Thanksgiving at Phelix – Roland’s version.

This was my fourth trip to Phelix this year as I wanted to see the new wood-burning heater installed.  I have been up there quite a few times since we built the hut 21 years ago. I was up there for that as well. This trip report is rather long and doesn’t have any pictures. Sorry about that.

On being a driver: Trip started abruptly when my alarm went off at 4:45am. Drivers have to drive all over town looking for people they don’t know. Fortunately Sam had issued me with people on campus so it was almost like one-stop shopping. My passengers, Shu Yu, Nina, and Mariafernanda, were all pretty nice and mellow. After getting up at such an unpleasantly early hour I did not want to waste time at Pemberton so I got special permission to miss the otherwise-compulsory faffing at the coffee shop in Pemberton.

The road was mostly good and mostly deserted and my newish Jeep didn’t mind the “interesting” part of the road too much. I asked the passengers to get out of the Jeep while I drove across “the slide”, so that there would be survivors if the Jeep went over the edge. The slide needs work, as usual. We got past the huge rock OK and we only bottomed out on one cross-ditch. The “Zero bridge” did not collapse under the weight of the Jeep, but the deck is getting a lot of holes in it. There seems to be more little notes and ribbons on the road than there was last year, with the little notes saying things like “put culvert in here”. For the sake of our access it would be nice if the logging company does more logging up there but the road will need a lot of work plus two new bridges before logging trucks can start hauling out logs, and I don’t see any really good trees up there to pay for all this. The area has already been logged once, after all.

Faffing at the one-log bridge: I determined that we had way too much food as usual, because I am still a car-camper at heart, and I don’t like carrying stuff. Shu Yu always carries way too much so she had most of the food plus the stove and her tent. We were supposed to do a Thanksgiving potluck and most people seemed to bring cookies for the potluck and Shu Yu doesn’t like cookies much so we had a mini-potluck within the main pot-luck. I think she had a whole kilo of cooked chicken, including the bones. Anyway we were the first people to go up the trail, and we went slowly, not quite as slowly as when Jeff Mottershed was carrying the 150 pound heater, but pretty slowly. Even Nina, who is into Kinesiology, didn’t complain about going slowly.

The trail was mercifully shortish, and there weren’t too many logs to climb over, thanks to Diego who persuaded his Pemberton forest fire crew to chainsaw them earlier this year. I didn’t even need to pull out my GPS and say encouraging things like “only 1.423 kms to the hut”. The weather was a bit gloomy but I enjoyed not wearing my raincoat and leaving my gaiters in the Jeep.

Scrambling at the hut: The brochure said that scrambling was supposed to happen. Above the hut there was snow on the rocks so this would be Scottish scrambling. The crew had brought up enough hardware to equip a Rock Party and it didn’t look like they were planning to sit around all day in the hut. But by the time we had captured the best sleeping spots and Ryan had started the heater it was late enough in the day that we didn’t have to feel guilty about not scrambling. About a dozen tents sprung up around the end of the lake and some of us had naps. Others swam. Some swam twice.

Saturday Night: The hut was really full, but I was determined to sleep in it because I wanted to fully appreciate the new wood heater. Downstairs a particularly violent and noisy card game was happening, complete with cel phone music courtesy of Spotify. Eventually I went down stairs and explained that all the quiet people in the hut probably wanted to go scrambling tomorrow and they would appreciate it if the card game was very quiet. But that didn’t sound much like fun so the card players packed it in for the night. Upstairs it was really too warm for my -10C bag and the person next to me had the world’s noisiest mattress so every time he rolled over I had to roll over and then everybody else in the hut had to roll over. Rolling over was hard because we didn’t have much space. There was very little snoring, probably because nobody was asleep.

Sunday and Scrambling: Various parties set out at various times, to use the outhouse. We needed time rationing on the outhouse so if you couldn’t remember why you were there in five minutes you were encouraged to give your spot in the lineup to the next customer. This should be all a non-issue after next summer when the new three-person outhouse gets built. The outhouse committee is now accepting candidates for the outhouse design course so if you want to do something truly interesting and useful, join the committee. They may name it after you. It won’t be a Shit-o-matic.

Various parties set off to do various things as the clouds swirled around and visibility decreased. I had no urge to scramble as I had scrambled previously. After a while I decided to mount a one-person expedition to the N end of the lake. When I got there it was no longer possible to see the hut, but I did find the splitting axe buried in the spare woodpile. As I returned to the hut with the splitting axe, the first snowflakes began to fall. I sat in the hut enjoying the storm and waiting for the potluck (actually I was waiting for the mulled wine). The card players had gotten their game going and their Spotify. Soon Shu Yu returned with a dozen people who were originally following Sam but had scrambled enough. We ate cookies.

Sunday Night: I had a spot in Shu Yu’s tent so I moved out of my favorable spot in the hut. By now there was almost a centimeter of snow on the ground and it was sliding off the tent. The tent was very cozy and quiet and I wasn’t too hot any more. I did enough sleeping to totally make up for Saturday night. I don’t know what happened with the potluck but I believe the 8 liters of wine got consumed and most of my cookies were eaten. There was a huge amount of cake wrappers, cookie bags, and other strange food debris left on the tables when we got up the next morning.

Monday Morning: We knew we were about to do the most dangerous part of the trip, the ride home so we decided to say we were leaving the hut at 8am but actually leave around 9am. The drive home was mostly accomplished OK. Shu Yu drove from Pemberton so I didn’t have to take my special stay-awake chemicals. Shu Yu accidentally left her sunglasses at the Squamish MacDonald’s toilet.

Some VOC Rituals:

  • I believe I may have finally persuaded most VOC’ers that burning toilet paper does not make the world a better place. The “Burning TP Bucket” has been re-purposed as a “Heater Ash Bucket”, which is good. No doubt this discussion will continue for a long time.

  • Playing musical instruments such as guitars at the hut seems to no longer be a thing, because everybody has a cel phone and their own personal Spotify collection. Pity, because what are we going to do with all those left-over songbooks?

  • Even though the new heater does an excellent job of sucking bad smells, cooking vapors, flatulence etc out of the hut and up the chimney, people seem to think that they are poisoning themselves and want to open the windows. This somewhat interferes with the heater’s job to make the hut warm. No doubt when winter actually arrives, the “close the windows” group will win.

  • There seems to be a feeling among some outspoken Members that burning garbage in the new heater is an evil thing and Ryan wouldn’t let me burn my cookie bag. What does he expect me to do with it? Stick it in some landfill somewhere and wait for it to turn to coal? In my 25 years as a chemist I’ve burned a lot of stuff, and I can assure anybody who’s still listening that it’s OK to burn plastic cookie bags, also muffin cups and even surplus porridge. Again, ritual.

Conclusions: Everybody seemed to have a good time and some people learned some things, like don’t carry your crampons next to your beer cans or the beer will leak out and make your pack smell funny. The heater is good. But bring a tent.


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4 Responses to Thanksgiving at Phelix – Roland’s version.

  1. Jeff Mottershead says:

    Uh, Roland, I agree with you 90% of the time, but burning plastics isn’t great. Non-plastic garbage such as muffin cups, porridge and carcasses is all good, though.

    I’m totally on board with being disturbed about the music-on-cell-phones trend. As a society we’re aware enough that we don’t want to be trapped in a small space with other people’s music blasting away, so every bus has signage telling people not to do that. It’s really hard for conversations, people playing real instruments or sleep to compete with electronic noise machines, so they’ll usually win, but it doesn’t mean they should.

    Hopefully no one who’s cranked the tunes reads this and feels really bad. It’s after all a societal trend, not any one particular person’s fault. This is a small nudge towards a culture that cares as much about each of the 25 people upstairs trying to sleep or otherwise enjoy the hut as the group that actually agrees on wanting a particular flavour of music.

  2. Ryan MacDonald says:

    Ain’t nobody want a big pile o’ melted plastic all over our fancy new firebrick lined heater, sorry Roland. If this was a rusty craigslist special I’d have been more ambivalent.

    Some of us did try several times to get singing going on Sunday night, but were largely ignored. The crew was very engaged in talking animatedly about school and weren’t to be disturbed even when I tried to get midnight swimming going later on.

    I need to do a write-up on how to properly run that stove to maximize fuel, I’ll do that now since I’m super sick.

  3. Swantje Moehle says:

    Thanks for the trip report, it sounds like it was fun. Glad to hear the stove is working well and thanks to Krista, Piotr, Haley and Jeff for making that happen.
    How did the firewood levels look like? Any sign of recent camp fires outside (but I guess the spots would be snow covered now?) or excessive wood use yet?
    Also I would like to chime in on the “please don’t burn plastic, especially not in the nice new stove” choir. There is a reason why commercial garbage burning facilities have a lot of air filters and the ash is treated as toxic waste. Plus it probably isn’t great for the stove (and no one wants to have to fix it sooner than necessary ;-) )

  4. Roland Burton says:

    1) I read the diatribe about burning plastics including such cool statements as “burning plastics releases mercury into the environment” and “burning polystyrene releases styrene”. What about bis-phenol-A? Did I miss that? Anyway, burning polyethylene in a hot fire with sufficient air doesn’t even emit ethylene and it definitely doesn’t leave deposits on your firebrick. Do you realize how many toxic chemicals are released by burning wood? OMG I think we are all going to die (eventually). But if that’s what you want, then I bow to the collective ignorance of the masses. (Burning PVC is bad and smells terrible but unless you are planning to burn an old plastic raincoat, this is unlikely to happen). And don’t tie yourself to the chimney.
    2) I didn’t see any fire pits outside and the wood pile is looking abundant. The pile just by the door is looking a little moist, with slush sliding off the roof. The pile under the trap door looks pretty abundant and dry.
    3) Super-sick: I guess we don’t need flu shots because we now have the same sick as everybody else up thre.

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