This Backcountry Hut Has a Story to Inform


Last winter, on a ski tour in the backcountry outdoors of Whistler, British Columbia, Julie Brenninkmeyer crested a hill and spotted the Kees and Claire Hut for the initially time. The cabin—which opens to the public on September 7—is positioned at the base of the jagged Fissile Peak on the edge of the glacially formed Russet Lake. “You come more than this rise and there’s the hut—this gorgeous, modern day creating that has this gorgeous turn to it. It appears like it may possibly take off like a bird but also that it definitely belongs there,” Julie mentioned. 

She saw the hut and broke down with emotion. “I just believed, ‘My brother would have loved to ski right here,’” she mentioned. Julie’s brother was Cornelius Brenninkmeyer—he went by Kees (pronounced Case—the family members comes from Dutch origins)—and the hut is named in memory of him and Claire Dixon. The couple died on January four, 2007 though ski touring the multiday Wapta Traverse in Alberta, Canada.

For a month that winter, Claire and Kees—both knowledgeable backcountry skiers—were volunteering as hut caretakers for the Alpine Club of Canada. When they failed to return to civilization when they had planned, their households referred to as the authorities. Searchers from Parks Canada located their bodies in a collapsed snow cave that the couple had constructed on a hutless stretch of the traverse. An autopsy revealed that they died of carbon monoxide poisoning, most likely from burning a compact cookstove inside the snow cave with out sufficient ventilation. Claire was 27 Kees was 25. 

Shortly soon after they died, a fellow skier who’d met the couple in one particular of the huts along the Wapta Traverse reached out to the Dixon and Brenninkmeyer households. He wanted to share a photo he’d taken of the couple and inform of his encounter with them. He wrote, I enjoyed meeting them so a great deal. They had been so complete of life. 

Kees Brenninkmeyer and Claire Dixon post up in the backcountry.

Claire Dixon and Kees Brenninkmeyer died though ski touring the Wapta Traverse in 2007. (Courtesy Photo)

Building a remote, backcountry hut miles from the nearest road does not take place overnight. It requires years. In this case, it took 5 decades.

The concept for a hut program in the Spearhead Variety of British Columbia was initially dreamed up in the early 1960s. This was ahead of Whistler Blackcomb even existed. (Whistler ski resort opened initially, in 1966 Blackcomb followed, in 1980.) A passionate group of ski mountaineers from the British Columbia Mountaineering Club had began ski touring about the Spearhead and Fitzsimmons Ranges, normally spending days linking up traverses and sleeping in snow caves along the way. 

“With such superior skiing in the region, they believed it would be a good concept to place some huts in,” mentioned Jayson Faulkner, head of the Spearhead Huts Society. In 1967, the group managed to get one particular hut built—a tiny, arched-roof cabin that nevertheless stands now and was developed by Werner Himmelsbach, a German-born engineer and ski mountaineer. Immediately after that, the project to create extra huts in the region stalled out.

By the early 1990s, backcountry skiing was on the rise all through North America and Faulkner was committed to receiving extra huts constructed in the Whistler backcountry. “I’d spent time in Europe and saw their hut infrastructure and how effective it was at receiving individuals into the outdoors. They supplied multigenerational access to alpine experiences,” mentioned Faulkner. “We struggle with that in British Columbia. We have good mountains but terrible access simply because there’s no infrastructure.” 

So he place with each other a group, dubbed the Spearhead Huts Society, and they set out with the target of creating 3 remote, backcountry huts by means of Whistler’s Garibaldi Provincial Park—no effortless activity in a rugged and roadless region. The initially hut would be constructed about eight miles outdoors the Whistler ski region boundary, accessed through a multi-hour hike in the summer time or ski tour in the winter across the so-referred to as Musical Bumps, rolling hills with names like Oboe and Piccolo. It took 4 years just to safe the permitting for the initially hut, but the hut society nevertheless didn’t have the funding. 

Meanwhile, soon after Claire and Kees died in 2007, their pals and family members formed what they referred to as the Kees and Claire Memorial Hut Society. Their target was to get a backcountry hut constructed in memory of Kees and Claire. When they heard of the Spearhead Huts project, it was a great match. The two groups joined forces with a typical trigger. The households of Claire and Kees created substantial monetary donations, and along with other public and private donors, which includes the Brett Carlson Memorial group and the Barbara McGeogh-Boyd family members, the project, which was at final named the Kees and Claire Hut, could lastly break ground. Building started in 2017.

Volunteers at the Spearhead Huts Society hoped to create the hut more than the course of two summers, but it in the end took 3, due to building delays and restricted helicopter access connected to intense wildfires in and about the park more than the previous handful of years. Lots of of the building components and labor had been donated, but if they’d had to spend for it all, Faulkner estimates the create would have expense effectively more than $two million. Some 200 volunteers hiked in to enable erect the creating, and 70 corporations donated supplies or labor. All of the creating components had to be flown in by helicopter. “The adore and quantity of sacrifice that has gone into generating this creating take place is truly tough to overstate,” Faulkner mentioned.

The Kees and Claire Hut is the initially of 3 huts to be established along Whistler’s legendary Spearhead Traverse, a classic route for each hiking and skiing. The traverse, which was initially skied in 1964 by Whistler neighborhood Karl Ricker, is incorporated in the book, “50 Classic Ski Descents of North America.” The 21-mile route follows glaciated, rolling terrain along the Fitzsimmons Variety and generally requires 3 to 4 days to total. Without the need of huts in location, most individuals camp or create snow caves along the way. Lots of look at the traverse a North American version of Europe’s popular Haute Route.

Faulkner mentioned that by means of a extremely generous private donation, the society now has funding in location for the second of the 3 huts, which will be positioned at Mt. Macbeth, and they hope to start out building on that subsequent summer time.

The Kees and Claire Hut is at the edge of a lake and the base of a jagged peak.

It took hundreds of volunteers and years of fundraising to make the Kees and Claire Hut achievable. (Photo Credit: Anthony Bonello)

Claire Dixon was a quiet and fiercely passionate young lady. Developing up in Kamloops, British Columbia, she was a talented ski racer, soccer player and water-skier all through her younger years. She attended the University of British Columbia and studied to grow to be a physical therapist. Immediately after their hut caretaking position, Claire and Kees planned to move to the mountain town of Revelstoke, B.C., exactly where Claire had a job lined up at the hospital. “We utilized to go hiking just about every year with my parents. She took up backcountry skiing and she had a taste for it, a adore for it,” mentioned Claire’s brother, Paul Dixon. “She was also extremely calculated—she would constantly ski inside her limits.”

On Christmas Day in 2006, about 10 days ahead of the couple died, Claire located sufficient cellphone service from the top rated of a peak on the Wapta Traverse to make a get in touch with to her brother. He was out and missed the get in touch with, sadly, but she left a message saying she was pondering of him and his family members. He nevertheless thinks about that voicemail now. Paul visited the new hut in March and was in awe of its sleek style and spectacular place. When asked what he believed Claire may possibly feel of the hut, he responded, “She would say, ‘What are you performing naming a hut soon after me?’ She was extremely modest.”

Kees Brenninkmeyer was the charming, boisterous one particular. With endless power and a wicked sense of humor, he was most content material when in motion. He was born in the States and later moved with his family members to Ontario, Canada. In higher college, he became certified as a ski instructor and taught himself how to kitesurf. College wasn’t his issue, according to his sister Julie, despite the fact that he did attend college. He’d rather be in the mountains—rock climbing, skiing, mountaineering, mountain biking. In his early twenties, he decided to grow to be a mountain guide and was functioning his way by means of the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides ski coaching certification. “The issue he constantly excelled at was getting outdoors, slogging by means of anything challenging,” mentioned Julie.

In 2004, Kees set off for an expedition to climb and ski Alaska’s 20,310-foot Denali, the highest peak in North America. That is exactly where he met Claire. The two had been inseparable soon after that. 3 years later, they decided to ski and operate along the Wapta Traverse. Even though their lives tragically ended there, their story did not. 

Claire Dixon and Kees Brenninkmeyer had been functioning as hut caretakers when they died in a tragic accident. (Courtesy Photo)

In late August, a couple of weeks ahead of the hut’s grand opening, Julie was tough at operate attempting to come up with the words for the memorial plaque to notify guests who the hut is named for. How do you condense two young people’s lives into sentences on a single plaque? You do not. Alternatively, you hold onto the hope that these who step foot into the hut will be safer right here than they would be outdoors of it. “The crucial issue with this hut is that it will give individuals a location, so they do not have to be out in the components. It may possibly avoid other tragedies,” mentioned Paul Dixon.

Julie mentioned for guests to the hut, there are a handful of points she’d like them to know about her spirited brother. “He’d constantly have a superior joke at the dinner table and he’d constantly be the initially up and prepared to go,” she mentioned. “He’d want you to have enjoyable, be ready and constantly go for extra.”


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