Thursday, November 10, 2005
Joining a group of friends to spend a couple of nights in a rustic log lodge on the edge of a remote wilderness, far from any road is like no other backcountry adventure. Melting snow for drinking water on a wood stove, splitting wood for fuel, and watching the moon rise over dramatic peaks are all part of the experience. And in the right conditions, there can be amazing powder skiing for telemark skiers. At the very least, backcountry hut adventurers will enjoy spectacular Nordic touring.
Unguided hut trips like those made available through the nonprofit Tenth Mountain Division Hut Association are not for everyone. Traveling into the rugged mountains of Colorado on skis in winter demands hardy people who have some wilderness survival skills and knowledge. Ideally, every trip should be led by an experienced, self-reliant individual, or even better, several experienced people.
People who believe they have the skill sets necessary for such a trip, but are uncertain, may want to contact a professional guide for their first experience. The hut association urges that each group include among its members someone with leadership skills and first-aid skills. It is desirable for someone on the team to be skilled at using map and compass to find a route. Avalanche awareness also is important.
Everything you need to know about planning a hut trip can be found at www.huts.org.
Reservations are difficult to come by, and skiing with a full backpack is arduous for many, but the rewards of a hut trip outweigh the temporary discomfort. Some aging baby boomers with access to snowmobiles have learned to shorten the slog by hitching a ride to within a mile or two of their huts, but the spirit of a hut trip calls for adventurers to pay a small price for their pleasure.
Colorado has many backcountry huts and yurts (round Asian style tents with wooden floors and cook stoves). The best-known are those owned and/or managed by the Tenth Mountain Association. The word "huts" doesn't really due justice to these structures, which typically sleep up to 16 people and offer a pair of woodstoves and propane cooking surfaces. The "huts" in the system are all equipped with sleeping platforms and mattresses, firewood (all you have to do is split the kindling), picture windows, cold, but sturdy outhouses, and even games and books.
The typical route to a hut is 6 to 7 miles long and climbs at least 1,500 feet in elevation beginning at a trailhead above 8,000 feet.
Not everyone who visits a backcountry hut is intent on making powder turns. Some arrive by snowshoe, and others are content to tour on sturdy cross-country skis.
The trailheads for the huts are close to towns like Vail, Aspen and Leadville. The huts themselves must be reserved well in advance. The average fee is about $28 per person. The huts book up well in advance and regular hut enthusiasts join the Tenth Mountain Association for annual dues of $25. Membership entitles them to make early reservations. Many people experience their first hut trip by getting their names added to a trip that has already been booked. People often drop out of trips because of scheduling conflicts. Their loss is your gain.