Words by Jill Macdonald. Photos courtesy of the Spearhead Huts Society.
The Coast Range Mountains are known for their steep peaks with quality freeride and ski mountaineering lines. At the heart of these popular mountains sits Whistler Blackcomb — and easy access to the world class terrain just beyond. Summit chutes on Fissile Peak, the seemingly endless Curtain Glacier on Macbeth, steep north faces on Fitzsimmons, Iago, Tremor, and the classic close to home Decker Mountain just outside Blackcomb’s boundaries are obvious draws. All within reach. But beyond that, for those willing to travel, the alluring flow of terrain that undulates onward, endless long flanks and steep lines that form a horseshoe from Whistler to Blackcomb.
Known as the Spearhead Traverse, this classic route is a winter and summer destination that draws hundreds of visitors per year. First skied in 1964 by well-known Whistler resident Karl Ricker and friends, the route follows the Fitzsimmons Range, taking 3-4 days to cover 35 km and 13 glaciers. With huts in place, it will be on par with European mountain experiences.
Popular resorts like Whistler Blackcomb attract international attention. Historically, trips in the Canadian mountains were done with tents, snow caves or very rustic temporary shelters. As traffic in our alpine zones increases, it places strain on areas that were never developed to manage this level of traffic. The Spearhead has reached a critical turning point.
On International Mountain Day, the Spearhead Hut Society is launching a crowd fundraiser to help build three huts along the route. The proposed hut sites are: Russet Lake, Mt. Pattison and Mt. Macbeth. A plan is in place to construct modern facilities, using low impact construction methods and sustainable custodianship of water and waste. Each hut will accommodate 30-40 people per night, have a contemporary design that embraces its setting and preserves the feeling of wilderness.
It’s an expensive undertaking. Rugged, beautiful and remote, these mountains are rarely free of snow. The window of opportunity for construction is June to November, with the possibility of snowfall on both ends of that spectrum. Crews will have to live at the location, for weeks on end. The most efficient transportation of equipment and professional is by helicopter. The structures themselves must withstand high winds, huge snow loads, harsh winter conditions and be built using low maintenance materials to prevent expensive future costs and repairs.
But it’s worth it. Nothing compares to an alpine traverse. Allowing more people to experience the sensation of self-sustaining, self-propelled travel in the mountains is a long-term gain.
More from the Spearhead Huts Society:
Great strides have been made in the last couple years in order to see this vision through to reality. In 2015, BC Parks issued a Park Use Permit officially recognizing the proposed huts in Garibaldi Park, the protected land in which the Spearhead and Fitzsimmons Ranges lay.
Recently, the Society received a generous donation from the Kees Brenninkmeyer Foundation, and along with grants and other personal donations, these funds have allowed for plans on the first hut at Russet Lake to kick into high gear. However, in order to begin construction in the summer of 2017, the Spearhead Hut Society needs a further $100,000 before February 1, 2017.
By donating to the IndieGoGo campaign, one can pre-purchase hut nights, while also taking advantage of the other great gear rewards from industry partners, including some great perks from Arc’teryx. Being a friend of the Spearhead Huts doesn’t just ensure that you snag a coveted reserved night at a hut, or some sweet gear from cool brands. It also means that by donating, people are helping to create a safe sanctuary where generations will be able to share stories, and make new memories in the mountains.
For more history on why the Spearhead Traverse is so special, read Eric Mackenzie’s 2014 article.
More on the project: