Tag Archives: UBC Varsity Outdoor Club

The Early Days of Creekside

The community of Alta Lake, which attracted visitors and families with cabins in the summer for hiking, hunting and fishing along the lakefront, was forever changed in 1960.

That year, the Garibaldi Olympic Development Agency, led by Franz Wilhelmsen, chose the valley as the site to bring the 1968 Winter Olympics to Canada and British Columbia.  The failure of this first Olympic bid, while discouraging, did not dissuade the group from deciding to build a world-class ski resort.

A very optimistic sign at the base of Whistler Mountain. Photo: Whistler Mountain Collection

The Garibladi Lift Company installed the first gondola-accessed ski area in North America and opened the ski resort in January 1966.

With the ski resort in operation, the newly formed Chamber of Commerce operated as the local government overseeing the sporadic development surrounding the gondola base. The Garibaldi Lift Company did not have the financial resources to purchase the property around the gondola base allowing others to purchase the land.

With the lack of an official community plan or recognized local government, development went unchecked.  Ski cabins were scattered around the base along with a gas station/grocery store and a telephone exchange.  The Garibaldi Lift Company built an interdenominational skier’s chapel, complete with bells and a memorial stain glass window.

The Cheakamus Inn, the Highland Lodge, Rainbow Lodge and other Alta Lake lodges housed visitors in what had normally been the off-season for the Alta Lake community.  A large development was planned near the shores of Nita and Alpha Lakes.  The development would have included residential and commercial properties as well as more recreational areas such as a curling/skating rink, swimming pool and tennis courts.  A condominium development called Alpine Village sat above the gondola area on the slopes of Whistler Mountain.  The UBC Varsity Outdoor Club began constructing their new club cabin near the gondola base.

Alpine 68 newly constructed in 1968. Condos such as these sprung up around Creekside and Nordic.  Photo: Whistler Mountain Collection

The popularity of skiing also brought long waits to ride the gondola up to the mid-station.  The wait times would sometimes exceed three hours just to get on the gondola, prompting the Garibaldi Lift Company to offer free skiing to those willing to hike to the mid-station.

The parking lots at the base of the gondola were consistently full.  Highway 99 was finally blacktopped between Squamish and Whistler, but the drive was still full of hairpin turns and single lane bridges.  This didn’t stop skiers from driving up from the city.

A full (and colourful) parking lot in Creekside. Photo: Whistler Mountain Collection

The popularity of the ski resort also attracted another group of people to the valley: “hippies” and those involved in the counterculture movement.  Those unable to afford to purchase land or build their own ski cabin would squat on Crown land.

With the RMOW established on September 6, 1975 the chaotic nature of development in Whistler’s early years was over the focus on bringing about the well-planned Whistler Village began.

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.