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Wendy Thompson Hut near Pemberton

Winter Camping at the Wendy Thompson Hut

The Wendy Thompson Hut is located in the Marriott Basin north of Pemberton, British Columbia. You’ll need a reservation to stay in the hut, or you can camp nearby – and tick off all those backcountry objectives while you’re at it.

Winter camping in the Marriott Basin

There’s an area in British Columbia known to the locals simply as ‘the Duffey’. The Marriott Basin is located within this region and it has an extra special draw – a picture perfect backcountry hut, built in memory of local paramedic Wendy Thompson.

The hut is operated by the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC). When it’s open, you need a reservation to bag one of the 16 sleeping spots. It tends to get booked up very quickly, so if you miss out, you could pitch a tent nearby instead. Either way, you’ll be treated to spectacular scenery and huge amounts of terrain. Ski tourers and split boarders will find lines a-plenty, with everything from mellow glades to larger objectives, such as Mount Marriott and Pk 2300.

Snow covered backcountry terrain
There’s plenty of terrain to explore

What you need to know before you go

If you’re planning a winter camping trip to the Marriott Basin, then here’s what you need to know before you go.

Driving and parking

The parking lot is located on Highway 99 north of Pemberton. If you’re heading north, drive past the Joffre Lake trailhead and continue over a bridge signposted Cayoosh Creek. Shortly after you will see a salt shed on your right-hand side. There is a parking lot opposite (on the left-hand side), and another small lot further along the road (on the right-hand side). The spaces are limited, so if you’re visiting on a weekend, be sure to arrive early to avoid disappointment.

Note: if you’ve visited this area in summer, you may have driven along the access road and parked there. However, this isn’t possible in winter. You will need to park in the ploughed area just off the highway.

The route

Most people ski tour to the hut, but if you want to hike then you will need snowshoes and spikes.

In winter, you have to hike/skin along the full length of the access road before you actually reach the trailhead. If you’ve driven from Pemberton, then the access road is just before the larger parking lot on the left-hand side. It can be seen on both Trailforks and Google Maps.

The road is fairly flat with a few lumps and bumps in. At about the halfway point there’s a fork and you need to stay on the lower left-hand spur. After about 2kms, you’ll reach the actual trailhead. You’ll know you’ve arrived because there’s an avalanche terrain warning sign.

From here, you enter the forest and begin to gain elevation quickly. The winter route is not marked and navigation is not easy. It can be tempting to follow other people’s skin tracks, but these won’t necessarily go towards the Wendy Thompson Hut. Instead, take a compass and a map of the area, such as John Baldwin’s “Duffey Lake” map which has the hut marked on it.

You will see orange markers, but these indicate the summer hiking route along the Marriott Basin Hiking Trail. This is not always practical to follow in winter. However, if you keep the markers in sight then you can feel confident that you’re on the right course. There is no phone service in the area, but it can be useful to download the Trailforks app in advance and set it to ‘hike’ mode. You can then check your location against the trail.

Marriott Basin Trail
The fork in the trail – stay left to the ‘WTH’

Continue through the forest until you reach a junction with two wooden signposts nailed to two trees. One says ‘Rohr’ and the other says ‘WTH’. Go left towards the Wendy Thompson Hut. After gaining more elevation you’ll eventually come to a flat, snow-covered meadow. The orange markers disappear at this point so you’ll need to rely on your navigation skills.

Go straight across the meadow in a northwesterly direction. You are now on a fast, flat section that runs alongside a creek. The area has far fewer trees, meaning you can enjoy the incredible views of the surrounding mountains for the first time. Take care because you are passing underneath an avalanche path, as evidenced by the scarred slopes above you.

Marriott Basin Trail
The snow-covered meadow

Next, you’ll go up and over some snow-covered boulders, after which you’ll come to Marriott Lake. This is frozen in winter; if not, you’ll need to traverse around it. Head to the other end of the lake. From here, the trail snakes around to the right and back into the trees. The final push is a short, sharp uphill section. Continue to climb to 1,860m and the Wendy Thompson Hut appears before you.

Marriott Basin Trail
Marriott Lake is frozen in the winter

The Wendy Thompson Hut

The Wendy Thompson Hut is operated by the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC). It sleeps 16 people (plus four custodians) and is stocked with sleeping mattresses, a large kitchen with four sinks and three food prep stations, solar lighting on both levels, USB chargers and a common area. There’s also an outhouse.

Winter camping near the hut

If you don’t bag a spot in the hut, or the hut’s closed, then you can camp nearby. The ACC prefers that you camp in the meadows or further from the hut to reduce the environmental impact.

Backcountry camping near the Wendy Thompson Hut
Backcountry camping near the Wendy Thompson Hut

Reservations and fees

If you want to stay at the Wendy Thompson Hut then you must make a reservation. It is currently closed because of Covid-19. During normal operations, the hut is incredibly popular and you’ll need to book well in advance of your trip. You can do this via the ACC’s website.

If you camp, the ACC requests that you pay a fee because you are still using the amenities, such as the outhouse.

There are discounted rates for ACC members and children.

Avalanche safety

This route is located in avalanche terrain, so you need to have the necessary training (AST 1 minimum) and the correct avalanche safety tools, including a transceiver, beacon and probe.

Other useful information

  • There is no phone service – take a satellite communication device with you.
  • The first half of the trail is steep and heavily treed.
  • Navigation is difficult – be prepared for this.
  • The ACC suggests it takes around two to three hours to reach the hut. However, this may be a bit optimistic for those who do not know the way and/or have a heavy pack on. Leave yourself plenty of time, you might just need it.
  • The total distance is around 12km with over 500m elevation gain.

Related: Winter Camping at Red Heather Campground

Winter camping at red heather campground in Garibaldi Provincial Park

Winter Camping at Red Heather Campground

Red Heather campground near Squamish provides a winter wonderland for backcountry campers. The proximity of Red Heather Hut offers added peace of mind, as you can seek refuge if the weather takes a turn for the worse.

Camping at Red Heather campground

If you’re familiar with outdoor pursuits in Squamish, British Columbia, then you’ve almost certainly heard of Red Heather Hut in Garibaldi Provincial Park. It’s a popular destination for ski tourers, split boarders and snowshoers. The hut itself is just an emergency shelter; you can’t sleep in it (unless you need to) but you can warm your cockles in front of the fire. You can also pitch a tent nearby and enjoy the snowy delights of Garibaldi Provincial Park for as long as you like.

There are several backcountry campgrounds in Garibaldi, but Red Heather is a good winter option for a few reasons.

Firstly, it’s the first camping area that you come to, assuming that you park at the Diamond Head Trail parking lot. It’s just 5km from the upper lot, so you don’t have to haul your winter tent too far uphill.

Secondly, you have the security of Red Heather Hut right next door. While the hut isn’t for overnight stays, you can go inside to organise your gear, warm up in front of the fire and cook your dinner. This adds a bit of luxury, not to mention the comfort of knowing that you can retreat to the hut, if that winter sleeping bag isn’t as warm as it says.

Finally, you can use Red Heather as a base, from which you can strike out further into the backcountry. Ski tourers and split boarders can do a few laps off of Paul’s Ridge and Round Mountain before bedding down for the night. Snowshoers can head up to the ridge to enjoy the spectacular views across Garibaldi Provincial Park and the Tantalus Range (assuming it’s a clear day!)

Camping at Red Heather campground
Leaving the tent for a few laps of Round Mountain

What you need to know before you go

If you’re planning a winter camping trip to Red Heather campground, then here’s what you need to know before go.

Driving and parking

Park at the Diamond Head Trail parking lot. The access road is a narrow mountain road that’s often packed with snow and ice near the top. Winter tires (or mud and snow tires) are a must and 4WD is recommended.

There are two parking lots: an upper lot and a lower lot. If you want to access the upper parking lot (which is where the trailhead starts) then you’ll need snow chains. You can be fined if you drive past the chain-up area without chains installed.

If you don’t have chains then you can park at the lower lot and walk up. However, park rangers have been known to wait further down the road and turn away vehicles without snow chains. This will be a nuisance, as you’ll either need to go and buy some, or you’ll have to park a considerable distance from the trailhead.

Fees and permits

You don’t need a permit to enter Garibaldi Provincial Park during winter, but if you plan on staying the night, you must buy a backcountry camping permit advance of your trip. This applies, even if you’re sleeping in your own tent. You can purchase a permit on Discover Camping. Camping without a permit carries a fine.

Hiking up

The trailhead starts from the upper parking lot. There’s an outhouse here if you need.

The trail itself is narrow and tree-lined. There are no views en route, aside from a clearing at around the halfway mark from which you can see across Squamish. It’s uphill all the way until you reach the meadow, where the trail flattens out. A little further along you’ll find Red Heather Hut tucked into the trees on your right. In terms of navigation, the first part of the trail is extremely easy to follow. Later on, it opens up slightly and you’ll need to follow the orange marker poles.

The distance between the upper parking lot and Red Heather Hut is 5km. It takes between one and two hours, depending on how quickly you move.

Where to camp

Red heather campground is in the immediate vicinity of Red Heather Hut. It’s an alpine meadow and the area is relatively flat. There are no designated pitches or tent pads, so can choose your own camp site. Bear in mind that the hut has a heavy footfall, particularly at weekends. The glades behind the hut offer greater privacy on a busy weekend.

Winter camping at Red Heather campground
Winter camping at Red Heather campground

Red Heather Hut

You’re not allowed to sleep inside the hut, unless it’s an emergency. However, you are permitted to use the facilities. Inside, you’ll find two picnic benches and a wood burner. There’s a wood pile just outside the front door, along with an axe for chopping. The wood supply has to last the entire winter, so be conservative. There’s also a two-ring propane stove and a sink for grey water. You will need to melt snow for drinking water, which should be boiled and/or treated.

If you’re camping nearby, you may want to leave certain items inside the hut, although you do so at your own risk. Hooks line the walls so you can hang up bags, clothing and equipment. But be warned: there are lots of mice, so be sure that any food is tightly concealed.

Just beyond the hut is an outhouse which the rangers typically keep well-stocked with toilet paper.

Red Heather Hut
The back of Red Heather Hut

What about summer camping?

You can only camp at Red Heather during the winter months. Currently, this means between the dates of December 1 to April 30. Check the BC Parks website for up-to-date information. A camping permit is required.

The hut is open year-round as a warming hut and an emergency shelter. The wood stove should only be used in winter.

Activities nearby

This is a very popular winter recreation spot. Hikers and snowshoers typically head to Red Heather Hut before making the return journey. Ski tourers and split boarders enjoy the backcountry terrain around Round Mountain and Paul’s Ridge. It’s also possible to continue along the winter trail towards Elfin Lakes Shelter, which is 6km past Red Heather Hut. Winter camping is permitted at Elfin Lakes, and sleeping is allowed in the hut if you have a reservation. More challenging terrain can be found beyond Elfin Lakes.

Safety

There’s sign near the start of the trailhead indicating that you are entering into avalanche terrain. You should carry a beacon, probe and shovel (and know how to use them). The trail to the hut is often considered low risk, but there are sinkholes and creeks, so be sure to stick to the path and operate a buddy system.