In the latest post of #WhisLife, Harry Patchett avoids the crowds (and his lack of a ski pass) and explores Whistler’s backcountry, hiking with friends to a secluded touring hut.
Talking to other newcomers around the village there are two types of us out there at the moment – those with ski passes and those without. I am without a pass and despite my asking you how the hill was that day I don’t actually want to hear the answer.
When opening day on the mountain dawned I didn’t want to be anywhere people were clip clopping awkwardly around in ski boots.
My friend Josh started a conversation about ski touring and the huts that had been built over the last 50 years in back country valleys around this area. He’d been to one last winter and wanted to confirm it was still in action – I was game for the adventure.
There hadn’t been any real snowfall yet so we would be able to hike out to the hut and spend the night. There was predicted snow sometime that day and the next so we would possibly be the first to visit as winter settled in.
We were halfway to the hut when the snow started to fall. It was slushy at first. I held my hand out and caught flakes that quickly melted. They began to hold their shape and got bigger and fluffier. This was my first sight of falling snow in six years and it brought back all the memories of a past season in the Rockies. It’s a childish feeling – a magical white blanket that softens everything and tickles your nose.
The people in our group who’ve been here for years are worried about the car or the way out, but all I can do is laugh, smile and make my first snowball. I haven’t missed the snow like I do the ocean but when it started to drift down thick and fast it awakened the yeti in me.
A bottle of spiced whiskey was celebratorily sipped as Josh led us astray. We came to a fork he didn’t remember and walked through a recently massacred field of fallen trees. It was a sad feeling to know that in less than a year since he’d been here the place had been cut back so far. He questioned whether the hut would still be standing as progress barged its way through the forest.
It was close to nightfall and we’d backtracked twice when we finally found the overgrown path. Hot from our missteps we see a peaked roof through a thin path of snow-speckled trees. I take a moment and capture the scene as my friends jiggle the door and we finally find shelter.
A cast iron wood fed stove dominates the centre of the hut. I notice a single ski mounted on the wall and a photo beneath it of a happy man. This is a touring hut built to commemorate a fallen friend.
The remnants of candles lay around the room, small black scorches left behind when the wick hit the wood that everything but the stove is made from. It is the same wood as the ladder that leads to a carpeted upper level. The softest place in the hut is also where the heat from the fire gathers and where we would sleep.
The builders took care when furnishing this snowy sanctuary in the woods. There are no single seats in this place everything here is meant for sharing.
Around the back we find a cache of chopped wood beneath a blue tarp. The snow is falling hard as we make trips from the woodpile to the stove. The soft yellow firelight reflected the amber of the liquor as we warmed inside and out.
The kitchen sink corner has the remnants of past visitors; canned stews, coffee, first aid kits, pots, jackets, gloves and alcohol. This is a place created for communal use and those who find it generally leave something of themselves behind. We spoke of the traces these people had left and felt comforted by the camaraderie of those we didn’t know but shared this space with.
The tradition of exploration by early touring skiers and mountaineers I respect, but know nothing about. My culture is that of the beach and ocean, the stories these mountain places hold are foreign and fascinating. Gaining boat access to unfrequented perfect waves is how I relate to finding this hut in a valley surrounded by hike-able ridges and untouched powder. It was special to be there and similar to the culture of surfing I know some locations are best left unmentioned. Like everything else about the hut this should be shared between people of similar minds.
In the crisp, quiet of the morning we hiked back through the trees and returned to the path. We walked slowly enjoying the soft blue of glacial patches in the sunlight and seeing the chutes that hadn’t filled in with snow yet but soon would.
Despite wanting to ride Whistler Blackcomb I am happy there are places like this where the only admission price is your own energy spent exploring, plus a quarter bottle of whiskey for those who follow behind.