Taking a Walk with Pip Brock


Mildred and Reginald Brock first visited Alta Lake in 1927 as guests of friends.  Mildred fell in love with the area and the Brock family bought three small lots on the southwest corner of Alta Lake, hiring Bert Harrop to build a cottage that they named “Primrose”.  The Brocks and their five sons visited Alta Lake each summer; it’s likely that their youngest son, Philip ‘Pip’ Gilbert Brock, spent the most time exploring the area.

A young Dave Brock (formerly identified as Pip) atop Whistler Mountain.  Brock Collection.

At the time, there were only two trains from Squamish to Alta Lake each week, though the steamship from Vancouver to Squamish was daily.  Rather than limiting himself to the train schedule, Pip Brock would often choose to walk over 60km to reach Alta Lake.  According to Pip, this walk would take “a long time, about ten hours.”  The boat would reach Squamish around 2 o’clock.  From there, Pip would sometimes splurge for the 50 cent taxi fare to get as far as Cheakeye, but more often than not he and any companions would walk straight to Primrose.  Pip recalled that not many others wanted “to do the walking,” and so he mostly walked alone.

Parts of his route led him down some of the remaining sections of the Pemberton Trail.  In 1992 Pip recalled that “the parts that were there were excellent, but then it would just disappear under rock falls and stuff.”  For other sections of the journey, he would walk along the railway tracks and, if he was lucky, a freight train might come by and give him a ride.

The Brock Family at Primrose, ca. 1930.  Brock Collection.

Once he reached Alta Lake, Pip would spend his time hiking and exploring the area.  One of his favourite hikes was to Russet Lake, still a favourite destination for many people today.  At the time there was quite a good trail on the northside of Fitzsimmons Creek, which Pip thought was most likely built and maintained by whomever was trapping in the area.

Pip’s trips around the area did not end with the end of the summer; he would continue even after the snow fell using skis.  Around Easter in 1933, Pip climbed to the top of Whistler Mountain and skied down, marking the first reported ascent and descent of Whistler on skis, though he later described the department store skis he used as “terrible things.”  Ski touring had not yet become popular among the majority of mountaineers at that time.  Pip said that, “most mountaineers thought that skiing was impure and indecent.  But a few of us, being frivolous, realized the fun and value of skis for winter touring.”

The Brock boys picnicking near Singing Pass, 1930s.  Brock Collection.

Pip and brothers continued visiting the valley even after the tragic death of their parents in a plane crash at Alta Lake in 1935.  In the 1930s Pip began joining Don and Phyllis Munday, legendary mountaineers from North Vancouver, on trips, including an attempt to reach the top of Mount Waddington.  In 1937 Pip and the Mundays skied up Wedge Creek and then skied and climbed up to the top of Wedge Mountain, marking the first ascent of Wedge by skis.  They also made the first ski descent in the Blackcomb backcountry and “skied right up to the source of Cheakamus to Mount Sir Richard.”

Since Pip began exploring the mountains surrounding Alta Lake by ski, ski touring has become increasingly popular.  Today, however, few of those who head out into the backcountry around Whistler choose to begin their trip with a ten hour walk from Squamish.

8 thoughts on “Taking a Walk with Pip Brock”

    1. Great question! From what information we have, Pip Brock graduated from UBC in 1938, traveled extensively, spent much of his career working with the Water Survey of Canada, and kept exploring. He and his wife had five children and he lived in Penticton until he passed away in 1995.

  1. I am one of Pip’s five children, and I can’t say any of us took after his adventurous nature. In 2033 it will be a century since his pioneering ski trip up and down Whistler. As this post relates, many folks were skeptical about skiing in the early days, even at Alta Lake. To prove his accomplishment, Pip lit a big fire on the mountain to show his position to people in the valley below. But for someone who knew the area so well, he couldn’t see its future very clearly. When it came to move on to other adventures, he sold the three lots his parents bought on Alta Lake for $100 each.

    By the way, the top photo is Pip’s brother Dave. The family photo at Primrose shows from the left Reg Brock, Dave Brock, Dave’s wife Babs, Tom Brock (hidden) and Pip Brock. Thanks for posting this.

    1. Thanks for the information! We have amended the caption for the top photo, which someone had previously identified as Pip. We knew people were skeptical about skiing but we hadn’t heard about him building a fire before!

  2. I assume that the Brock’s cottage, Primrose, is the one later known as Kelso Lodge (at least, that was what we were told). At the time my family started going to Alta Lake, in the mid-1950s, it was owned by Kitty Gray (Grey?), whom I remember as being quite a character. It was a charming building, with a long covered veranda on the lake side. For those who don’t know, Prof. Brock, Pip’s father, is the one for whom Brock Hall, which was the original Student Union Building at U.B.C., was named.

  3. This is the first time I have read about Pip walking from Squamish. Sometime in the 1930ies my Granny, Lizzie Neiland and her son Robert Jardine walked from 341/2 Mile to Squamish as the railroad was not operating or maybe a wrong day. Lizzie’s brother, Jim Laidlaw had died, and they wanted to go to his funeral in Vancouver. Jim had worked with the Neiland Jardine family at 341/2 Mile.
    When I lived in Squamish in the early parents with my parents, Jenny Jardine and Wallace Betts, Bill Bailif was taking the census and he walked to Squamish — probably not in a day.
    The Jardine Neiland family always walked to Alta Lake and back from 34 1/2 Mile. Bob Jardine and Tom Neiland went up to school and back from 341/2.
    I remember walking to Alta Lake and back when I was 4 or 5. I know I complained some on the way home and Granny would sing the Harry Lauder Song — Keep Right On To The End of the Road,
    In her 90ies Granny would take the bus from Alma Road to downtown Vancouver and sometimes she walked back to where she was living. She was nearly 103 when she died.
    Granny sold the quarter section of land she owned for $2000. A good part of it is now Function Junction. The road they skidded logs down as disappeared because it is a gravel pit.
    Louise Smith (Betts)

  4. My 103 year old aunt Mary (Mimi) Nichols remembers taking the train to visit Dean Brock and his family and told me about the tragic plane crash on Alta Lake.

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