As someone who will essentially go out of their way to not wear mountain boots, the prospect of doing two days in mid-august in double boots didn't fill me with excitement. However, we were looking to spend two days at the wedge hut to climb the North Face of Weart (AD+) and a still undecided route on Wedge. Which did fill me with excitement, so I guess the latter won the battle.
‘AD+’ is from the European alpine grading system and AD (assez difficile) literally means quite difficult. Typically climbs of this grade are physically demanding, technically complex, require a broad skillset, and generally have a crux up to 5.7 on rock and easy alpine ice. For context, some better-known AD+ routes include Hornli ridge on the Matterhorn, the northeast ridge of the Bugaboo spire, and the north ridge of mt Assiniboine.
We set off on the Wedge trail slightly later than the agreed time because I realized I was wearing my slippers while driving past emerald, so I had to return home. Not a great start. It was a very busy Saturday on the wedge trail with many hikers and runners going to the lake, Mt Cook and some continuing onto the Armchair Traverse.
Arriving at the hut 2 hours after setting off, we promptly laid our sleeping bags and mat on the ground to save our spots for our return. We made our way up the path north of the hut towards the left side of the armchair glacier. Briefly jumping on snow as we skirted the glacier, we made our way up steep scree slopes to the Cook-Weart col. The ascent seemed to go on forever, but the slog was briefly interrupted by the site of a mountain goat tippy toeing his way around one of the steep ribs of Mt Cook. It was incredible to see this close-up as they are not frequently seen.
After a welcomed stop in the shade on the north side of the col, we geared up for our descent. With Matt being 40kg heavier than me, it's always a cautious experience moving on glaciers, carefully making sure Matt is on the uphill. The glacier travel was easier than we had expected with very few open crevasses or saggy snow bridges, we were making good time.
As we dropped down and around the norh side of Mt Weart, we got sight of the North Face. A familiar voice in my head went, "f**k, that looks steep", but I'm learning everything looks steep face on. So I took a breath and waited to get a closer look before making decisions.
From the outset, we knew the route would likely have a rock band at the bottom followed by a steep slope of either snow or ice followed by another rock band. We also knew there would probably be a bergschrund to cross. Upon arrival, we could walk straight up to the right-hand side of the route and onto the rock after an easy crossing over a shallow moat.
Once on the rock, we made our way up blocky ledges that brought us to a belay spot. We banged in a few pitons and got ready to climb.
After about 40m, the snow turned to quality ice; this allowed us to simil-climb the entire main face in one pitch; placing screws and pickets with micro tractions to protect against a second fall keeping us quick and efficient on the route. After many momentary breaks for calf resting, we reached the top of the snow and ice pitch.
Climbing in mountain boots is never an easy task due to their bulkiness. However, once you get the confidence in their stiffer sole, they become very reliable and confidence-inspiring. With one short 20m pitch of climbing, we came to a flat bench with a lovely-looking corner. It was an excellent pitch with a challenging, thin feet section in the middle that Matt did a brilliant job leading. This was the crux of the route as we climbed it, probably about 5.8 and on good rock, but there were other easier but less fun-looking options around that would have kept the grade mid-5th. From the top of the corner, we moved up onto the ridge to the right of the upper snow patch taken on the first ascent. The climbing became scrambling, so we put the gear away and made our way to the ridge in-between Mt Cook and Mt Weart.
Now we had a decision to make. Do we turn right and go back towards Mt Cook and down the scree slope, or continue to complete the armchair traverse? After a small discussion, we decided it was a lovely evening, we had lots of light left, and we both had plenty of energy. So we continued on to the armchair traverse.
As moved along the armchair traverse and approached the last section before the summit of Mt Weart, we bumped into two hikers we had met on the way up the wedge trail. The route had taken them longer than expected, and they were feeling the effects of the day. The armchair traverse is a big undertaking due to the 2000m of vertical you must do before you even get into the scrambling. Combine this with the significant exposure and loose rock it is easy to get a little spooked up.
Instead of the standard scrambles route into the basin below the south side of Mt Weart, we decided to head down to a col from the west ridge of Mt Weart that gave us access to the armchair glacier. This proved a great move as we boot-skied our way across the glacier which we had taken a good look at while on the ridge above and decided that, for us in the current conditions, it was safe enough to cross unroped. Then we retraced our steps back down the Mt Cook path towards the hut.
We returned to the hut after 11 hours on our feet. We had asked the climbers we met at the top of Mt Weart to check in when they came past as they were coming down the standard scrambles route instead. As the hours ticked by and darkness fell, we were moments away from booting back up and going for a late-night hike to try and find them. However, at 10:30 pm we saw a headlamp coming down from the second lake. This was a welcomed relief.