“Huts Don’t Build Themselves” – Wendy Thompson Hut Work Day

Every backcountry skier would agree that huts and cabins are a godsend. They offer shelter and improve access to otherwise inhospitable environments, and can become glorious havens of comfort and sociability deep in the mountain wilderness. But, to quote Mitch Sulkers, Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) Whistler section chair, “huts don’t build themselves.”

The Wendy Thompson Hut, nestled into the Coast Mountains' Marriot Basin, roughly 50 km northeast of Whistler as the crow flies. Jeff Slack photo.

The Wendy Thompson Hut, nestled into the Coast Mountains’ Marriot Basin, roughly 50 km northeast of Whistler as the crow flies. Jeff Slack photo.

Nor do they maintain themselves, and beyond wear and tear from users, the harsh mountain environment takes its toll on human structures as well. This summer and fall the ACC members and other volunteers have been working on major renovations and upgrades to the Wendy Thompson Hut, which was built by the ACC-Whistler in 2000. We tagged along on one of their work parties this week to check it out and see exactly what that entails.

After the group all met at the Pemberton heliport, the first group of 5 were flown directly to the hut to prepare the site, especially clearing pathways and digging out work sites in the metre deep snowpack. The rest of us drove to the staging point just off the Duffey Lake Highway and began preparing loads of firewood and building materials that would be shuttled to the hut by the helicopter.

The staging area. Firewood was collected into large mesh nets for transport. Slings were used for stacks of lumber.

The staging area. Firewood was collected into large mesh nets for transport. Slings were used for stacks of lumber. Jeff Slack photo.

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Liftoff for the first stack of lumber. Goggles and hoods were mandatory attire during all loading and unloading due to violently blowing snow. Jeff Slack photo.

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Off to the hut. Jeff Slack photo.

In total, 7 loads were transported up to the hut. This all happened remarkably fast, thanks in large part to the heli pilot’s considerable skill and expertise. While this was going on, a 3rd group of volunteers began the 3-hour snowshoe trek from the staging area to the hut. Once the last load of materials arrived at the hut (and 2 loads of garbage, construction waste, and unneeded equipment was flow down), the last group of volunteers (myself included) were given a quick, scenic ride to the hut in the chopper.

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As the helicopter set down, the area surrounding the hut was already a hive of activity. Jeff Slack photo.

Once we unloaded ourselves and our gear and the heli had set off, work continued in a bustling but orderly manner as there was an ambitious work plan for the afternoon. Some members had already begun work framing a new mudroom inside the hut, there was no shortage of firewood that needed to be moved and stacked, and I joined a group that began work on a new woodshed to keep the firewood dry and protected from the very deep winter snowpack.

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Sorting through building supplies in front of the hut. Jeff Slack photo.

Early stages of the new woodshed. Jeff Slack photo.

Early stages of the new woodshed. Jeff Slack photo.

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ACC-Whistler section chair Mitch Sulkers and occasional roofer not only oversaw much of the operations, he also put his considerable carpentry skills to good use while delegating the rest of the group. Jeff Slack photo.

After a few frenzied hours light began to fade, flurries started to fall, and small groups began to snowshoe back down the trail to the awaiting vehicles. But not before an impressive amount of work was accomplished, especially considering the deep snow and sub-zero temperatures.

ACC-Whistle members prepare to trek back down. Jeff Slack photo.

The work party prepares for the trek back down. Jeff Slack photo.

It was a wonderful experience to tag along with such an enthusiastic and dedicated group of backcountry folk. Watching the crew at work underscored how much time and effort goes into maintaining our recreational infrastructure, be it huts or trails. If you find recreating in the backcountry rewarding, perhaps you should consider joining a local club and contributing your time as well (one not be a member to join many of these work days).

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The second-storey sleeping platform highlights the gothic arch design that one frequently encounters in the Coast Mountain backcountry. Jeff Slack photo.

The new and improved Wendy Thompson Hut will be fully ready to go for the upcoming winter season. It is available only through reservation, which must be pre-arranged through the ACC-Whistler website.  While it is certainly an idyllic bit of mountain paradise, it must be noted that this hut is in a remote and wild setting, and all visitors should be self-sufficient, prepared for self-rescue, and equipped with all the necessary gear and knowledge to contend with hazards inherent to mountain and wilderness environments such as avalanches, extreme weather, and more. 

As mentioned before, the Wendy Thompson was built according to the classic gothic arch design first developed by members of the British Columbia Mountaineering Club in the 1960s and which has been since replicated throughout the Coast Range. The Whistler Museum has a soft spot for these simple, tough, and charming structures, and is currently researching and compiling a comprehensive history of these huts. Look for more related content in the coming months.

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