Tag Archives: Himmelsbach Hut

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.

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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.

Building the Himmelsbach Hut

As mentioned in last week’s post about the Wendy Thompson Hut, we’ve got gothic arches on the brain. First built in the 1960s by the British Columbia Mountaineering Club, there are now at least 10 of these structures spread throughout the Coast Mountain backcountry. The first hut, the Batzer Hut, was built near Chilliwack, but was destroyed only a year later by an avalanche.

So the oldest-standing example of this iconic architecture is none other than the Himmelsbach Hut, often known as the Russet Lake Hut or the Fissile Hut due to its location in the Whistler Backcountry. Built in 1967, and completed in 1968, it is a well-known and cherished part of local mountain culture.

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The Himmelsbach Hut, nowadays. Jeff Slack Photo

Fast-forward to late September we received a surprise visit from Barb Diggins of Coquitlam. In tow she carried boxes of artifacts that had belonged to her late uncle Dick Chambers. Dick was one of the most prominent mountaineers on the BC coast in the post-World War 2 era.

He was a member of the British Columbia Mountaineering Club 1946 until his passing in 1999, and served as the club’s President from 1961-1963. The collection includes hundreds of photographic slides, negatives, and prints, mostly of the mountains, but also a number of shots of Vancouver in the 1950s and 60s as well. It presents a valuable window into an exciting time for mountaineering on the coast, perhaps the Coast Mountains’ last truly exploratory period.

We still haven’t had a chance to fully explore the boxes of photos, but we almost immediately came across a handful of slides taken during the construction of the Himmelsbach Hut near Russett Lake in 1967. Needless to say, we were excited. Here’s a few:

 

Building the Himmelsbach Hut, October 1967.

Building the Himmelsbach Hut, October 1967.

Flying in materials.

Flying in materials.

Materials were staged out of creekside. Note the curved beams that formed the huts frame.

Materials were staged out of Creekside. Note the curved beams that formed the huts frame.

We recently conducted an oral history interview with none other than Werner Himmelsbach, the retired carpenter who was instrumental in designing and  building his namesake hut, and several others of similar design that came later. In a few weeks time we will follow up on this post with some of Werner’s recollections from building the hut, and more of Dick Chambers’ photos.

We will be also producing more content about the rest of the gothic arch huts in the coming months both on this blog and elsewhere, but to whet your appetite, here’s a map showing all such huts that we currently know about. There are probably more. Do you know of any that aren’t on this map? If so, let us know in the comments.