This is the second half of a feature on Pip Brock, an early Alta Lake summer resident and pioneer of ski-mountaineering in the Coast Range. For the first half of this article click here.
On 30 July 1935, while Pip and the Mundays were bushwacking north-east of Knight Inlet towards the still-unclimbed Mount Silverthrone, Pip’s father Reginald boarded a chartered a flight from Vancouver to Gunn Lake with Pioneer Airways. That afternoon their C204 aircraft, which also carried David Sloan, managing director of Bralorne’s Pioneer Mines, landed at Alta Lake to pick up Mrs. Brock before continuing northward.
On take-off, windy conditions prevented the pilot from gaining sufficient altitude. The plane banked sharply to avoid the fast-approaching trees and the pilot attempted to re-land on Alta Lake, but without success. They plummeted back to the ground about 400 metres south of Mons, killing the pilot, Bill McCluskey and Mr. Brock instantly. Mrs. Brock and Mr. Sloan were severely injured, and transported via rail to Squamish, where a speedboat and doctor were arranged to take them to Vancouver General Hospital.
The news quickly reached the central coast via the steamships that regularly plied those waters. When a local homesteader heard of the crash, he rushed up the Klinaklini River in his canoe to give Pip the tragic news. He reached the climbing party just before they ascended onto the Klinaklini glacier, at which point they would have been out of contact for several weeks. Pip rushed back to the city to discover the added tragedy of his mother’s passing; she succumbed to her injuries before their boat reached Vancouver.
The Brocks’ deaths was major news. They were an extremely respected and prominent family. Mr. Brock was the dean of applied sciences at UBC, a former Director of the federal geological survey, and a decorated military commander in World War One. He received a military funeral, and to this day Brock Hall at UBC commemorates the esteemed geologist.
Despite the family tragedy, the Brock boys continued to visit their cabin at Alta Lake. In 1937, Pip re-joined the Mundays for two major ski-mountaineering trips into the surrounding mountains. First, in January of that year, while Pip was on winter break from university, the party headed up Wedge Creek where they set up a base camp below tree line near the crest of Wedge Pass. From here they made the first ski ascent of Wedge Mountain, noting that they stood higher than anyone had before in Garibaldi Park, as the winter snowpack lifted them a few meters higher than summer climbers.
A few days later they proceeded to to the Spearhead side of the valley, making the first ski descents of what is today the Blackcomb backcountry. Don Munday’s description of their ski descent of one of the range’s massive icefields—probably the Shudder or Tremor Glacier—remains one of my all-time favourite skiing quotes:
Life has few thrills to equal ski-ing on a glacier. The quite moderate gradient surprised us with its immoderate speed for an uninterrupted half mile—if champagne has feelings when uncorked, they would match ours during those moments.
Buoyed by their success, Pip and the Mundays set out on an even more ambitious exploratory ski-mountaineering trip that spring, to Mount Sir Richard. Even today Mount Sir Richard is a fairly committing multi-day ski tour from Whistler or Blackcomb Mountains, accessed from the back of the renowned Spearhead Traverse. Back then skiers didn’t have the luxury of gondolas to ferry them up to the alpine, so they were forced to follow a far rougher route than modern ski-tourers enjoy.
Awaiting for the end of Pip’s school semester in late April, the party headed out from mile 34 of the PGE Railway to a supply cache that Don had previously placed near Cheakamus Lake. Here the party used a raft to pull their supplies to the head of the lake, a gruelling process which took two days itself. From here they continued to pack gear up the Cheakamus Valley to the base of Sir Richard.
Fighting thick brush, every sort of snow conditions imaginable, and the logistical headaches inherent in such a route, they managed another fine first ascent and an exhilarating ski through the McBride Glacier icefall. The trip took fourteen days. In an article in BC Mountaineer, Pip summed up their journey in typical understatement: “The trip was certainly an arduous one, but the most worthwhile trips usually do require the most effort, and this trip was worthwhile.”
We know little of Pip’s later years, though he continued to hike and climb well into his silver age. Later climbers who met him on the trail recount his genuinely warm and easy-going spirit. Few would suspect the epic mountain adventurers previously undertaken by this gentle old man.
The widely publicized expeditions that Pip and the Mundays undertook together helped convince the sceptical mountain community of the merit’s of ski-mountaineering. It is a testament to their vision that the Coast Mountains are today recognized as one of the world’s premier ski-mountaineering fields.Their wilful hardship, endured solely due to their love of the mountains, should serve as inspiration for those among us who wish to break beyond the confines of mechanized mountain access to discover all that the Coast Mountains’ alpine landscapes have to offer.