07 November, 2010

Spearhead Traverse Huts

Every year I hear more and more comments of how great it would be to have multiple backcountry huts in the Spearhead Traverse area.  Well after holding my tongue for the past year and a half, it's time to let everyone know, there will be some huts installed in the very near future.  The BCMC, Jayson Faulkner, BC Parks, and SHC (Spearhead Hut Committee) Chair officials are the driving force behind them.  (Photo Below:  Ty Petrusic pausing at the Ripsaw Glacier, Mt Sir Richard in the background)
The Spearhead Traverse, a beautiful 40km horseshoe starting from Blackcomb Pk to Whistler Mtn, is Canada's solution to the Haute Route in popularity.  The biggest difference being that the Spearhead is more remote with only one hut near the end, and less desirable to people who don't want to sleep in the snow, or blast it in a single day (or hours).  The Haute Route has multi-level mansions with hut custodians, food, beer, and even running water.  Canada on the other hand, with the exception of a very select few huts, are simply shelters to spend a night in out of the elements.  (Watch some Spearhead shenanigans from the 09/10 season)

So what's the big deal about these huts?  Expect to see water, heat, cooking area's with appliances, waste disposal, and even hut custodians working at peak times in the season.  Imagine heading out into the backcountry with an insanely light backpack for multiple days, so you can push your limits, without being weighed down by too much gear.  These huts will not only allow new people with less experience to access these large mountains, but also allow the dedicated few to push their limits, and what is possible in the area.  (Photo right:  The Spearhead Traverse, courtesy of Club Fat Ass)

There will be approximately three new huts built.  The current Himmelsback Hut at Mt Fissile and Russet Lake replaced with a more up to date hut and most likely transported elsewhere to continue serving the mountain community the way it has for so many years.  One little tidbit of information the public should be aware of is that Whistler Heli-Skiing is currently looking to renew their tenure for heli-skiing in the Spearhead Range, which is currently trying to be stopped, as this hut system would help re-enforce that the Spearhead Range is a by foot access area only.  This would ensure no heli-skiers whizzing by skiers and climbers, who have worked so hard to get far back in the range, the chance to snake some hard earned powder and quiet of the range.  (Photo below:  Matt Francis climbing up Mt Fitzsimmons, with a potential hut placement behind in the Cheakamus Angelo col.)

Possible locations for these huts will be Circle Lake between Mt Decker and Blackcomb Pk; South shoulder of Couloir Ridge (before the climb up Iago Glacier); the Diavolo Glacier near the Cheakamus Angelo col; and  many more options such as the Ripsaw, Naden Pass, and Mt Tremor area.  There is constantly more and more info being released, so to keep up with the project visit www.spearheadhuts.org for more information and updates.  Stay tuned, and who knows maybe there could be huts across the Garibaldi Park Traverse in years to come.


  1. I don't know how I feel about developing hut systems in the Canadian bc. Here's a thought, if you want to hut ski, go to Europe.

  2. Believe it or not, I agree with you skimoyukon. For the past few years, and still presently, I like having minimal access and infrastructure. The biggest thing I value out of Canada is the vast wilderness, which is not accessible, and only available to the hardcore few who truly want to put out the effort to get out there. However, with the amount of huts that are being put out there, and potentially over developing (if you could call it that) stellar backcountry areas the Spearhead is an acceptable area. There are only first descents and ascents there for people who will do it with or without the huts, and personally I would prefer more development in an already popular and well traveled area over an area that is even more amazing but less traveled. I guess the point is, if there is going to be development, lets make sure its in an area that it doesn't affect our vast remote backcountry areas that should be protected.

  3. Huts lead to further commercialization of Garibaldi park.

    Go ahead and build more huts on the West side of the highway. Please preserve the wilderness aspect of the park. Say no to new huts.

  4. I absolutely support this. The only way the park is going to be further 'commercialized' is through groups like WAGB using the new huts in their guided trips. Given their current volume and usage patterns in the backcountry, I don't really consider this an issue. Perhaps if they were to drastically increase operations it would be.

    The fact is, Garibaldi Park is not protected purely for X, Y and Z groups to the exclusion of all others. I feel strongly that access should be non-motorized, but beyond that I say 'the more the merrier'. We need to guard against elitism in the backcountry skiing community - as long as people are properly equipped and prepared for the conditions, it only helps to have more people active in these spectacular playgrounds. More participation means more resources from government and more support for our local professionals and retailers.

    Selfishly, I'm looking forward to being able to really explore the skiable peaks of the Spearhead in relative comfort. This project is long overdue - congratulations and thanks to everyone who's worked to make it to this point - hopefully we can see it through and reap the rewards.

  5. hmmm...well on one side, I think of the absolute blissful silence when travelling in the mountains here, and the sense of really being in the wilderness and fending for yourself. Currently when you run into other people you either know or recognize them, or an unspoken nod of understanding passes between parties as you quietly go on your way. I contrast this to Europe (where I am from) where the spectacular mountains are littered with humans, and all the negatives of people en masse spring to mind.

    On the other hand, who am I to deny others the magic of travelling our beautiful mountains here...I have only been here 5 years myself. If groups are concentrated on the Spearhead then maybe other areas will be less populated? I feel the Spearhead will eventually end up an extension of Whistler Blackcomb, and that can be good or bad but it is something I feel that is inevitable as more people search for more adventure. We can't halt progress as much as we may try and keep it all to ourselves.

    So I guess I don't like it, but accept it as inevitable...

  6. I like seeing everyone's comments, it seems that everyone out there is fairly on the same page. In terms of commercialization of the area, I think it will be good for local guides, to build their business as well as introduce new people to the sport. As for more commercial operations, I think there will be less, as the Spearhead is going to become a non-motorized area with no heli skiing. Ski touring and hut to hut trips commercially guided will be far less in terms of traffic than previous years of heli skiing.

    It is a hard topic to think about, especially as we as Canadians/North Americans value our true wilderness so much. What needs to happen, in my mind, is now education for those using the system, to travel safely. At the same time who doesn't prefer a comfy hut opposed a uncomfortable bivy (at least sometimes). Great comments!

  7. The huts will definitely take away of the beauty from the one-day-push effort of the Spearhead Traverse.

    However, if there are huts to be build (which is inevitable) then rather build them where it is crowded already. Spearhead is surely very nice area but if there were no lifts only few of us would have known. So maybe we are not as hard-core as we think.

    Also, maybe 1 at most 2 huts is enough. Of course along with fixing up the Russet Lake building.

    And hell, at least this is a chance to balance out the "weird" crowds that WB resort likes :) Which reminds me that hopefully this resort won't be in charge of running these huts ever :)

  8. Any update on the progress of these huts?

  9. There is some progress, yes. Some decision have been made on where to place the huts but have not yet gone public (expect really dramatic places!). A few other budget, and organizational issues, with one or two hiccups along the way. Looking good though!

  10. Note that the sites are not as mentioned in the article, as these locations have not been finalized yet. Site surveys and other activities have to happen first. The huts will be run as non-profit by the Alpine Club of Canada - Whistler Section who operate the Wendy Thompson hut as well. The system is for winter AND summer use as well. This is a very important issue for BC Parks to ensure best utilization and access for more than the 1% of the population who have the extra money for the expensive backcountry gear or the skills to travel in technical winter terrain. Garibaldi Park was created for both as a recreation asset for BC residents AND for conservation. The Spearhead Range is under significant pressure from hundreds and even thousands of visitors each year who pee, poop and generally camp with impacts all thru it without control or management. This traffic is not likely to decrease in the coming 20 years. Ignoring the current and future use impacts is not responsible, rather it is irresponsible to ignore these realities and pretend they don't happen. Non profit huts, simple in amenities, for year round use and access to a wider group of users is fair and reasonable for the residents of BC to enjoy the beauty of the mountains in the Spearhead Range. Also on the west side of the highway, traditional hiking and ski touring areas are now more or less overrun with snowmobiles, heli skiing, atv tours and the like. OR access has degenerated to the point whereby people cannot even get anywhere near the alpine without a very high level of fitness and/or time. For those that have the fitness, time, equipment and skills, there are thousands of other destinations in SWBC where there is no one to run into. Even into the middle part of the park you will not likely ever see a footprint. So there is no shortage of places for those that want it all for themselves. There is a great shortage of places that the rest of us can access.
    You can go to Spearheadhuts.org for more info.

  11. As a Spearhead Traverse Park user I appreciate the camping on route. Huts would seriously degrade this experience. Let's hope this plan does not go forward.