For the past year a working group has looked into the possibility of establishing a hut-to-hut hiking trail around the Spearhead Traverse, probing into an already well-traveled section of Garibaldi Provincial Park.
B.C. Parks has been a part of that working group since the beginning, according to committee chair Jayson Faulkner, but it is open to the idea. However, like most of the huts that exist in B.C. and Alberta, the funding to build the huts will have to come from organizations and individuals, and fundraisers like the one the committee is hosting on Friday, Nov. 26 at the Longhorn Saloon.
"Parks has been part of the process through the whole thing, there was no point in starting down this road in our view if Parks wasn't going to support it," he said. "This is something that B.C. Parks and their staff at Alice Lake could support, and feel could be of value to the park using community... Basically they would like to see this happen, although we still have a lot of hoops like the environmental review to go through."
B.C. Parks, which has a staff of just three park rangers in this area, does not have the resources to build a trail for summer use or build the cabins, Faulkner says. They could, however, benefit from fees collected from the huts, as well as other upgrades that are being considered - like composting toilets, to name just one example.
"We're working on budgets, and a lot of that depends on hut locations," said Faulkner, adding that either three or four additional huts could be built along the traverse. "I believe the (Jim) Haberl Hut in the Tantalus cost $120,000 to build and a good part of the pre-fab building was done by volunteers. And that was a pretty tough place to build - a short flying time, but tough terrain."
The exact costs will depend on the size of the huts and features like composting toilets, and whether they would have solar or wind power available. Generally speaking, costs could range from $150,000 to $250,000, with bigger huts built closer to Whistler and Blackcomb and smaller huts further in the backcountry where fewer people would go. The Himmelsbach Hut at Russet Lake, for example, is too small for its current location and would likely be replaced by a bigger hut - and flown to another point on the traverse for continued use.
Faulkner says the current site is crowded and even in October when he hiked to the area he found every one of the tent sites filled. As well, until the outhouse was replaced this week, it was in such a bad state of repair that people were doing their business outside.
"In some places in Europe they were forced to put huts in strictly to manage the impact of a lot of people in one area," explained Faulkner.
While Faulkner acknowledges that the Spearhead Hut plans could cause some controversies, he emphasizes that the project is still in early planning stages. There will be opportunities for the public to comment at a later date, although Faulkner would like to be able to announce something in 2011 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of B.C. Parks. From there, however, it will likely take three years to complete the network.
In the meantime the committee includes representation from the Alpine Club of Canada national chapter, both Vancouver and Whistler chapters, the B.C. Mountaineer Club, various memorial groups (the Kees and Claire Memorial Hut Society, Brett Carlson Memorial Group) and others. B.C. Parks and Whistler Blackcomb are also party to the discussions.
Faulkner points out that plans to build huts in the Spearhead date back over 40 years, and that huts are more common in the Kootenays and Rockies. He believes it will draw more visitors to the area with an alpine hut system to rival Europe and other areas of North America; improve access to one of the least accessible provincial parks in the province; and provide more resources to manage the park and park assets like trails. The impacts of the trails are also confined to "a small area in the western edge of the park," said Faulkner.
There are bigger plans as well, including one multi-day hike and hut route that would run from Garibaldi Lake to Cheakamus Lake, connect to the Musical Bumps and then continue around the Spearhead Traverse - as well as a plan that would allow people to hike from Vancouver to Whistler by linking up existing trails in the backcountry.
The fundraiser, which is co-hosted by Mountain Life Magazine as well as the Spearhead Hut Committee, includes a silent auction, slideshow by photographer Jordan Manley, photos from the first traverse of the Spearhead Traverse by Karl Ricker and a group from UBC, live music and more. The event gets underway at 8 p.m. on Friday, Nov.26, but participants are invited to come out earlier to socialize.