Wedgemount Lake, 8 Oct 2011

Ever had one of those days where you head out with one destination in mind only to end up at another? Our original plan was a nice steady day hike to Garibaldi Lake, but the appearance of blue sky had us pondering alternatives. We hadn’t been up to Wedgemount Lake in a couple of years and really liked the idea of hitting one last alpine destination before the winter. Getting to the (mostly empty) parking lot was easy in our CR-V, certainly noticeably easier than in our Integra last time (mind you, it did have four passengers…) and within a few minutes we were off on the trail.

As ever the first part to the bridge crossing over Wedgemount Creek took longer than I remembered/expected/wanted it to. The first stretch of dingy second-growth forest had only one redeeming factor at this time of year: fungi! Lots and lots of fungi. The creek was low and we soon found ourselves hitting the first steep climb. We took our time and enjoyed (if that’s the right word) knuckling down and plodding our way up the slope. Even at this pace, we passed a couple of slower groups (including one pair that refused to acknowledge our presence right up behind them), and were then passed ourselves by some faster hikers. But for most of the ascent it was just the two of us.

We wondered about bears as we hiked through the understory of huckleberry and blueberry, but saw few berries and ever fewer bears (i.e., none). Still we made noise to be sure we didn’t have a chance encounter. After a couple of hours we came to the subalpine meadow at the headwall and could see that the sky wasn’t as clear as we had hoped. No matter – the clouds were drifting through and made for quite an atmosphere, certainly different from the clear (if hazy) skies of our previous trip. The flowers were all but dead, seen off by the recent snowfall. The trail was clear while the meadows were dotted with patches perhaps a few inches deep.

Then it was time for the steepest climb, which today was quite muddy and slippery, and made worse by the presence of a compacted icy layer of snow further up. We made it with no problems, but would have felt a little happier with Yak-trax or similar. A few minutes beyond and we crested the headwall and caught first sight of the lake, a wonderful sea-green beneath low-hanging cloud. I was hoping that the colour of the lake would be intense under the clouds, and I have to admit to being a little disappointed that it wasn’t quite as deep as I had imagined. But I shook off my over-developed expectations and looked again with new eyes at the sight before us: green, green lake, pale misty clouds and snowy rocks. Quite stunning, really.

We passed the cabin and campground and found a rock with a superlative view of the snow-ringed lake, on which to have our lunch. It didn’t take long for a chipmunk to find us, and it proceeded to run rings around me as I attempted to get a photo of it. Time to move on. Ahead of us lay a fine patch of blue sky – wait, no it was there I swear… Yes, look now – there it is! It was bit like that – a classic sucker hole. The air was cooled by the surrounding glaciers causing clouds and fog to form which hung around in the valley. I’m sure that had we climbed high enough we would have needed sunscreen but that was not to be.

The glacier beckoned and we followed the trail around the lake to the far end where we had sat on the snout of the Wedgemount glacier back in 2009. I had seen photos of the glacier from earlier in the year and knew that a large ice cave had formed where we had walked the last time. I really wanted to see that ice cave, which was another reason we tackled this hike today. The sun even came out very briefly as we approached the toe of the glacier.

Our footbed disappeared under snow and we followed our nose and a few other footprints to make our way safely to the glacier. We came over a small bump in the talus and were suddenly face-to-face with the huge opening of the ice cave. The ice was a deep, deep blue and I have to say I was really excited to be here and to see it up close. Ice caves are really dangerous in the summer, but I felt a little more confident that we were safe enough here on a cloudy, chilly October day. The outflow pool was frozen over – I didn’t fancy testing the thickness of the ice, though. Maria approached the cave while I took a few photos. The scale of it only became apparent as she got closer, where I could see the opening towered above her.

It would seem that this would be a great place for a photo of the two of us, perhaps to use in our Christmas email to friends. So we set up a couple of photos before venturing in to the very edge of the cavern. We peered in and admired the structure in the ice. Striations and layers and shades of blue. Icicles hung down from the lip. Then we heard a sound that made our hearts stop: the glacier creaked, a loud reverberating crack that had as taking a step or two back. In reality it was just the glacier moving, but for a moment it was more than a little alarming.

Wedgemount Lake, 8 Oct 2011 Wedgemount Lake, 8 Oct 2011

We found a way to cross the little frozen meltwater pond and took some photos from the other side, including another of the two of us playing tourist. Moments after we had decided to turn back, we were surrounded by thick mist, hardly able to see the cave even though we were only a few metres away. That seemed like a cue to begin our journey back to the car. Turning around we were greeted by blue skies above Mt Cook and a clear view of the lake. As the mist around us dissipated we found a couple of big icicles to examine before we headed back. They must have been half a metre long or more and the growth layers and patterns within them were really interesting. We looked up again and our blue sky was gone once again. OK, now it’s really time to make a move.

We retraced our steps while admiring the sight of a fog bank hanging a metre or so above the surface of the lake. It drifted away from us and we saw more blue sky taking its place behind us. Crazy weather, but it all added to the beauty and serenity of the place. Returning to the hut, we looked behind us for one last glance at the lake and glacier before plunging into the mist and beginning our descent. Once again, the mist dissipated and our view cleared just as we reached the snowy top of the steep descent.

On our way up, I had seen something white on a rocky bluff. It was too far away to tell whether it was just a white rock or something else, but I made a mental note of it to look again on our return. Sure enough, the “rock” was gone, and scanning around I found it again. We still couldn’t tell what it was but our best guess was a mountain goat. We attached the long lens to the camera and took a few shots, trying to keep the camera as still as possible at full zoom. It was hard to make out on the screen but it really did look like a mountain goat at rest, facing to our right. Then before our eyes it moved – the goat stood up, stretched and turned around before lying down again, this time facing to our left. How cool is that? A real live mountain goat sighting at Wedgemount Lake! I was thrilled and it really capped off the day beautifully.

And with that we began the long slow descent through the forest, returning to the car just after sunset (pretty much as we did on our last visit!). Then into Whistler for a celebratory Thanksgiving burger at Splitz Grill. Talk about a day that exceeded my expectations…

Distance: 12 km
Elevation gain: 1100 m
Photos to come…

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