As you may or may not have heard, the VOC has been busy making construction plans since March, when the roof at the Brian Waddington/Phelix Creek Hut suffered a partial failure. Fundraising, structural design, materials procurement, transportation, meal planning, and volunteer-wrangling were in full swing since early spring, and in the past weeks the many people involved with the agonizing groundwork began to see the project come to life.
So, if you’ve been curious what we’ve been up to, read on and hear the story of how, two weeks ago, more than 15,000lbs of construction material was transported from an unassuming warehouse on the Fraser River to an idyllic cabin deep in the Coast Range… Of course this was only the beginning, and a relatively simple step compared to the hours of sweat equity which would subsequently be spent. More trip reports and photos are sure to come.
After what seemed like thousands of emails, phone calls and Discord messages, Monday, July 24th was when logistics stuff began to get real. Since Saturday, James Maltman and a crew had been busy tearing down the old roof entirely with supplies hauled in on their backs, but the larger and more numerous construction crews to come would need food, tools, and materials delivered to the site by air. Amidst an incredibly busy fire season, Thursday the 27th was finally confirmed as our flight date with Blackcomb Helicopters—the day which I’d been looking forward to with equal parts anxiety and excitement was locked in.
With everything set, my dad and I drove out to the VOC clubroom on campus to pick up food, before booking it down SW Marine Drive to rendezvous with Jeff Mottershead and a pile of bits and bobs for construction. Back at home, this was all packed into Rubbermaid bins for pickup by Birgit Rogalla and Vincent Hanlon, to be delivered to the Pemberton airport and subsequently by helicopter to the hut.
Tuesday, July 25th, 07h30: I found myself in East Vancouver to meet up with Dan, a trucker helpfully recommended to us by past VOC president and hut builder André Zimmermann. Dan and I soon rolled down to meet Jeff at his warehouse and load roof materials for delivery to the Phelix FSR. After many, many forklift trips in and out of the cavernous building, literal tons of lumber, steel, and insulation which Jeff had spent weeks preparing just fit onto Dan’s truck and trailer. Jeff bid us goodbye and went back to his day job (!!!) as Dan and I began using every strap we had to tie the stuff down. In the end just a few straps remained, but the truck and load were ready to go.
What followed was probably the slowest drive up the Sea to Sky Highway I’ve ever encountered. No trouble, for Dan was great company, but the curves, ascents, and descents of the road were something to contend with as our load weighed us down. Soon enough, we were on the Pemberton Portage Road, and not long after, the Blackwater FSR. Despite a couple slippy moments at the start, we were in fine form ambling up the road, carefully navigating potholes and traffic from the Birkenhead Lake campground.
On arriving at our pre-selected staging zone (kindly left clear of machinery by the good folks at Lizzie Bay Logging), we got to work figuring how we’d place everything. Once decided, we maneuvered the truck and trailer into position and began setting up the HIAB crane. The clouds had been threatening rain all day, but it didn’t really start until myself and Dan were firmly outside and rigging the loads. Oh well. After three hours setting material down, the rain had ended and so had our work. We packed up and were soon rolling back down the road, about seven tons lighter than we had been on the way in!
Through the day, topics of conversation had spanned from homemade pizza to archeology, to in-laws to cabins in the woods, to Berlusconi to the environment, but after our final push in the rain Dan and I were both feeling pretty spent and the ride into town was largely silent, a sense of accomplishment floating between us, although some foreboding remained for me—this was only day one of three… Ten hours after meeting in East Van, Dan and I parted ways in Pemberton, he returning to the Vancouver and I finding something to eat in town before getting picked up by Addie Truman and crashing on her floor in Pemberton Meadows.
After too short a sleep I was up again, driving into town with Addie and enjoying a cup of something warm at Blackbird Bakery before Addie went to work the fields. A real idyllic kind of morning. From Blackbird I had to make my way to the industrial park about 5km’s east of town, so I was very glad to meet up with Tessa Hanlon, another VOC’er living in Pemberton, who gave me a lift and got things one step closer to D-Day.
From the industrial park it was back to Phelix with a kind truck driver named Jeff, easy to talk to and curious about the project. Jeff expertly placed a dumpster at the staging zone and then was off, leaving me at the bottom of the FSR with an overnight pack and some books. After so much nervous correspondence and obsessing, all I could do on this fresh Wednesday morning, where the ground was cool and damp with the recent rains, was find a comfy place to sit and wait for the air show which would start the following morning.
The views at the staging spot at the bottom of the FSR wouldn’t get on the front page of a tourist brochure, but I found it to be a nice spot all the same. A steep rise at the edge of the Birkenhead group to my right, and to my left gentle slopes belying the rapturous peaks lying up the valley and towards the hut. Nothing to do but sit and read, walk into the trees when I was bored, talk to passing loggers, and hope everything would go to plan.
Around midday a Subaru Legacy filled with VOC’ers turned up—the net haul crew! Made up of Eric Daigle, Rhys Guerrier, Kevin Lam, Sam Sommerfield, and Emma Teply, these champs made a day trip up from Vancouver to hike three cumbersome cargo nets from the heli base up to the hut. These would be filled with construction waste and sit ready to fly out first thing the following morning. Heavy things, the nets were packed expertly into large overnight bags, and they took up every inch.
After the quick socialization break with the net team, my day continued much the same until later on in the evening, when, much to my surprise, my dad showed up. Not wanting to miss out on being around helicopters, he figured he’d come up with his canoe and paddle on Birkenhead Lake until things got going. It was a nice surprise to have some company, and to sleep in the campground rather than on the road…
Thursday was the big day. I got back to the staging zone at 08h00 and hung out until around 09h00 I heard a helicopter somewhere in the distance. Soon enough it was hovering over the road, and, booking it out of there as quick as I could, I watched in awe as Andy from Blackcomb Helicopters put the machine down right in the middle of the road. Not long after, a red Blackcomb pickup truck towing a fuel trailer made its way up the road, with Nick the rigger hopping out. Not a few seconds later my dad walked up the road and the team was assembled. We had a quick group briefing, where hand signals, helicopter safety (stay away from the spinny bits!), and the game plan for the day were discussed.
With everything set, we cleared away from the machine and Andy took off to deliver bins to the hut and have a briefing with the hut crew. While this was going on, myself, Nick, and my dad checked slings while Nick gave us a rundown on what he’d need us to do. It would be windy and loud, but with this pre-game and some loud direction, we’d help with getting the loads rigged up. Cool.
In no time, Andy was back from the hut with a net load of sheet metal, which was dropped expertly into the dumpster. My dad and I got to work unloading this while Nick hooked up a load which had been rigged already; on the next load, I helped rig while my dad communicated with an outbound logging truck via radio. Later on, we would hold traffic on the road while the heli touched down for fuel. For the next four-and-a-half hours, we would do various combinations of this as load after load of stuff was flown to the hut site. In the end, it took sixteen trips, and by then my dad and I felt like we’d become half-decent amateur ground crew assistants (maybe next time we’ll try our hand at being temporary relief assistant trailer park supervisors?).
The last trip, for scaffolding parts, would be an internal load—bars and fasteners which would fall out of the sky being slung were loaded into the helicopter’s basket before Andy would head up to the hut and then back to base in Whistler. Back to Whistler you say? That’s the way I’m going! Oh, so it is. Wanna get there in fifteen minutes? I thought I’d been joking around with the heli pilot, but sure enough it seemed I was going to get a helicopter ride—not something to turn down. As soon as we got in the air it seemed like we were putting down again at the hut, which looked odd without a roof and a pop-up lumberyard in the meadows surrounding it. A quick unload of the gear, a photo of the ground crew, and we were off again, back to Whistler. I felt relieved to know my part was done, but the hard work of construction was only beginning…
Thanks for reading! I’d been meaning to post this report for a while, and since transport concluded two weeks ago much progress has been made. If you’re interested in helping out, we still need volunteers for one final push to get sheet metal roofing installed—see Trip Agenda posting here. Stand by for more reports and images as the construction volunteers catch their breath and begin sorting thorough their photos.