Pip Brock part 2
This is the second half of last week’s Whistory post about pioneer local ski-mountaineer, Pip Brock. For more photos of Pip’s Sir Richard expedition with the Mundays and other extra details, check the post on the Whistler Museum’s blog, Whistorical.
On 30 July 1935, while bushwacking towards Mount Waddington with the Mundays, Pip received the horrific news that his plane had crashed at Alta Lake, killing his father and severely injuring his mother. He rushed back to the city to discover the added tragedy of his mother’s passing; she succumbed to her injuries before their boat reached Vancouver.
The Brocks’ were an extremely respected and prominent family, and the crash was major news. Mr. Brock was the dean of applied sciences at UBC, a former Director of the federal geological survey, and a decorated military commander in World War One. He received a military funeral, and to this day Brock Hall at UBC commemorates the esteemed geologist.
Despite the family tragedy, the Brock boys continued to visit their cabin at Alta Lake. In 1937, Pip re-joined the Mundays for two major ski-mountaineering trips into the surrounding mountains.
First, in January of that year, while Pip was on winter break from university, they made the first ski ascent of Wedge Mountain, noting that they stood higher than anyone had before in Garibaldi Park, as the winter snowpack lifted them a few meters higher than summer climbers.
- A few days later they proceeded to to the Spearhead side of the valley exploring what is today the Blackcomb backcountry. Don Munday’s description of their ski descent of one of the range’s massive icefields—probably the Shudder or Tremor Glacier—remains one of my all-time favourite skiing quotes:
“Life has few thrills to equal ski-ing on a glacier. The quite moderate gradient surprised us with its immoderate speed for an uninterrupted half mile—if champagne has feelings when uncorked, they would match ours during those moments.”
Buoyed by their success, Pip and the Mundays set out on an even more ambitious exploratory ski-mountaineering trip that spring. Even today Mount Sir Richard is a committed multi-day ski tour accessed from the back of the renowned Spearhead Traverse. Back then skiers didn’t have the luxury of gondolas to ferry them up to the alpine, so they were forced to follow a far rougher route than modern ski-tourers enjoy.
- Awaiting for the end of Pip’s school semester in late April, the party headed out from mile 34 of the PGE Railway to a supply cache that Don had previously placed near Cheakamus Lake. Here the party used a raft to pull their supplies to the head of the lake, a gruelling process which took two days itself. From here they continued to pack gear up the Cheakamus Valley to the base of Sir Richard. Fighting thick bush, every sort of snow conditions imaginable, and the logistical headaches inherent in such a route, they managed another fine first ascent and exhilarating ski through the McBride Glacier icefall. The trip took fourteen days.
- We know little of Pip’s later years, though he continued to hike and climb well into his silver age. Later, climbers who met him on the trail recounted his genuinely warm and easy-going spirit. Few would suspect the epic mountain adventurers previously undertaken by this gentle old man.
The widely publicized expeditions that Pip and the Mundays undertook together helped convince the sceptical mountain community of the merit’s of ski-mountaineering. It is a testament to their vision that the Coast Mountains are today recognized as one of the world’s premier ski-mountaineering fields. Their wilful hardship, endured solely due to their love of the mountains, should serve as inspiration for those among us who wish to break beyond the confines of mechanized mountain access to discover all that the Coast Mountains’ alpine landscapes have to offer.