Saturday September 1st, the day before the helicopter. The plan for today had to change a bit since I couldn’t finish all the prep stuff the night before. I woke at 5:45am and went straight to Rona for it’s 6am opening to get another can of copper preservative. Back at home I spent the next few hours finishing up the painting and reconstruction after painting. I say reconstruction because after deconstruction and painting, the outhouse was partially reconstructed into 7 separate pieces. These pieces could be quickly loaded and unloaded, were stronger than the individual pieces (less likely to be damaged by the helicopter cargo nets) and would allow for expedited construction up at the hut. After some final phone calls with the firewood people, I left on my bike to pick up the 4WD vehicle from Driving Force in Burnaby – I would also recommend booking with them earlier than I did because I almost didn’t get the vehicle I needed. The vehicle was a crew cab GMC Sierra 2500HD three-quarter ton with a long box and it was without a doubt the biggest truck I had ever driven. The box was a whopping 92” by 60” and that night we filled every single corner of it up to the top of the cab. From Burnaby I was going to go get the new commercial grade polystyrene-filled steel door from Roland’s house, but I decided to drive out to UBC first to meet for an optional pre-trip that I was horrendously late for. Jackson, Will and Haley had graciously waited for me. We talked about a few things then thought that if we were flying stuff up to the hut that we should fly up a box of VOC Journals the hut is missing. We spent about 30min doing that. We grabbed some tools from the clubroom and I told Haley and Will to wait at the overhang and I would bike to the truck in the village and come pick them and the tools up. However, outside the nest I discovered my front tire to my old steel road bike had been stolen. I borrowed Will’s bike to go get the car quickly while Will held my poor unicycle which now looked like it was on the verge of tears having gone through a terrible break-up.
The plan for the rest of the day was that Will and Haley would come and stay at my place that evening and help me pack the truck before heading out early the next day. Haley joined me for the ride back to North Vancouver while Will said he would be on his way over later. Our drive back was about an hour sitting on Denman Street while the Lions Gate Bridge had its center lane closed for maintenance workers replacing light bulbs… I still had not found a plumb bob and the plan was to go to Dick’s Lumber before Walmart for food and then home. However, because of our delay on the bridge, we arrived at the store 3 min after 4:00pm; the closing time. I spent the next 5 min begging various employees to let me buy a plumb bob (and you wondered why I mentioned plumb bobs earlier). Haley and I joked that Will would probably reach my house before us. He didn’t, but he wasn’t so far off arriving 30min after we did. Now if you haven’t already noticed this, you might think, what happened to picking up the door from Roland? Indeed, what did happen to that… And so that evening, after Will arrived at my house from UBC, we went back out to Dunbar to get the door… We were hoping to have the whole truck packed early that night. I guess you could call it successful if you consider 1:30am successful. All I hoped was that my luck would improve for Sunday because I certainly didn’t have it over the last day.
Sunday September 2nd, the day of the helicopter. The plan for today was for everyone to meet at the Blackcomb Helicopters Squamish Base at 8:00am. Our “early” night however somewhat hampered our ability to get out on time that morning. I was supposed to pick up Luc and Lukas from Luc’s house in Squamish but since we were running late I called ahead to Alex Wharton, the second driver who was almost at the base already, to circle back and pick up Lukas; our truck was already stuffed, and it would be easier and faster to just pick up one rather than two. At Luc’s house we packaged up all the concrete and tools Luc had for the foundation on the open tailgate and secured it with some rope. The back was truly stuffed. We arrived at the base around 8:20am and met with our pilot Jeff, who had some amount of disbelief that we were allowed to hire them having had no experience doing any of the helicopter stuff before. I don’t blame him; I probably would be too. He gave us a brief safety briefing on how to interact with the helicopter and how to pack up the cargo nets. We borrowed 5 cargo nets in total. 4 were to be used for transport up and 1 was to carried up to the hut filled with garbage and the old steel door and flown out. Ideally, we would be ready for the helicopter as early in the day as possible, but I knew in the back of my mind that it probably wouldn’t be till 2:00pm that we’d be ready. If I were to do it again, a better plan would have been to ask everyone to come up for the safety meeting the afternoon before, prepare all the stuff in the evening and then have the helicopter arrive in the early morning to take advantage of the colder morning temperatures and the higher weight capacity.
After meeting with Ben, we all coalesced in the parking lot of the helicopter base and I went through the plan. Just before we left the parking lot I received a call that our firewood arrived at the FSR. Although slightly unfortunate that we were about 25min from getting to them, it was a much need relief for me because it meant that I didn’t have to worry about missing them later. We piled all our gear into my truck along with Lukas, Alia, Heather and Luc, while Will and Haley switched over to Alex’s car. Once at the FSR I realized quickly that the wood was not quite as seasoned as it might have been from a local known producer (logs had bark, and some had green moss on them). It wasn’t the end of the world though – at least it was wood, and if we could cover it up there, then maybe it could season at the hut. I paid them the $300 and left Will and Haley to protect our wood from the passing public while Alex and I drove up to the trailhead. Alex hoped in my truck after the Roe Creek bridge at 5km. Up at the trailhead we organized quickly to get everyone hiking up to the hut as fast as possible. All the overnight packs were to be flown up to allow them to get to the hut quicker and to make it easier for them to carry the 60lb cargo net. Lukas and Heather stayed behind to help me unload the truck so I could go back for the firewood. Then, I received a phone call from Luc. “We don’t have the impact driver; can you tell Lukas and Heather to bring it?”
Lukas hearing it over the car speakers called out to me, “we don’t have it – it’s not in our bags ask them to double check their bags.”
Luc: “We just checked, and we definitely don’t have it. Maybe we left it at Alex’s car”
Lukas and Heather stayed at the trailhead weighing everything and organizing the materials into the four remaining cargo nets while I whizzed back to Alex’s car and picked up the remainder of equipment and things left outside the car. Thankfully, the impact driver was there. The impact driver was necessary for the group heading up to have because they needed it to take apart the existing door so that it could be put in the cargo net with the rest of the garbage. Without it, they wouldn’t have been able to take the door off. Well, they might have been able to, but it probably would have been brutish. I learned later that they broke the hammer later, so maybe the impact driver didn’t make a difference in their brutishness.
Once back at the trailhead, Lukas and Heather left up to the Hut. I threw all the stuff out the back of the truck and went back to get Will and Haley who had now been waiting for a good hour and a half. Will’s call to me was something along the lines of, “Hey, so… whats up? How’s things?”, to which I exasperatedly wailed “I’M SORRY! I’M COMING”.
At the highway we loaded up the concrete bags and then the firewood into the back of the truck. The full truckload amounted to 308 split pieces of firewood. We would then use this number later to split it into two equal loads and approximate a weight for each load by measuring 10 pieces and then using the average. Will, Haley and I then spent the next hour up at the trailhead measuring out the weights of everything going into each net and unloading the firewood into the cargo nets. Since the cargo nets have big giant holes in them about the size of soccer balls we put down tarps on top of the cargo nets first before loading them up with the firewood. This way firewood wouldn’t be raining down on every stray hiker on their way to the hut. Pre-constructing all the pieces of the outhouse all proved useful because we could then stack all the materials on top of the flat pieces. By the time, we were ready to call the Helicopter it was 1:45pm. Jeff was waiting and would be in the air in 15min. so from that point we had a 30min race to finish everything up before the helicopter arrived. I called up to Luc to let them know and they too were ready to go.
We were still unloading firewood about 10min prior to the helicopter arrived when we suddenly realized that we still had 12 bags of concrete (660 lbs) to get on to our nets and so I moved the truck, frantically rushed assembly line style to get them organized, and lost the keys. The helicopter arrived, and the first load was ready to go. We called ahead to Jeff to let him know this would be our heaviest with 1380lbs of material. The helicopter used a long line and hovered over the cargo net while I directed him into position. Jeff would lean out the side of the helicopter, so he could see me. At the end of the long line is a giant metal clip that locks and unlocks by turning a big knob. To attach the cargo net what you have to do is turn the knob counter-clockwise, hook in the ring for the cargo net, then turn the knob back clockwise to lock it. I thought I did this, but I must not have because at about 85% liftoff, the ring for the cargo net snapped out of the hook causing most of the weight of the net to boom back onto the ground. Thankfully it wasn’t really off the ground yet so there wasn’t really any damage. I re-hooked it up, double checked that it was locked then sent it off. Much to my relief, this time it went smoothly, and the first load was off to the hut! When Jeff had it in the air he called back to let me know it was about 1450lbs (meaning the cargo net was about ~60lbs after allowing some error in our own weight measurements). 1500lbs was our maximum load capacity for the afternoon so we felt pretty good about our packing abilities for that first net. Will was eager earlier to direct the helicopter for the second load, but after seeing my mess up, he no longer wanted that responsibility of not having the load crash and burn through the atmosphere between the helicopter and the ground.
We continued unloading the wood to the last net while waiting for the garbage cargo net to return from the hut. Our second load looked about the same size as our first but really was just bulkier. It held some of the big long pieces of the outhouse, miscellaneous parts, the mechanical unit and all our packs. As a result, it took up the whole net, but only weighed 800lbs, well below our 1500lbs limit. It went up and out without a hitch and by this point I was so ecstatically happy I could not contain myself. All the parts for the outhouse had finally made it up to the hut and I was so relieved. Up at the hut, the crew worked to unload the nets as fast as possible. The goal was to unload and coil up the nets so that on the last lift, the nets could be tossed in an empty cargo net and hooked up to the helicopter and flown out to the truck so that we didn’t have to hike them out. This was the plan, it didn’t necessarily go that way though.
Before the Jeff came back for the third load I wanted to move the truck to give the helicopter more space, but I finally realized that I had lost the keys to the car. I could have sworn they weren’t there at the time, but my stress was so high and my mind set was not in the right place to be searching for something as small as car keys properly after handling 5000lbs worth of stuff over the past hour. I didn’t really have time to look for them either; Jeff was arriving. Jeff managed to take the third load (the first firewood load) without having an issue with the trucks position thankfully.
From our calculations we estimated 1000lbs of firewood for each load. This was less than I would have liked, but you make do with what you have planned. Once in the air, the helicopter confirmed our estimate with a total weight of 1200lbs (each also had 2 bags of concrete). With our last three loads being under weight I called up to Jeff and asked about how much fuel he had left, and if he had enough to possibly fly us up there after the last lift bringing down the cargo nets. Jeff said if he had to bring down the cargo nets he wouldn’t have the fuel and so I said that we would let it be and carry on with the original plan. However, Will, overhearing my call, was the equivalent of a baseball being shot from an automatic pitching machine into a room with trampoline walls: “I will carry ALL of the nets down if we get to go in the Helicopter”. Haley smiled and agreed she would carry one down too, so I changed my mind and said “heck all, fine, let’s do it”. With that, Will whelped a “YES!” and beamed a smile so bright I went blind and deaf at the same time. I can’t say I was any unhappier than he was though. It wasn’t really that we couldn’t have hiked the trail – it was more we just wanted the experience of riding in the helicopter for the 5 min trip. After dropping off the last load at the hut Jeff coiled up his long line at Brew Lake and called down to us saying that as if he dropped us off at the hut, we could pass all 5 cargo nets up into the helicopter body and we wouldn’t have to hike them down at all anyways!
So now that Jeff was coming to get us, I realized I still had to find the car keys. Panic ensued before I finally found them on the driver’s seat… We moved the truck and locked it down for our departure then crouched beside it while Jeff circled in and descended. The closer he got the more blind we got. Dust flew everywhere. We couldn’t look up because the dust would have pierced our eyes. The chopper got 10m from the ground before lifting up and away.
“I can’t land,” Jeff called over the radio, “the road is too dusty and the rocks will damage the blades if I get any closer. I’ll circle around and see if I can hover for a second and blow away the dust or find another spot”. Jeff descended a second time but it wasn’t really any different – and I don’t think I expected any different. Jeff lifted and called out “I’m sorry guys, I just can’t land…I don’t see anywhere where I could land either”.
“No worries, Jeff, thanks for all the help today. Have a safe flight back” I called out, as we waved goodbye with somewhat sullen faces as it dawned on us that we didn’t get the four cargo nets out. “Well, shit…” wasn’t said, but I am absolutely certain I wasn’t the only that had the thought cross our mind. None of us were really upset though, everything that could have went well, went well and everything made it up to the hut. It was 3:15pm and we managed to get all four flights in exactly an hour. With a total of an hour and a half flight time it would fit perfectly with our budget. The most difficult part of my job that weekend was finished, and I was overjoyed.
Our hike up was unrushed and the easiest hike I will probably ever have to the hut since our packs were already up there. On our approach to Brew Lake we ran into a group of hikers with some dogs which were very cute and Will was all over. While chatting, we realized that suddenly we were joined by Alia – she was hiking down from the hut carrying one of four cargo nets. The hikers with the dogs kindly offered to take the cargo net from Alia and throw it in the back of our truck, Alia was persistent, but the hikers were more so and eventually with gratitude she gave up the net and joined us for the hike back up. Just past the lake we ran into Alex, who was also carrying a net. We offered to him to let it lie just off the trail, hike back up with us, and one of us would carry it the rest of the way on our way back to the cars later. However, he too was a keener like the hikers.
Up at the hut, the remaining four, Heather, Luc, Jackson and Lukas were busy at work surveying out the outhouse location and prepping to drill into the bedrock with the impact driver. The location for the outhouse had changed since I had been last up in June. Luc and I had a phone call earlier that afternoon before the helicopter arrived to talk about it. Initially I was concerned that the outhouse was moving to far onto the west ridge where snow build up might be an issue, but it was actually more to the immediate north of the hut which was a good spot that still had some protection from snow build up. I felt confident in Luc’s judgement and skill to choose and layout a site that would work so I had told them over the phone to go a head with the survey. Now that I had arrived, they called me over to check it over before they started drilling. Seeing it for myself I was immediately satisfied that it would work and gave them the go ahead to start drilling. Luc and I work this way frequently where we ask each other for permission – it’s an engineering thing where we diffuse responsibility to each other. It has also kept me from going insane after making so many decisions by myself.
While they worked on the foundation for the outhouse, we stacked and organized all the outhouse materials neatly under a tarp beside the hut for the next weekend. The door for the hut was a gaping hole at this point and needed attention. When we replaced the door up at Harrison Hut, it was relatively easy because the hole in the hut fit nearly perfectly with the frame and the door. This time however, the non-hanging side of the door was not square or plumb and a minuscule too narrow in depth. The top of the door frame was also too high. We had to cut a 2×4 to fit in the top so that the top part of the frame could screw into something. By this time people were starting to get hungry though (it was 7:00pm after all).
Luc’s team at the foundation had finished drilling the holes in the rock and epoxying the rebar into the holes. They had also managed to cut, secure and seal each of the sonotubes in their correct spots in preparation for concrete pouring the next day. We were using a Hilti battery powered impact driver with a ¾” bit to drill 6” deep holes. We had two batteries and we were hopeful when we rented it that it would be enough to drill 12 of these holes. We managed to drill 9 full holes and 4-5” of the tenth hole before we lost the second battery to the heavens. Thankfully however, we only ended up needing to drill 10 holes because the last foundation point didn’t have bedrock and the sonutube was to sit fully on dirt.
For dinner, we planned as a group to make homemade mac and cheese. Everyone brought up a different ingredient to throw in the pot while I brought up the pasta and the bechamel ingredients. While cooking Will took up the guitar and serenaded us with his exceptional guitar playing and signing. We had so much food that we even were able to feed everyone for lunch the next day and provide dinner for a father and her two daughters who wouldn’t have got to the hut had Alex not gone back to get them (recall he was hiking up after dropping off a net).
By the time we finished dinner it was dark out, but the door was still not on. Somehow, I had no idea that it was approaching 10:00pm and so right after dinner was cleaned up, I went straight back to banging things to try and get the door on before everyone was asleep. This was definitely a non-sensible plan; the door probably needed another two diligent hours of work to get it on properly such that it wouldn’t have to be redone. Haley clued me to my senses – Luc had already been asleep for two hours. We laid the door partway across the door to hopefully retain some heat while still allowing enough space to get in and out. The day was long, and everyone worked hard throughout the whole day so by 10:30pm everyone was as dead as a doorknob.
Monday, September 3rd. Oatmeal has been waning on me for some time, so I have been thinking of alternatives to oatmeal to vary up my backcountry morning experience. On this trip I had a Knorr chicken noodle soup package and oh my, I will without a doubt do it again. The weather was beautiful, and we set out on the days task of pouring the concrete, installing the door, stacking the firewood and measuring the collapsed chimney cap on the roof of the hut.
That last task was unexpected, and I probably wouldn’t have noticed had there not been a note left on a piece of paper in the hut. The wood ladders were outside and so we strapped them together, one up to the roof, and then one on the roof. Haley stood at the top of the first ladder and held the second ladder, while Alex held the bottom of the ladder and Jackson belayed me with a 5mm cord that probably wouldn’t have held if I fell. Calling it belaying might have been a bit of a stretch. I think Jackson’s particular words for it were “partial fall arresting”. Up at the top, a strung a tape measure around the pipe to measure the circumference, and then clambered back down before I could fall and call Jeff back to the Hut. Next time I vowed to use the steel ladder in the hut.
Luc and Heather worked on mixing the concrete for the foundations in the meantime. After the roof sketchiness, Haley and I went to work on setting the door. Lukas, Alex and Jackson began stacking and organizing the firewood. Alia and Will strapped up the last two cargo nets and head out to the trailhead. Eventually by 4:00pm the concrete was set, the door was hung, the firewood was all stacked and Alia and Will had got back to the Hut after their trek with the cargo net. We packed up, took some photos and left out back to the car at 5:00pm. We stopped at the lake for a swim because what’s a VOC hiking trip without swimming in an alpine lake at least once. At the truck we called ahead to Mags, because chimichangas, but to our disappointment it had an hour long wait and closed at 8:00pm; we wouldn’t even get there before it closed sadly. We opted instead for a McDonalds drive through. Thankfully we did because pulling out of the McDonalds I realized I had forgotten to drop off the cargo nets back at the helicopter base. It was going on 9:00pm and Ben from Blackcomb Helicopters let out an “oh lord…” when I called to tell him we were at the base to drop off the cargo nets. He was super nice though and let us toss them over the barbed fence so they would have them in the morning and Ben wouldn’t have to come and open the gate for us. Finally we could be on our way home.
It wasn’t till I got home that I realized I forgot to also return their walkie talkies… Thank you Roland for doing that on the Wednesday!
The labour day long weekend trip was one of the most stressful trips I have done but also one of the most rewarding trips. We accomplished everything that we set out to accomplish and I could not have asked for a better team to help pull it off. I am incredibly thankful to everyone who came out – the trip would not have been such a success without all your help.