this one is nuts! 8 days camping in the Alpine. Physical work rewarded with great camaraderie, respect and delicious hot food severed 3 times a day. The daily routine, work, eat, explore, watch the sun set, read, sleep. Simple work for a simple life and a good cause. Give back. Find your peace.
Funnily I found out about this project whilst volunteering at the *World Ski and Snowboard festival (WSSF) in April 2018. Inspired by a speech from Liz Scremin at the Multiplicity event. The whole WSSF event was awe inspiring in itself so motivating and then Liz came on stage. 4 months later I would find myself working out at 2000m elevation helping to build an Alpine hut, a safe haven for backcountry enthusiasts, a next level step to help get people further out into nature.
I am not a backcountry skier, in fact I can’t ski. I am a snowboarder, but I do not own a split board nor do I have the spare cash to splash out on the whole set up. Why the hell am I giving up 8 days of paid work (roughly a whole months rent) in peak summer season to help build a backcountry ski hut that I will most likely never use?
Maybe it was Liz’s speech at Multiplicity that did it. Maybe it was in part due to my core values of wanting to give a little something back to the communities in which I live. Maybe it was the thought of just being part of an epic project in a epic location. To working with my hands and living outdoors. Maybe it was my chance to escape back out into nature, real nature, the high alpine. Maybe it was a little of all of the above.
Typically in 4 day slots. Arriving at the end of July I was fast put to work sealing in the last of the Blue Seal membrane for the basement room foundations. As trust built we discussed our skill levels over lunch. Some of the more qualified volunteers were sent in to assist the **BC Passive House guys with the roof installation where as I with no official qualifications as such, but good general working knowledge was entrusted with a Bostitch nailing gun, a few boxes of Simpson Strong-Tie Shearwall straps, Framing angle brackets and a large box of nail strips. The straps and brackets were used to reinforce the wall and wall to ceiling joints. Soon I happily set to work moving from wall to wall, often with the support of a fellow volunteer or guidance from the site manger Trevor MacDonald. With views of Russet Lake and Fissile Peak in the background it didn’t take long to start to feel a real sense of appreciation for the visionaries behind this project.
I’d like to mention this as I feel it’s an important piece that formed part of our daily routine. Site clean up was a continuous affair, we were working in a place of natural beauty and with daily heli drops coming in and out we had to make sure all loose items were picked up or tied down. There was a strict agreement with BC Parks on waste control that went for site materials as well as food and human waste which I was happy to see adhered to and respected by all.
Luckily the weather was mostly warm and the sun was mostly out, unluckily so were the black flies, the horse flies and the misquotes. Some chose to combat the bugs by wearing full length shirts and trousers. For me in typical form when the sun is out I went for the clothe-less option, a baseball cap doubling up as fly swat and body spray mixed in with sun cream.
With no running water and a limited water supply reserved for drinking, washing took up in the form of a quick dive in and out of the snow melt waters of Russet Lake. A ten degree bath soon soothed away the dirt and grime of a solid days work.
With the baking sun soon came the threat of Wild Fire season and just as we needed them most with only 1/3rd of the roof panels in position our heavy lift helicopters were grounded. With the large helicopters on fire watch the hut work soon dried up, the BC Passive house team were flown back and the volunteer work shifted to ground work. A less glamorous, but still essential part of the build. The Kees and Clair hut will come with an impressive grey water dispersion field which will treat the waste kitchen water through a perforated pipe system laid out in a zig zag formation through a rock field. Our task for the next days; to dig channels and lift boulders out of the rock field for the filtration pipes. Hot, physical work, no gym membership or flashy boot camp course required!
A big part of this trip for was to reconnect. I had been in Whistler for 9 months, worked straight through Winter, Spring and now into Summer without taking any real quality time off (apart from one fabulous trip to Tofino). As a result my time in the Alpine, ‘the real Mountains’ had been limited. Work and finding a way to make rent put me under pressure and to some extent shifted my focus not out of want, but necessity. I recognized this and took a step back. Why was I here? What were my key drivers? It was time to shift again and reconnect with my core values.
Before and After
the last call. It’s the 7th of November 2018 and for the high Alpine at least winter is here. Temperatures are frequently below zero and as far as outdoor work is concerned the site needs to be put to bed. A last call was made by Liz for volunteers for a 1 day pack down. Fortunately I already had time booked off so I accepted the call. As to be expected for a project like this in such a remote location weather and the resultant issues with access of resources means delays are frequent. Good news is that the building is now water tight. The roof is on, the most critical North and East facing walls are finished in cladding and the others are protected in winter proof membrane. Time, weather and resources permitting indoor installations and finishings can resume during winter/spring.
Meet up at Blackcomb Helicopters front desk, sign the waiver, strap in and go! https://goo.gl/maps/a2uxTxW9tfy
Walk in options
- The most straight forward way in. From Whistler village take the Singing pass trail up to Oboe, sling a left and pick up the trail to Russet Lake. Around 15 km there with 1100 m elevation gain. Expect 3-4 hrs hiking.
- The most gentle way in. Take the Whistler Gondi up to the Roundhouse and follow trail markers to the Harmony Meadows trail and Symphony lake. Continue onwards up through the Symphony bowl to Flute via the Musical Bumps trail. From there continue South East past Oboe and the Singing Pass intersection picking up the trail to Russet Lake.
- The most spectacular way in. From Peak Chair pick up the High Note trail keeping views of Cheakamus lake on your right. Connect with the Musical bumps trail at Flute and continue down towards Oboe and the trail to Russet Lake.
The Kees & Claire Hut at Russet Lake is a project of the Spearhead Huts Society, a non for profit organization and registered Canadian charity. The park use permit is held by the Alpine Club of Canada – Whistler Section.
The hut is named after Cornelius (Kees) Brenninkmeyer & Claire Dixon. A young couple who died accidentally on January 4th, 2007 while on the Wapta ski traverse near Lake Louise, Alberta.
The hut will provide comfortable, low cost ($24-40 a night) year round shelter for hikers and backcountry enthusiasts alike. 36 bunks with full cooking facilities, storage, solar energy and an eco friendly waste water treatment system.
Two more huts are planned along the Spearhead Ski Traverse at Mt. Pattison and Mt. Macbeth connecting the Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. Project costs are funded entirely from donations. $6M is budgeted.
Volunteer for the Spearhead huts project: http://www.spearheadhuts.org/how-you-can-help/volunteer-sign-up/
Facebook Spearhead huts project: https://www.facebook.com/SpearheadHutProject/
Project overview: http://www.spearheadhuts.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Spearhead-Huts_Project-Description_2014-12-02.pdf
*The World Ski and Snowboard Festival combines 6 days of non-stop events and action on and off the slopes. From music, art, photography, filmmaking, ski and snowboard competitions to non-stop nightlife.
Whistler Wold Ski & Snowboard Festival: https://www.whistler.com/events/world-ski-snowboard-festival/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI266Gq4y-3gIVk4F-Ch2hCgT6EAAYAiAAEgKk2vD_BwE
Facebook Whistler Wold Ski & Snowboard Festival: https://www.facebook.com/WORLDSKISNOWBOARDFEST/
**Passive House (Passivhaus) is an international standard developed in Germany for energy efficiency, which reduces the building’s ecological footprint. It results in ultra low energy buildings that require little energy for space heating or cooling. This is done by focus on energy used to heat a home by creating an airtight structure, having high-quality windows, super-insulation and good ventilation.
Passive House Pemberton: https://www.bcpassivehouse.com/about.html
Passive House Canada: http://www.passivehousecanada.com/about-passive-house-canada/