Designing the Spearhead Hut Project

The Spearhead traverse is a spectacular mountain route that connects the Whistler and Blackcomb backcountry through the Spearhead and Fitzsimmons ranges in Garibaldi Provincial Park. Backcountry keeners regularly complete the traverse in a single day, but many people take multiple days to camp along the way and ski lines or explore peaks in the area. Recently, BC Parks gave the go ahead for the Spearhead Huts Project, an initiative to build three new alpine huts along the Spearhead range that would offer a hut-to-hut traverse experience for numerous backcountry user groups.

Leading this initiative is the Spearhead Hut Committee, a non profit organization comprised of the Alpine Club of Canada, The British Columbia Mountaineering Club, memorial groups (the Kees and Claire Memorial Hut Society and the Brett Carlson Memorial Group) and other interested parties. Choosing the hut locations has been a long process with much thought and research put into the environmental impact, engineering feasibility and practicality for winter and summer travellers. Vancouver/Whistler architect Chad Manley worked closely with the Spearhead Hut Committee to find hut locations that would meet all of the desired criteria:

A good site must have good holding on bedrock or glacial till, lots of sun and a good amount of wind to scour snow away. From there, we really tried to find unique places that people would want to spend time in, and we came up with the concept of inhabiting three distinct mountain conditions to put the huts: the peak, the valley, and the meadow.

The Pattison Hut would sit high on the south ridge of Mount Pattison, thereby offering incredible views in almost all directions.

The Macbeth Hut would sit at the head of the valley on the southwest ridge of Mount Macbeth.

Finally, the third hut at Russet Lake would face the south side of the ridge in a meadow that fills with flowers during the summer months.

The proposed designs of the huts has been equally involved, largely through the efforts of Chad Manley with the help of Daniel Irvine and Michael Lis. Each hut location has very different characteristics and the designs maximize each locations’ unique qualities. As Chad describes it: “The architecture is working to be wed with the site, either simply by orienting to the views within the building to some dramatic vista, or starting to mimic in an abstract way the flavour of the surrounding topography. Each hut is trying to find a sacred bond with the land that holds it. Ultimately the goal is to allow people to have an experience that is of the place. The spaces of the hut will always try to recognize that you're in a special place, and register that with whatever you're doing. Sleeping at 2100m high on a mountain top shouldn't feel like you're in your bed at home, it should feel like you're at 2100m.

Approval for the huts system is an important milestone for the Spearhead Hut Committee and the next stages will require many more hours of volunteer work and funds to support the project. Their goal is to start construction of the first hut in the spring of 2015, with the following two huts being built each year after.

To learn more about the Spearhead Hut Project or to donate or volunteer your services: 

To learn more about the designs of the Spearhead Huts or other projects by Vancouver/Whistler architect Chad Manley:

All images courtesy of

By AI Blog contributor: Sarah Frood