Another Harrison Hut Fiasco: Flood

Participants: Pemberton SAR, the RCMP, Blackcombe Aviation, Mother Nature, a marmot, the Luggable Loo, Roland Burton, Jeff Mottershead, Christian Veenstra, Lea Zhecheva, Lianne McRadu, Joachim Klungseth, Henri Brunel, Ola Esten Roessum, Ben Farrow, Jacob Emil Toennesen, Ben Singleton-Polster, Meredith who’s attached to Ben, all sorts of people from the hot springs and Scott Webster remotely.

The plan started out reasonably simply. Roland and I were going to go up to the Harrison Hut for more or less a week and do our best to fix the place up. I was going to work on the crossing of Madhorse Creek, the one right by the hut that was a bit of a climb and sketchy for some. We had Christian’s DeLorme satellite communicator so that we could order in all the parts that we discovered we needed. Christian was going to muster up a crew that would bring up the supplies and then we’d be able to finish all the repairs.

Things got off to a tangy start way before we even tried to leave Vancouver. For whatever reason Roland couldn’t sleep so he decided that the thing to do was watch The Gold Rush starring Charlie Chaplin. There was one scene in particular where Charlie and Big Jim were in a snowbound cabin and starving. Big Jim started to hallucinate that Charlie was a chicken and endeavoured to eat him. Roland started wondering–and I’ll stress that I’m not even making this up–if our time up at the hut would end similarly. With that in mind and very little sleep he went off to find my house and got lost for a while.

It was the weekend of the Gran Fondo bike race. We’d planned to be ahead of it but thanks to Big Jim we were beside the cyclists. We probably could have bested the cyclists except that they had an army of flaggers and cones to defeat us. We had ample time to discuss Chaplin trivia and the merits of the Rona in Pemberton. I got some Ritz crackers in Pemberton and we hit the trail at just before 1:00. I had a fairly heavy pack but I downplayed it a fair bit because Roland’s feet had been acting up and I eventually convinced him to let me carry a bunch of his food.

I had this piece of aluminum for fixing the warping outhouse door strapped to my pack. It was a little taller than me and thus stuck out a ways. In the first clear cut I tangled it the canopy and took a flop into the devil’s club. I’ve been picking out thorns ever since and I’m not yet done.

By the time I made it to the Barr Creek bridge it was pretty much dark. Roland was long past me and I was really starting to slow down, partially because I was tired and partially because I’d lost the skin around my hips, lower back and ass. I ditched all the heavy, non-perishible hut repair stuff and was a good 60 lbs lighter after that. I scampered up, met Roland at the hut and everything was good. I did not go all Big Jim on him.

We discovered that the marmots had eaten a staggering amount of plywood.

They seem to prefer plywood. They must like the glue.

They seem to prefer plywood. They must like the glue.

In addition to the old outhouse, which we knew about, they’d also been working away on the plywood stored under the hut and the underside of the floor. In particular the area right around the door felt like it was about to bust every time you stood on it. We pried some of it up and determined that it was only 3/8″ thick. This seemed bizarrely thin for a floor, but that’s what it measured to. We reported this to Christian with the DeLorme and he bought and painted a sheet to bring up.

I heard this scraping sound coming from the old outhouse and took a look inside and found a trapped marmot. It had come in through a hole in the door and since I was standing at the door it had nowhere to go. I didn’t have my camera with me so I closed the door and put a rock in the hole, got the camera and it was still there when I got back. I took some photos and then let it go.

Marmot burgers anyone?

Marmot burgers anyone?

The next day Roland heard similar sounds from a marmot trashing the hut. He eventually scared it off.

The following day I heard it trashing the outhouse again and opened the door and gave it a light poke in the ass to hopefully let it know that if it continued to eat the plywood I might just go all Big Jim on it. We didn’t hear marmots wrecking anything after that.

We more-or-less vermin-proofed the new outhouse.

Almost as good as brick.

Almost as good as brick.

We fixed up the wobbly legs on the table. Roland added another bookshelf so that all the journals fit on it properly.

A job well done deserves some beard contemplating.

A job well done deserves some beard contemplating.

I moved some rocks around to make it so that you could just step from rock to rock instead of climbing to cross Madhorse Creek. This appeared to be a flying success for a week. The water raised and lowered but never came within 18″ of the top of the lowest rock.

Drag it along...

Drag it along…

Flip 'er up...

Flip ‘er up…



A bit of bacon grease and that'll slide right out.

A bit of bacon grease and that’ll slide right out.

All right I guess, but it's not worth a smile.

All right I guess, but it’s not worth a smile.

We fixed the door. The hut guitar was warped and broken but it came back to flat and glued together again nicely after a good steaming. Someone had told me that the reason the guitar was busted in the first place was because it was supposed to have nylon strings and someone had strung it with steel strings. We’d got nylon strings to replace it. It turned out to be definitely a steel string guitar, so that was a partial failure. I guess fixed but with the wrong strings is way better than broken.

I guess I should say something about the Luggable Loo. This heinous object is a bucket with a toilet seat on top. The idea is that you can dump the contents of the bucket somewhere far away when it’s getting close to full. Roland thought this thing was a good idea as he didn’t know if we’d succeed at digging a new outhouse hole last year. I had assured him we would and that there was no reason to test the Luggable Loo as it was definitely going to be gross. Roland’s the best guy in the history of time and he VOC owes so much to him so the Luggable Loo thing is only one step backwards after a thousand forwards, but it was a horrible mistake. It got used for a bit before I had the hole dug and it was rapidly infested with crawlies and smelled dramatically worse than any outhouse. After I dug the new outhouse hole the Luggable Loo was put in the old outhouse and forgotten by everyone but Roland for a year.



While we were up this time Roland took it out and had a look to see how we could deal with the situation. A year had made it get decidedly more visually disgusting albeit less stinky. Roland thought that we should let the rain deal with it. I thought not because I didn’t like the idea of it overflowing all over the area. My only real thoughts on how to deal with it involve helicopters or thermite.

Roland headed down on Friday with plans to visit the pools The rest of the crew met Roland on the road on Saturday. Lianne decided that she was too sick to go up to the hut so that worked out more or less. She and Roland went for a day trip to the pools.

Saturday was very wet. Ben and Meredith showed up with the 4′x8′ sheet of 3/8″ plywood we’d ordered. We had a hell of a time pulling the nails from the original floor when it was one piece, but it was really easy to stomp through the floor and and rip out the smaller pieces. Once the floor was out we discovered that it was supposed to be a 3/4″ sheet, not 3/8″ We’d only measured 3/8″ because the marmots had taken half of the area that we pried up and measured.

We made a patchwork of old plywood on the joists to bring the new sheet level with the old sheets and pounded it down. It’s certainly not a long-term solution, but it isn’t going to fall apart immediately and the old floor was one misstep away from having a foot-sized hole in it, so it’s definitely an improvement.

While we were working on the floor the remainder of the party arrived. They’d been doing a solid job bettering the trail in the rain.

Meredith makes wildlife documentaries for a living. With 100000 octopus eggs going to hatch any day she made a satellite phone call early Sunday to see if she had to make a run for it back to civilization. Fortunately the octopus explosion hadn’t started and she could relax.

A touch of snow to foreshadow the rain.

A touch of snow to foreshadow the rain.

It rained a lot during the night. Some of us thought it was nothing special while others thought it was of biblical proportions. Madhorse Creek seemed to agree with the more dramatic interpretations and many key boulders of both the old and new creek crossing were sufficiently under water that the crossing was decidedly dangerous for lighter folk. Christian and I set up a tight hand line with the Tirfor after I made a nervous crossing with the cable clipped to me.

Cable installed over Soggyville.

Cable installed over Soggyville.

Bridge over troubled waters.

Bridge over troubled waters.

After some frantic hut fixing Sunday morning I left the remaining work with the very competent crew that was up there and started scooting down the trail so that Roland didn’t have to wait for ages. We met up and started to drive out and met two agitated hot springs people who said the road was out. Christian’s crew had fixed the road the last time Spidery Creek overflowed so we thought we might do the same. When we got there we discovered an eight foot chasm where the road used to be and I wrote it off as unfixable.

That'll buff right out.

That’ll buff right out.

I should also mention the exchanges Roland was having with the hot springs people. Something like this was pretty standard:

Hot spring person: So what are we going to do?

Roland: We’re going to get some good practice at being hungry.

The DeLorme and satellite phone were with with Christian and Meredith who I hadn’t seen since the morning. I had no idea where the were on the trail so I thought I should go back up and get the message out that we’d need a rescue as soon as possible. My clothes were wet and heavy so I stripped down to my undies and took off. Roland apparently had to address concerns from the hot springs people that this would kill me.

I found them in the first clearcut, got nominated to talk to the RCMP and had a frustrating time trying to get them to understand our problem. Every time I talked to someone we didn’t get to the point where they understood that we needed to be rescued before the phone would lose contact with the satellites. I eventually got someone that seemed to understand what we needed. She told me to stay right where I was, I think assuming that I was at the washout, not way up the trail, put me on hold and then the phone lost the satellite. I had no way of getting a hold of that person again as the call centre just gives you the next operator and they never give their names. I just started running like hell then to hopefully make it to the creek in time to tell rescue that there were more people coming and to wait.

Once I got back to the trailhead Roland drove us down to Spidery Creek and we verified that no one had come. Some of the hot springs people told us that two of their friends who had to catch a flight to India at 11:00 PM had taken off to try to walk to Pemberton. It was basically 100% clear that they weren’t going to make it. Even if they could run like goats on fire for 60 km the drive from Pemberton to Whistler and getting through security at the airport guaranteed that they weren’t going to make it. Their friends were very concerned and their dog was disturbed.



A helicopter was going back and fourth between civilization and the micro hydro project under construction further up the Lillooet. Many of the hot spring people were trying to attract its attention. I told them that they might as well be trying to get Mt. Meager to do a pirouette. They didn’t like that but the helicopter made a point of demonstrating that my assertions were correct again and again.

Many of the hot spring people were in bathrobes. Roland discussed bathrobes with all of the ladies wearing bathrobes but none of the dudes.

Eventually the sat phone and the DeLorme showed up and I started trying to get some progress out of the RCMP.

Meredith had apparently tried the RCMP when I was running back and got some lady that responded to the summary of events with “so are you just telling me this to let us know?” I would have thought that the the point of telling the RCMP that you need rescue is so that they rescue you but I guess that wasn’t obvious to the RCMP.

Christian and Ben SP were pretty gung-ho about fixing the Spidery Creek crossing. I thought this had no probability of working and devoted my time to the sat phone. After a bunch of totally fruitless conversations with various people at the RCMP call centre I thought that calling Scott Webster was probably way more useful. Within about a minute Scott had all the information he needed to get to the authorities.

Scott spent 2.5 hours on the phone and finally got an RCMP officer to drive up to the Lillooet South Forest Service Road. He met water over his hood at the 3km mark. Sometime around then I called Scott back. He was on the phone with the RCMP at that time and connected a 3-way call which was the first useful conversation I had with anyone that was in a position of authority. The officer sort of thought that we must be at the 3km mark because that’s where the washout was. We eventually convinced the lady that we knew where we were and were at a different washout.

After some more 3-way calls and persistence by Scott the RCMP finally contacted Pemberton Search and Rescue. This was good. There isn’t a public contact for SAR; how it’s supposed to work is that the emergencies go to the RCMP and they’re supposed to determine whether or not to pick up the bat-phone and call SAR. This in theory stops SAR from having to explain that they don’t rescue people’s cats or the like but in practice it makes it far to difficult to actually get a hold of SAR.

Anyways, seven hours after our first contact with the RCMP they finally called SAR. It was more or less dark by then. They asked us if we could survive until the morning. I said everyone at the cars would but there were two totally unprepared people of unknown fitness somewhere in the middle of the road. The officer said that he’d drive up to the 3 km mark at 1:00 AM and see if they were there. Their friends didn’t like that answer very much but there wasn’t a lot they could do.

After we went to sleep the two escapees wandered back. They found a bridge out at the 8 km mark. It was South Creek which is a pretty large creek. They knew they didn’t have a chance and turned around. In the morning I was informed about the return. I naively had assumed that SAR or the RCMP might have been concerned after they failed to locate them at 1:00 AM so I tried calling the RCMP. It was too early for the Pemberton RCMP to have someone manning the phone so I got routed to the call centre again. I explained the deal asked that the Pemberton RCMP or SAR be informed. She said she wouldn’t. I explained that they might be actively looking, that the sat phone only got reception occasionally and that someone really should know. She told me that she wasn’t going to do a damn thing no matter what I said so I called Scott. He told me that he didn’t think anyone in authority cared about the two missing people but that I should try the emergency services coordination number he’d got. I called them up and explained the situation. They asked if I had a case number and I said no. I was told–and I’m really not even making this up at all–that there was no way they could connect my information with our problem without a case number as there were four rescue situations going on in the area. I told her that there was exactly one at the 19 km mark of the the Lilloet South Forest Service Road. She said that wasn’t enough information and that connecting it to the right operation was impossible. I more or less asked her to pass it the information on to someone who knew their ass from a hole in the ground with as much fake respect as I could and she refused.

After that I decided that the only hope was to wait for the local Pemberton RCMP to open up. I tried calling from when they opened at 9:00 AM and was repeatedly informed that they were busy. Some time after 10:00 I finally got a real person and explained that the two who had wandered off had returned. No one at the detachment had any clue that anyone had wandered off in the first place. I was flabbergasted. If those dudes hadn’t made it back on their own they sure weren’t getting any help. Maybe after a week or two someone would get around to finding a body and brushing some of the ants off it. It’s hard to imagine what it’d be like if we had a real emergency.

I should also be clear that the problem here is really the system and some people on the switch boards. Whenever we got to interact with an RCMP officer who was actually on the ground, whether it was by sat phone or in person the experience was dramatically different than talking to the people at the call centre. They seemed to get stuff in general and wanted to help.

A few hours later a helicopter showed up and the SAR dude got out. He asked if anyone needed to be on the first helicopter out for medical reasons. No one had a good problem so then he asked if anyone had a compelling non-medical reason to be out of there on the first run. A number of people had reasons. Some made a lot of sense. One of the hot spring people had a young kid that was a day late being picked up from the weekend child care already. Ben Farrow had made it to the third round of job interviews at a legal firm and was scheduled for 6:30 PM. He could still make it. It’s hard to get to the third round and it was his future career. Some other people had totally lame reasons but they were insistent and Ben was really polite and calm. I was kind of worried that the SAR dude was going to let the loudest people on but he fortunately cut through the crap and put Ben and the mom on the hot shot to Pemberton.

First load about to go out.

First load about to go out.

The helicopter fuelled up in Pemberton and returned to us. It started ferrying people over the what turned out to be 11 washouts where a bus collected the people.That made sense–there was no point flying the helicopter over perfectly good road again and again when two laps of the bus could do the same job for a bunch of thousands of dollars less.

When there were only a couple more people to unload I went up from where the helicopter was landing to the creek to round up the people still straggling. There was one dude left at the camp fire. He was totally nude, squatting in front of the fire with his knees spread wide. The sun was behind him and his junk was in silhouette.

“Oh this feels SOOOO GOOD!”

I tried to prod him to get clothed and towards the helicopter. He told me about how he was in independent candidate in the federal election, how conventional currency was slavery and how Bitcoin was going to free us all. Neither of was making too much progress in getting the other to get ready for the helicopter or endorse Bitcoin. Eventually the SAR dude showed up and told him to get his clothes on so he did.

I was on the last helicopter out. Since it was going back to Pemberton to refuel before rescue mission number three our load got to go straight to Pemberton and bypassed the bus. It provided some views.

Helicopters might make the hot spring people smile but Roland is cooler than cool; he's ICE COLD!

Helicopters might make the hot spring people smile but Roland is cooler than cool; he’s ICE COLD!

Pemberton Meadows are damp.

Pemberton Meadows are damp.

A bumper crop of muck.

A bumper crop of muck.

We were reunited with the bus party at the Pemberton Community Centre. We gave all our info and then broke into two main groups– one that included almost all of the VOCers and some of the hot spring people that just wanted to take the Greyhound and those that wanted to rent a Party Bus. The head Party Bus dude was trying to talk all of into going in on it.

“Let me ask you this? How many beers do you want to have on the way back to Vancouver?”

“Zero,” I said. He realized I was hopelessly uncool and gave up on collecting everyone.

En route to the Greyhound I saw that the CBC television crew was interviewing our Norwegian crew but they escaped before too long. We all fit on the Greyhound. We probably wouldn’t have if the Party Bus crew had come along so it’s good that they wanted to do their own thing.

Some time we’ll get the cars back, I guess. When that happens Christian and I will add a few more boulders to make the creek crossing safe even in high flood conditions.

Yeah. I guess that’s about it. Unlike the normal narrative arc of fiction consisting of introduction, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution this one followed the real life arc of things more or less going normally, getting seriously out of whack fairly quickly and then taking a long time to more or less sort most things out, but not all of them. All the cars are still on the other side. C’est la vie.

I tricked Roland. He did his best not to smile when he thought I was taking the photo but I actually took it when he was congratulating himself for not smiling when he thought I was taking the photo.

I tricked Roland. He did his best not to smile when he thought I was taking the photo but I actually took it when he was congratulating himself for not smiling when he thought I was taking the photo.

More pictures here if you want them.

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12 Responses to Another Harrison Hut Fiasco: Flood

  1. Nicole Ong says:

    Yay, Roland finally with a smile!

    What an amazing story! Thank you for sharing!

  2. Shane Duan says:

    The legend continues…!

  3. Sam Mason says:

    A great read – thanks for the writeup!

  4. Michael Cancilla says:

    Great read!

  5. Kevin Pierce says:

    Great trip report. I’m really surprised at the lack of efficiency in communication between the RCMP and SAR. How could they be encouraged to improve this?

    • Clemens Adolphs says:

      And it’s not the first time, either. Both during Shane’s accident on Guard and Neil’s accident on Mt. Currie the RCMP call center people proved frustratingly useless.

      EDIT: Ha, just now also read Roland’s comment.

      Not sure how to improve. You’d think that in a province such as BC, their call center people had some basic training on how to deal with outdoor emergencies. I think when Piotr called them from the top of Guard, they took quite some time until they understood that, no, we could not give them a street address.

  6. Roland Burton says:

    1) We’ve been using Pemberton SAR a lot lately so maybe one of our fundraiser movies this year should send money their way.

    2) The RCMP seems good. SAR is excellent. But the call dispatch centre where the 911 calls go, seems to be quite hopeless. This is not the first time we have had to go around them to get what we needed. Specifically, Shane’s adventure on Guard, and Neil’s adventure on Mt Currie.

  7. Scott Webster says:

    I spent a bunch of time talking to various people, including some dispatch people and they all seemed fairly competent and helpful. I think it is quite easy for minor communications problems to result in confusion… not everyone is “on the same wavelength.” Not sure exactly what can be done here, but probably a good reminder to keep it simple etc.

    Also, the authorities were quite busy during this even with other landslides etc., so resources were stretched a bit…

    • Shane Duan says:

      Scott was dead on in regards to “keep it simple”! To the point, only communicate information needed, no extra “chat” or trying to be friendly in these situations.

  8. Roland Burton says:

    It took about a month to fix the road washouts, and meanwhile we sent many emails back and forth discussing a high-lift crane to lift the cars over the main washout, etc, but decided that the cost and uncertainty of the crane were not good..

    Eventually we drivers all got ferried up and rescued the cars. The Jeep didn’t even smell spectacularly bad, though it had been sitting wet for a month.

  9. Adam Steele says:

    What a story! Great writing, Jeff.

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