that hill! My friend broke out his GPS and managed to depress us both saying we were still 2km from the car, which I refused to believe since the car park was supposed to be 2km from the road and I had driven at least a third of the way in. I desperately wanted to tell my friend to take my car keys and get the car (weak grin) but suspect he was also thinking of asking me to go and get the car for him. And so we both kept silent knowing it would be hit and miss if the car would get up the over the ruts on that hill and trudged back down the road. Making only the odd observation that the road was more of a decline than it had seemed coming up.
Finally we came to the hill with the ruts. I could see a car right where I’d parked… but it was in the shadow. Looking closely as we walked down the hill, I realised that wasn’t my car – it was some large 4WD. My friend was obviously thinking the same thing and pondered out loud that he didn’t think we’d parked my car so far down – we could see 2 cars further down the road. I said I didn’t park that far away – we’d parked just past the 2 cars (now 1 car) at the foot of the hill, and that car there was not mine. Where was my car???
We kept walking, alarm beginning to creep into our conversation – had someone stolen my car? I just couldn’t believe that! Who would do a hike like this and then test all the cars to see if there was one to nick? Or was there an organised gang out of Whistler than knew cars parked there were parked for the day and came to test them out? Whatever, I just couldn’t believe my car had been stolen and was seriously not looking forward to walking an additional 12km into Whistler to report it – or could I call 911 (since we did have phone coverage) and actually get some cops out here?
When suddenly, nearly parallel to the 4WD in ‘my’ parking spot, there was my car, nestled in right behind his big behind! Oh thank goodness – my car hadn’t been stolen! Woodenly, we threw our stuff in the back of my car, a little faffing around to get the car turned around and we were out and on the way home.
It had been a very long and ambitious hike and very worth it. But next time, I think I’d like to do that hike as an overnight camping trip!