Category Archives: Mountain Culture

Life in the mountains.

Settling on Wedge

With the successful completion of the Himmelsbach Hut in 1968, the British Columbia Mountaineering Club (BCMC) began looking for another location to build a Gothic arch hut near Whistler.  They already had a couple of ideas for their next location; one was near Mt. Trorrey along the Spearhead Traverse, the other was an alpine meadow on Mount Brew.  The BCMC decided to ask the mountaineering community for suggestions and advertised through a mountaineering paper and a few leaflets.

Werner Himmelsbach recalled, “So this logger, he contacted me and said, ‘I hiked up the peak beside Wedge Mountain and I saw a nice lake don below,’ so I thought that would be a place.”

The Himmelsbach Hut, named for Werner Himmelsbach, as it appears nowadays. Photo: Jeff Slack

Werner, along with three other BCMC members, decided to hike up Wedge in hopes of finding the lake the logger mentioned.  “It took us five and a half hours to get up there because we got lost in there because it was bush.”

This exploration of Wedge also involved finding a way across the river as there was no bridge access.  “Wedgemount Lake… was beautiful and when you come over the rise… there is this lake, turquoise colour and the glacier right into the lake,” Werner reminisced.

The idyllic Wedgemount Hut, with Wedge Mountain looming above left.  The glacier has noticeably receded as Werner remembers the glacier coming right into the lake.   Photo: Jeff Slack

The BCMC held a meeting to decide the new location and the vote was decidedly in favour of building the hut near Wedgemount Lake.  At Mount Brew, as mentioned in a previous article in The Whistler Question, the UBC Varsity Outdoor Club would later struggle with their own Gothic arch huts in the 1980s and the Spearhead Traverse would be revisited in the future by the BCMC.

The BCMC was granted building permission by BC Parks on October 9, 1970 and quickly organized a work party to construct the hut over the Thanksgiving weekend.  Werner was away on a trip to the Kootenays, so “master-builder” Manfred was in charge of putting the hut together.  The majority of the hut was built on the Saturday and the finishing touches and aluminum siding were added on Sunday.  The outhouse was built on the Monday but no trench was dug because the snow had already started to fall.

The Wedgemount Lake Hut. Photo: Federation of Mountain Clubs of British Columbia.

Brian Wood, a BCMC member and former President of the Federation of Mountain Clubs of British Columbia, recalled the BCMC assembled a work crew to go back to Wedgemount Lake to complete the construction of the hut in 1971.  When the crew arrived wind and snow creep had pushed the hut off of its foundations.  The crew used fallen logs to help maneuver the hut back into place and attached a couple of guy wires to help keep the hut on its foundations.  The crew dug the pit for the outhouse and the hut was ready to officially open that summer.

The Wedgemount Lake Hut remains a popular destination for hikers, rock-climbers and ski mountaineers to this day.  Because the hut only accommodates eight people. BC Parks has build camping spots and a bear cache nearby.  Reservations are required to camp or use the hut year-round.  If you’re interested in heading out, visit the BC Parks website for more details.

Whistler Après: 1968

In February of 1968 entertainment options for locals and visitors were limited.  Alta Lake, as the area was still called, had a very small full-time population and comparatively little infrastructure.  The Village was still serving as a town dump site and development in Creekside had really only just begun.

The development of Creekside and the surrounding areas as of 1970. Whistler Mountain Collection.

The February edition of Garibaldi’s Whistler News included the “Whistler Mountain Weekly Schedule of Entertainment”, a listing of weekly events that were open to the public.  While not a lengthy list (especially when compared to the five pages of listings found under PiqueCal and Nightlife in this publication just last week) every evening provided something different.

The week began on Sunday with a General Information Night where “ski-weekers” were invited to the Cheakamus Inn to view slides of the area and ask any questions they might have about Whistler Mountain.

On Monday a day of skiing could be followed by hot drinks in the Cheakamus Inn lounge and a “Get-Acquainted Party” at the Highland Lodge to meet instructors and others on vacation.

Shown here with his children, Dick Fairhurst was the owner of Cypress Lodge and a ski-doo enthusiast. Fairhurst Collection.

Cypress Lodge (the current site of the Point and Sailing Club) offered Ski-Doo parties every Tuesday, including a ski-doo trip to Cypress Lodge, hot drinks, light refreshments and the option to dance or rent a ski-too to take around Alta Lake.

Wednesdays were Movie Night when a film would be shown in the Day Lodge at the foot of Whistler Mountain.  In 1968 a ticket to the movies was a reasonable $1 for adults and $0.50 for children.

On Thursday the entertainment moved to the Mount Whistler Lodge, a location of fond memories for many Whistler residents and visitors.  Guests were encouraged to come “any time after 9 pm and see the local people in action” with a Jug Band on hand and records for dancing, as well as refreshments and pizza.  According to an advertisement placed by the Mount Whistler Lodge, in which it was described as a “rustic waterfront lodge with rooms and cabins in one of the finest settings in the world,” this was also the place to be every Friday and Saturday for dancing and pizza.

Hillcrest Lodge, originally built and run by the Mansell family, was renamed the Mount Whistler Lodge under new management soon after Whistler Mountain opened.  Mansell Collection.

The February of 1968 offered extra entertainment with two dances scheduled in Whistler Mountain’s main lodge for February 3 and 17, alternating Saturdays with the Mount Whistler Lodge for the month.  Admission to these dances was $1.50 and music was provided by the newly formed Poppy Family.  An added attraction was a “psychedelic lighting show”.

Today there is no shortage of evening entertainment opportunities for visitors to Whistler, including outdoor activities, restaurants, bars and theatres (movie and otherwise), not to mention the events, classes and presentations put on by many local organizations.

Building the Harrison Hut

Today we’ll be continuing the story started a few weeks back on the gothic arch huts built by the UBC-VOC.  The tale began with the Brew Hut, built with the $30,000 the VOC got as compensation for the materials used to build the Whistler Club Cabin.  After using one of two pre-fabricated huts for the Brew Hut, the VOC decided to build its second pre-fabricated gothic arch hut north of Pemberton, near both Overseer Mountain and the Meager Creek Hot Springs.

The VOC had originally planned to construct the hut in early September but when September came they were still waiting on approval from the BC Provincial Government.  Conditional approval was granted in late September and the VOC constructed the hut over the Thanksgiving weekend in 1983.  During a work hike a couple of weeks prior VOC members had prepared the site for the build and poured the hut foundations.

The VOC building the Harrison Hut in October 1983. Photo: Jay Page; UBC-VOC Archives, October 1983.

The hut was named in honour of Julian Harrison, a former VOC President who had perished in a climbing accident in California earlier that year.  After construction was completed the Harrison Hut became a huge hit with VOC members.  It was a popular destination in both summer and winter due to its location at the north end of the Pemberton Icefield and, of course, its proximity to the hot springs at Meager Creek.

In August 2010 the estimated largest landslide in Canadian history, surpassing even the Hope Slide in 1965, pushed nearly 48,500,000 cubic meters of rocks and debris down Mount Meager.  The logging roads the VOC used to access the trail to the Harrison Hut were destroyed.

In 2011 VOC members Ben Singleton-Polster and Christian Veenstra began doing reconnaissance for the construction of a new trail on the geologically stable side of Meager Creek and the Lillooet River valley.  This new route to access the hut had two large boulders blocking trail access.  The smaller rock weighed approximately ten tons while the larger rock exceeded twenty tons.  Jeff Mottershead and other VOC members worked at removing the two large rocks in order to build the trail to the Harrison Hut.  For those interested, videos of the rock removal can be found on YouTube here.

The Harrison Hut in winter. Photo: Jay Page; UBC-VOC Archives.

Three years later, the VOC Harrison Hut trail opened in 2014.  Renovations to the hut were needed and these started the same year.  The VOC chose to wrap the entire hut with aluminum siding to protect the wood layer underneath from rot and alpine critters.  They also installed solar panels on the hut to use to light its interior.

This concludes our short series on the gothic arch huts of the UBC-VOC.  If you’d like to find out more about these and other iconic structures in the backcountry, the Whistler Museum will be releasing a virtual exhibit with the Virtual Museum of Canada in Winter 2018.  Keep an eye out for more details.

The Saga of the Brew Hut Part II

Last week we introduced the Brew Hut, first constructed by the UBC Varsity Outdoor Club on Mount Brew in 1982.  This first hut was moved and reconstructed due to snow creep and accumulation.  With the reopening of Brew Hut II in 1985 the VOC thought that the saga of the Brew Hut was over, though this was not to be.

At the time, Tim Booth wrote in the UBC VOC Journal Volume 28, 1985, “At sunset the Tantalus Range and Cloudburst Mountain were silhouetted, and although the lights of Whistler and Squamish could be seen shimmering below at night, the cabin has a feeling of isolation and tranquility despite being easily accessible.”

The construction of Brew Hut II, 1984. Photo: UBC-VOC Archives.

In the years to follow, trip reports and articles written in the UBC VOC Journal describe the challenges of finding the Brew Hut II, even in the best traveling conditions.  Perhaps because Club members forgot about the hut or because they were busy exploring other areas, the Brew Hut II went through a long period of disuse.

Nearly a decade after the hut had been reconstructed, the Club invested in new materials to repair one end-wall that had been completely crushed by the snow, as well as new roofing materials to replace the leaky rood.  According to Markus Kellerhals’ article in the UBC VOC Journal Volume 37, 1994, “over 40 enthusiastic new and old VOC’ers had signed up to come out.”  These renovations were completed over a weekend in September 1994 and the hut was once again on the Club’s radar.

Five years later, in the winter of 1999/2000, over 7 metres of snow fell and completely crushed the Brew Hut II.  Roland Burton, who was responsible for constructing the first Gothic arch hut built by the Club in Garibaldi Provincial Park in 1969, resumed his status as an active member and led the Club in their investigation into a new site for a hut on Mount Brew beginning in the winter of 2000.

Framing of Brew Hut III underway in 2005. UBC-VOC; UBC-VOC Archives

Near the Christmas of 2004, the Club began the process of constructing Brew Hut III on a new site that had been well investigated.  The Club chose to build a hut using a new hut design modeled after a small car garage with an A-frame rood.  By the fall of 2005, the Club had successfully completed the construction of Brew Hut III.

Brew Hut III has proven much easier to find, even in poor weather conditions.  The new location has not had the same snowfall accumulation and snow creep issues as the two previous locations and the Brew Hut II still stands in its location today.  This concludes the Brew Hut Saga.

Brew Hut III in the winter of 2015. Photo: UBC-VOC; UBC-VOC Archives

This won’t be the last time you hear about Gothic arch huts from us.  Our exhibit with the Virtual Museum of Canada is nearing completion and we can’t wait for you all to get the chance to explore it.  Huts will also be the theme for our upcoming Big Kids LEGO Competition on Tuesday, December 5.  Competitors will have the chance to build the hut or campsite of their wildest dreams and win prizes for their efforts!

The Saga of the Brew Hut Part I

A couple weeks ago we took a look at how the UBC Varsity Outdoor Club built their cabin in Whistler before it was taken over by the AMS.  We’re continuing our look at the VOC this week with the construction of the Brew Huts.

Following the student referendum in 1980 that awarded the UBC-VOC $30,000 for the materials used to construct the Club Cabin, the VOC decided to purchase two pre-fabricated Gothic arch huts built by a construction company in Richmond.

After two years of negotiations with the Provincial Government, the VOC was granted permission to build a hut on Mount Brew.  The Club decided to use the first of the pre-fabricated huts they had purchased on this site.  The hut was built over two weekends in September 1982.

Flying in materials by helicopter for Brew Hut Construction, September 1982. Photo: Alan Dibb; UBC-VOC Archives.

Jay Page, a former president of the VOC, wrote, “Up on the mountain a lean-to shelter is nailed together as it begins to rain and storm.  The cabin site is picked out by flashlight that night amid the piles of lumber.”

After the fanfare of the construction of the Brew Hut, Club members neglected to visit the hut for a few months.  Upon a visit in late February 1983, Club members noted that the hut was located in a high snow accumulation zone.  This raised alarm bells within the VOC as the last hut they had built on the Garibaldi Neve Traverse (named the Neve Hilton) had been completely destroyed by snow creep and accumulation.

The Brew Hut under construction, 1982. Photo: Jay Page; UBC-VOC Archives.

Over the next few months and into May 1983, members of the Club returned almost weekly to keep the Brew Hut structure free of the heavy wet snow customarily found in the Coast Mountains.  Each time they returned they found more snow had fallen than in the months previous.  The hut structure had sustained damage and the wood was beginning to crack.

Members of the VOC decided the solution would be to move the hut to a new location via a large helicopter.  By the time this solution had been arranged, however, snow had begun to fall.  The Club decided to dismantle the hut and build it in a new location the following year.

Brew Hut II under construction, 1984 (it would seem the Brew Hut was always under construction). Photo: UBC-VOC Archives.

In the fall of 1984 a new site was chosen for the hut on a ridgeline to the west of the old Brew Hut location.  The hut was rebuilt with a few modifications.  One of the changes was to make the hut smaller as some of the arches had been damaged by the weight of the snow the previous year.  This helped the hut retain more heat.  Snow fell again, disrupting the completion of the hut until the following year.  The Brew Hut in its new location opened in 1985 and was renamed Brew Hut II.

Stay tuned next week for more on the challenges face by Brew Hut II.

How the VOC Built Its Club Cabin

In the mid-1960s the UBC Varsity Outdoor Club (VOC) was looking for a place to build a new Club Cabin as the Parks Board was opposed to privately owned cabins operating on Mount Seymour.  The Club set its sights on the newly developing outdoor recreation area, Whistler.  They saw the opportunity as a chance to further the club’s mandate by providing members with new mountaineering, hiking and skiing opportunities.

The VOC Cabin, located in Nordic. Photo: Leveson-Gower Collection

According to Karl Ricker there was no shortage of energetic youth willing to lend a hand.  Whenever there were more workers than could be put to task, which was fairly frequent, he recalls, they would head out on hikes or even on trail-building excursions.  It was during these outings that the old Singing Pass trail received major upgrades and the trail to Cheakamus Lake was built.

The VOC used their own funds and labour, including the services of architect Byron Olson, to build the new Cabin.  The construction of the Cabin took two years from 1965 to 1967.  The Cabin was an instant hit for VOC members and other budget conscious skiers.

The construction of the VOC Cabin involved many of the club members. Photo: Leveson-Gower Collection

By the early 1970s the VOC was struggling to keep up with the increasing operating and upkeep costs and an internal debate began with the Club on letting go of the Cabin.  Some members wanted to build smaller cabins like the Sphinx (later renamed Burton, after Roland Burton who was instrumental in its construction) Hut in Garibaldi Provincial Park.  Others wanted to create a sub-section of the Club that focused on downhill skiing that would takeover operating the Cabin but still keeping it as a Club asset.

To further complicate matters, the UBC Alma Mater Society claimed ownership of the Cabin because the Club had used the AMS, in name only, to acquire the land for the Cabin.  The VOC attempted to obtain $30,000 for the construction costs and efforts made to to build new huts and relinquish ownership to the AMS and ultimately the UBC Ski Club.  The Club battled for five years until a student referendum passed in their favour in 1980.

The VOC Cabin even made it into Ski Trails, a Vancouver based publication all about skiing in the 1960s and 70s.

With the money received from the AMS, the VOC built two Gothic arch huts.  The first hut was built on Mount Brew, located 40km south of Whistler, and the second hut, the Julian Harrison Memorial Hut, was built near Overseer Mountain, north of Pemberton.  Stay tuned in the coming weeks for stories related to the construction and use of these two Gothic arch huts.

Building the Gothic Arch Huts

For almost 50 years the Himmelsbach Hut has sat perched near Russet Lake at the head of Singing Pass.  The hut was built by the British Columbia Mountaineering Club (BCMC) and named after carpenter and long-time Whistler local Werner Himmelsbach.

Construction of the hut was scheduled in September 1967.  Dick Chambers, a member of the construction party, remembered being flown to Whistler by Helijet at the time (for more about Dick Chambers, check here).

Materials for the Himmelsbach Hut, as well as workers, were flown in by helicopter. Photo: Chambers Collection

“The stuff was all in the parking lot – the old Whistler parking lot.  Blackcomb wasn’t developed then, it was still a garbage dump… so we land at the parking lot and the Park Ranger was there, waiting to organize this stuff, and so he flew me in, and the next morning I waited and waited and nothing was happening,” Chambers recalled.

The helicopter carrying a load of material to the site had lost it somewhere on the northeastern side of the peak of Whistler, across from Blackcomb.  The load had not been properly attached and triggered the release mechanism.

“Eventually we recovered that load of stuff by looking in the bush and it wound up at Werner Himmelsbach’s hut covering his firewood because it wasn’t good for anything, you know, it was beaten up,” Chambers said.

By the time the Club was able to rebuild the lost materials, snowstorms had started and members of the construction party decided to pack it up and store it until the following year.

The Himmelsbach Hut under construction. Photo: Chambers Collection

In August 1968 the Himmelsbach Hut was was built over a period of three days and began the busiest three-years of hut construction by the BCMC in its history.  Other huts built by the club include Wedgemount Lake Hut loacted north of Blackcomb, Pummer Hut on Claw Ridge near the Tellot Glacier and Mountain Waddington, and Mountain Lake Hut that sits east of Brittania Beach.

Along with the huts built by the Club, Werner Himmelsbach lent his laminating jig and expertise to the University of British Columbia’s Varsity Outdoor Club.  The VOC, led by Roland Burton, built a gothic-arch hut near the Sphinx Glacier in Garibaldi Provincial Park.  Years later, he assisted the Alpine Club of Canada Whistler Section in the construction of the Wendy Thompson Hut, located in the Marriott Basin.

The Himmelsbach Hut today. Photo: Spencer Jespersen

Over the past several months, I have been tasked with writing, researching and designing a virtual museum exhibit on the Coast Mountain Gothic Arch Alpine Huts for the Whistler Museum (for more on the virtual exhibit click here).  Once the exhibit is complete, the virtual exhibit will be hosted on the Virtual Museum of Canada Community Memories website and will tell the complete story of these iconic structures.  Look for the release of the virtual exhibit in Winter 2018.