Mildred and Reginald Brock first visited Alta Lake in 1927 as guests of friends. Mildred fell in love with the area and the Brock family bought three small lots on the southwest corner of Alta Lake, hiring Bert Harrop to build a cottage that they named “Primrose”. The Brocks and their five sons visited Alta Lake each summer; it’s likely that their youngest son, Philip ‘Pip’ Gilbert Brock, spent the most time exploring the area.
At the time, there were only two trains from Squamish to Alta Lake each week, though the steamship from Vancouver to Squamish was daily. Rather than limiting himself to the train schedule, Pip Brock would often choose to walk over 60km to reach Alta Lake. According to Pip, this walk would take “a long time, about ten hours.” The boat would reach Squamish around 2 o’clock. From there, Pip would sometimes splurge for the 50 cent taxi fare to get as far as Cheakeye, but more often than not he and any companions would walk straight to Primrose. Pip recalled that not many others wanted “to do the walking,” and so he mostly walked alone.
Parts of his route led him down some of the remaining sections of the Pemberton Trail. In 1992 Pip recalled that “the parts that were there were excellent, but then it would just disappear under rock falls and stuff.” For other sections of the journey, he would walk along the railway tracks and, if he was lucky, a freight train might come by and give him a ride.
Once he reached Alta Lake, Pip would spend his time hiking and exploring the area. One of his favourite hikes was to Russet Lake, still a favourite destination for many people today. At the time there was quite a good trail on the northside of Fitzsimmons Creek, which Pip thought was most likely built and maintained by whomever was trapping in the area.
Pip’s trips around the area did not end with the end of the summer; he would continue even after the snow fell using skis. Around Easter in 1933, Pip climbed to the top of Whistler Mountain and skied down, marking the first reported ascent and descent of Whistler on skis, though he later described the department store skis he used as “terrible things.” Ski touring had not yet become popular among the majority of mountaineers at that time. Pip said that, “most mountaineers thought that skiing was impure and indecent. But a few of us, being frivolous, realized the fun and value of skis for winter touring.”
Pip and brothers continued visiting the valley even after the tragic death of their parents in a plane crash at Alta Lake in 1935. In the 1930s Pip began joining Don and Phyllis Munday, legendary mountaineers from North Vancouver, on trips, including an attempt to reach the top of Mount Waddington. In 1937 Pip and the Mundays skied up Wedge Creek and then skied and climbed up to the top of Wedge Mountain, marking the first ascent of Wedge by skis. They also made the first ski descent in the Blackcomb backcountry and “skied right up to the source of Cheakamus to Mount Sir Richard.”
Since Pip began exploring the mountains surrounding Alta Lake by ski, ski touring has become increasingly popular. Today, however, few of those who head out into the backcountry around Whistler choose to begin their trip with a ten hour walk from Squamish.