Thanksgiving in a Backcountry Hut

Thanksgiving in a backcountry hut takes this traditional holiday to a new level

By Steve Hainsworth
Photos courtesy of the Alpine Club of Canada
                Thanksgiving traditionally serves up turkey, loved ones and autumn colours.  In the alpine village of Whistler, Thanksgiving also brings transition; ski sales replace bike trails, freezing levels drop and housing stresses rise.  However, on a trail north of town, you’ll find a place where there’s always room for one more.  And on a recent fall evening, it was this place that my wife, Melinda and I thankfully called home.
                Melinda leads our forested ascent.  Now, as we emerge from the woods, she is the first to remark on the enormous alpine bowl in which we have arrived.  “Wow.”  She says.  No signage is necessary.  This is the Marriott Basin and it’s even bigger than I imagined.   It’s also more uphill than I figured a trip to a basin would be.  Nevertheless, we’ve hiked up about 6 kilometres to get to this spot.  That elevation is now rewarding us with a fiery fall panorama.  The high valley walls are ablaze in red, yellow and orange of autumn alpine shrubs.  Strips of hearty blue spruce trees and grey veins of rock also quilt the basin.  The twisting Marriott Creek and its wetlands run a green stripe along the valley bottom.
                We traverse the hillside and move further up the basin.  We rest on the shores of Lower Marriott Lake, a respectably-sized alpine pool, before continuing to climb.  Ascending further into the alpine, our trail passes by increasingly knotted spruce trees and detours around trail-blocking boulders.  Nestled amongst the trees and rocks, we spot the sunset reflecting off the silver rooftop of our destination.
I push open the door of the Wendy Thompson Hut.  “Hello?”  I ask.  Although the hut regularly accommodates adventurers, it looks as though we will be its only tenants tonight.  Mel and I drop our packs and inspect the kitchen and cozy living room before climbing the ladder to the upstairs lofts.  This inviting backcountry cabin was built in 2000 by the Whistler chapter of the Alpine Club of Canada in memory of Wendy Thompson.  As a Blackcomb ski patroller and local paramedic, Wendy dedicated herself to comforting others and, in this remote alpine bowl, the cabin continues her legacy.  We light some candles and our camp stove next.  Soon, we are eating a hot dinner at the cabin’s big kitchen table.
               That evening, we read by headlamp on the hut’s cozy armchairs.  We theorize and debate how these tattered yet luxurious lazy boys ever made it up here.  But we both agree that these chairs would be downright therapeutic after a day of backcountry skiing.  Upstairs later, we zip our sleeping bags and bed down for the night. We take some photos and offer our thanks before departing the hut the following morning.  Retracing our steps, we return to the trailhead parking lot then merge south onto the highway towards Whistler again. 
                Find more information on the Marriott Basin’s Wendy Thompson Hut on the website or from The Escape Route in Whistler.  It’s an adventure you’ll be thankful you did.



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