Column: The Kindergarten Karma of Alpine Huts

A few weeks ago, the Huffington Post ran a story: how rock climbing helps you lead a happier, healthier life.

Noooooo! I thought. It’s hard enough to find parking on the weekend at the Smoke Bluffs. The last thing I want is for lululemon-clad HuffPo readers to arrive en-masse at the crags, inspired by the article’s calorie-burning promise that “rock climbing builds muscle and endurance and boosts brain function”. I chose sports with a high barrier to entry for a reason: fewer people. No mass starts. If I want to get elbowed out of the way, I’ll play drop-in basketball.


In All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Robert Fulghum wrote, “Share everything.” When it comes to the increasingly popular classic climbs of Squamish, I confess, I’m a little short on kindergarten Zen. I’d prefer to share selectively. Maybe by-invitation-only.

Last week, squeezing summer like an old orange, intent on wringing every last juicy bit out of the fading season, I hiked in to Tenquille Lake to overnight at the cabin that was built there in 2011. That old-school barn-raising led by the Pemberton Wildlife Association (PWA) was conducted by Pemberton Meadows residents and friends, who had to first hike up a mountain in order to contribute their volunteer labour at 5200 feet.

Three summers later, I trekked in with two brave dads, a toddler and a 6 year old – an as-ultralight-as-we-possibly-could adventure that would not have been dared were it not for the fully outfitted cabin at the end.

I didn’t read the hut log nor have time to peruse the book that Krista Walden and Lex Ross compiled of the cabin’s history – but both attested to the fact that the lovingly crafted hut now shelters far more people than those who could claim it as “theirs.”

I think of the sense of ownership the volunteers and descendants of Pemberton’s pioneering families must have for that beautiful building, for the stories their grandparents and great-grandparents could tell of that place, for the $30,000 they fundraised to make it happen, all the supplies they heli-dropped or hiked in, and the ongoing maintenance.


I suspect there might be moments when they, too, wish that they could only open it to select few, by invitation only. But it’s not a private clubhouse. It’s a public service for the benefit of all back country mountaineers and the general public, maintained and managed by volunteers from the PWA. And though there are suggestions from the volunteers on how to care for the space, the rules aren’t much different from Robert Fulghum’s Kindergarten Zen: “Play fair. Don’t hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours.”

All the sports we practice, especially those in the outdoors, are entangled with a faint fear of scarcity – not enough space, not enough fish, not enough untracked snow. But, generosity has a big impact. The rockclimbs that don’t get any traffic grow over in moss. Untrafficked trails are neglected, reclaimed by the forest. Wild spaces without visitors also lack champions, protectors and stewards. If we love wild places and being outdoors, we need to be generous. We need to welcome newcomers. We need to take the spark we were given and keep it moving forward.

I have nowhere near the entitlement to Squamish granite that the descendants of Pemberton’s pioneers have to the hut they rebuilt in their families’ summer camping grounds, but I got to enjoy the fruits of their labour, and to introduce that experience to a toddler and a 6 year old, who I hope will go on to become champions for wilderness.

And so it comes around. Along with a reminder writ in crayon: Share on.





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