In 2016 I stayed in my first Alpine Club of Canada backcountry hut – The Wates-Gibson overlooking Outpost Lake.
I loved it.
My first, exhausted, entry in my journal after arriving at the hut is simply,
“This place is amazing.”
The Wates-Gibson Hut in the Tonquin Valley, Jasper National Park was a lot harder to get to than we anticipated, but once there … it was my perfect paradise. A well stocked cabin in the woods.
I will write about the hike to the hut in another post.
This post is purely to go over the amenities of the hut itself.
The hut is well maintained by the Alpine club of Canada. I have absolutely no complaints or negative feedback on my stay.
I was there for three nights over the September long weekend in 2016.
On our first night there were five others and almost a full house (22) for the other two nights.
I was nervous about my first hut stay, not knowing what would be expected of me, or what to expect of others.
The etiquette signage was much appreciated and gave everyone a baseline of what was reasonable to expect.
First, and most important of all … the bathrooms are literally thrones. They are compost toilets with barrels to be switched out as needed. With separate locking doors, hooks for lights and enough room to change if needed, the were simply the best backcountry facilities I’ve ever come across.
The cabin is well built with proper venting along the roofline.
The woodshed was well stocked. The wood was damp, but to be expected after a full summer of non-stop rain. The best strategy was to split plenty and have it stored inside while the fire was going. Axes and chopping blocks are provided, however, next time I might bring a sharpening stone and give the blades a once over as a pay-it-forward.
Always leave split wood and kindling for the next hiker.
This rule of backcountry is hard and fast. You never know what the circumstances are for the next hiker. Any time I leave a backcountry fire pit or wood stove, I always leave means to start a fire just in case.
Two large propane tanks for the lights and stoves inside the hut.
The Great Room
The weekend we were there was wet and chilly – not quite snow, but consistent drizzle and close to freezing. Understandably, the wood stove became the centre of attention. There are instructions for cleaning out the ash, an ash bucket with shovel and a barrel outside to dispose of the ash. Everything is thought of, it just relies on educated users to keep up maintenance.
The last to bed should stoke the fire, the first up should get it going again.
The main room is lined with padded benches and tables. There are plenty of chairs. I was never uncomfortable, even with a full house I was always able to stake my claim on a space for myself.
There are interesting old photos and snippets of history decorating the walls, be sure to take the time to read and sign the guest book.
On our first day, the other hikers took off fairly early for a day-hike adventure, leaving us three to ourselves. After a hard hike in we weren’t in a rush to go out in the rain again. Instead we gave the cabin a once-over with hot bleach water. We wiped down tables, counters and chairs. We swept the floors and did a quick tidy all around. I saw no evidence of rodents, which surprised me.
The drying rack above the stove was always in use. Everybody was self-aware enough to remove their items as they dried, making room for others.
The friendships made at the table are the best. We met people from so many different walks of life and it was really interesting because while we were all so very different, there’s a baseline mentality that is the same … we did all decide to hike out into the middle of nowhere with our needs on our back so we could all sleep in the same room together.
Random reading material is on the shelf in the background. A table under the stairs, left of the frame, has cards, games and puzzles. Pegs line the walls for hanging gear, the place is made for this.
Collecting stories about people is my favourite thing. The young man with his head on the table, his name is my son’s middle name (his hiking partner has my same son’s first name). He hiked thirty kilometres in (the long way), is from Texas, worked in Calgary as a computer guru.
The bottle of green apple Sourpuss on the table in front of me … I didn’t know it yet, but a young girl who studies caribou for a living had seen her first caribou in the wild that day and later introduced me to hot cinnamon tea with apple Sourpuss as a magnificent after-hike cold-day beverage.
“Several other hikers have arrived now, including two men that hiked in from Portal Creek end. I bow down, and feel just a little less badass. But not too little.”
In the background a surgeon (with a fear of getting a stick in the eye … it’s weird the things you learn about people), a reporter, a search and rescue tech and a I-can’t-remember from three different hiking groups are playing an intense game of Euchre. There’s been mention of going pro, or having gone pro … in Euchre.
All the lights worked well, instructions for lighting are everywhere and spare mantels are in a closet off the kitchen.
I hope to end up hiking in the same place as these two again, they are great people.
This family group came in late and only spent one night. The hike in was too much for one night’s stay, they said … I’d have to agree. But either way, memories were made around an intense game of Pick-Up-Sticks that evening.
“Only one helper stick!”
I was so impressed with the kitchen. I had no idea what to expect, it’s so hard to trust online sources, it really is. Please know, it has everything, I mean everything, you need. I admit I packed in a small JetBoil stove out of fear. There was no need. Not only were there plenty of operational burners, the oven worked as well. I wish I had brought muffin mix for breakfast.
The smell, alone, would have been so satisfying.
The kitchen is fully stocked. Dishes, kettles, coffee pots, utensils, pots, pans, baking sheets … everything.
There are four burners on the stove, and two separate 2-burner table-top units. Instructions on gas flow and how to light them are at each unit.
The sink drains grey-water directly outside with a sieve to catch food particles (to be carried out please). There is a great supply of soap, bleach, rags, sponges etc for cleaning, along with instructions on how to manage bleach water and lake water etc.
The counters are sheeted in metal and easy to keep clean. The upper corner shelves pictured above are for storing your food in bags etc. That is my GSI French Press on the counter.
“I’m drinking coffee & Bailey’s and about to make steak & eggs for breakfast. Life is good.”
Hiking in to a real kitchen meant I splurged on food luxuries. I brought small steaks, butter, eggs, cheese, real coffee, creamer, pancake mix and syrup etc. There is a utility closet with a door off the kitchen. In the cooler weather it worked perfectly as a fridge. I put food in a bag, under a weighted pot (for rodent protection) in there and it worked perfectly. I was even able to hold off on eating my steak until days 2 & 3 because of how cool the room stayed. I’m not sure if it would do the same in hotter weather.
We kept at least two large pots of boiled lake water on the go most of the time. Staying at the hut becomes the best kind of pay-it-forward mentality I’ve ever experienced.
“We’re supposed to have a full house tonight, but I wonder if all the recent rain will have people changing plans. We’ve boiled two large pots of water so it’s ready for anyone coming in.”
Everyone knows the struggle of the hike up to the hut, and is aware of what can go wrong in the backcountry. So in a strange combination of being aware everyone can take care of themselves and wanting to do unto others … everything is done with the next person’s needs kept in mind. If we used water, we boiled water for the next group. Each group that made it through the door, exhausted and wet, had drinking water and washing water ready to use.
Larger groups planned communal cooking meals, such as large pots of chilli. Notice the canned goods they hiked in, I was not that interested in luxury. LOL.
“It’s dinner time. Four more hikers just got in, soaked to the skin but in good spirits. I have Jax’s tomato sauce rehydrating with some ravioli – it will be an experiment.”
The pots of not-boiled water just inside the front door. As a pot was emptied, it was turned upside down and everyone took turns going to the lake to fill them as they saw the need and had the opportunity.
The lake has a very small dock, making it easier to get full pots from slightly deeper water, large particles weren’t really an issue for us with such a full lake. There is a large particle filtration system in the kitchen if you need to filter dirt from the water before boiling.
The trail to the lake can be seen out the kitchen window. On a rainy day sometimes the best way to pass the time is staring out a window with a coffee in hand and a fire snapping in the background.
The Sleeping Loft
The sleeping arrangements were probably the most terrifying unknown for me. What does a room that sleeps 26 look like? I did my best to take photos, it is pretty dark upstairs.
The entire upstairs loft is sleeping pads on either side of a walkway. There are windows at either end with emergency ladders. The door at the top of the stairs closes, to keep separation from the noise downstairs.
“I didn’t sleep well, too warm, as expected despite leaving the window open.”
This communal sleeping arrangement isn’t for everyone. I heard some grumbles about the space, close quarters etc. I have no complaints beyond it got a lot warmer than I expected and I’ll pack accordingly next time.
Each sleeping mat is nearly the size of a twin mattress and only at absolute full capacity would it be really crowded. And still it’s far more space than you have in a tent. Pegs are everywhere for hanging gear. Keep your headlamp close when you sleep, and in red-light mode, when you have to get up and leave the loft. Everyone is on a different schedule.
Down to the watering hole, Outpost Lake. A sign is a friendly reminder not to wash in the drinking water supply.
The well worn path from the hut to the rocky shoreline.
The dock, equally good for sitting as for retrieving water.
There is a short, established trail just out back of the hut. It climbs immediately up the hill, but don’t let that deter you. It’s only about a kilometre long before you pop out of the trees into nothing but rock and sky.
Do be wary while hiking in the mountains. The weather changes fast … a full sun day can turn to a mountain snow storm in less than 20-minutes, especially in the shoulder seasons. This impromptu hike was the moment I realized my InReach had changed my thinking. I don’t know that I would have explored quite the same without it … so it’s also important to recognize when you’re making good choices despite your gear, or because of it.
“I sat on a rock the size of a car and listened to the nothing. Nothing sounds like water rushing off the far off mountains, wind through the trees, the chirp of the Pikas and the ripples of the water. Outpost Lake is small and remarkably clear. To the south a giant boulder field spills into the water. Rocks the size of houses appear to balance precariously on each other but have rested there for generations. It’s dinner time.”
“Back at the hut, I took a quick jaunt on the trail around the lake and am glad I did. I was able to do a small boulder hop on those ‘car and house sized’ boulders I mentioned earlier.”
The roof of the Wates-Gibson Hut can be seen in the trees across the lake.
On my last day I found the small creek running out of the lake I had been hearing all weekend. It overlooks the valley we hiked up and a wee trail goes just far enough down to allow you to take a makeshift shower/rinse in the falling water.
On our last night of the hike, my hiking partner (My Slice of Paradise) and I were awoken (as per our request) with the news that the clouds had parted and the stars were out. Blurry eyed, we gathered our photography gear (and bear spray) and headed out to the lake. I need more practice, but the half hour spent under the stars was phenomenal.
We were even blessed with a wee bit of aurora before the clouds came back in.
“This is an amazing experience and definitely one I want to repeat.”