The smiles are always big at the beginning of backpack trips...
So excited to have another back country Hut trip on the horizon!! We head out next week and because I’m too excited to wait (hence the excessive use of the word “excited”) I thought I’d post a quick travel journal from our last Hut trip… just in case we don’t return from this one due to bears, mountain lions or/and “mother nature” (just a little stress for my mom).
This photo is out of order from the first but I didn't want to start the blog with a pic of me looking like a dork while wrestling skins onto the bottom of my skis for the first time in my life. We are parked at the Buckeye Gulch Trailhead where, for the first time, it occurred to us that if all the Huts are above treeline (11,000 feet) and we are parked at 9000 feet we were in for a serious climb.
They (the kind lady who answer's the phones at Hut's dot org) said it'd be a gentle climb. I guess age affects the depth perception...gentle my ass!
This will be my third hut trip, the second in Winter, and the second time on Alpine Touring Skis. We book the trips through the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association, an organization honoring the 10th Mountain Division of the US Army who trained in the Colorado Mountains during WW11. The hut system consists of 30 huts that are connected by over 350 miles of trails opened for biking, horseback riding, snowshoeing, back country skiing and good old fashion hiking…but no motor vehicles. Each hut is stocked with paper products (for the latrines), kitchen supplies, propane, a natural water source (in our case it will be the snow pack) and cords and cords of firewood (which I promptly point out to Chris). The huts have become pretty popular for the more extreme outdoor enthusiasts looking to get away from the masses so unless you’re flexible and able to make last minute plans it’s very difficult to secure a booking…score another one for the self-employed mothers of none!
It was the craziest thing, this squirrel (not pictured) must have followed Chris for about a half mile, dropping pine cones on his and head and clicking and squeaking in a very angry tone (yes I CAN tell the difference between happy and angry squirrels, thankyouverymuch). I told Chris it was most likely upset about the local Elk jerky he was chomping on but he just kept eating it in plain view of the wildlife. Unfortunately the "gentle climb" made it impossible to get away from the little guy so he had plenty of time to round up ammunition before scampering to the next overhead tree.
For the adventure in 2009 Chris and I planned a day trip to Eldora Mountain’s Nordic Center, the local ski slope, for a small group cross-country ski lesson. We had the option of snowshoeing to the hut but Chris and I finally admitted to ourselves (but not to our snowshoeing buddies) that snowshoeing doesn’t really add much fun or adventure to life, maybe a little more thigh burn and a wet backside, but no real sense of badassness and certainly no possibility of danger due to lack of skills. Snowshoeing is very much like walking around in clown shoes, it’s about 5 min of fun followed by another 5 min of dragging your heels as you try to get back to your shoes asap…yes I have walked around in clown shoes.
I seriously cried tears of joy when Sangree's Hut came into view. My legs were on fire and all I wanted was to eat a Cliff bar... you know times are rough when you're looking to a Cliff bar for comfort.
The ski lesson went exactly as planned. First, we blew the other participants away in the double top secret Coolest Couple Competition. And 2, we left with a very clear understanding that we were in no way prepared for a 5 mile backcountry ski trek with 30 lbs packs; chances were fair-to-middlin’ that we’d be spending both nights in a snow-cave trying to build up enough energy to ski back to the car. But in true Jones’ fashion we picked up a Luna Bar and some local organic elk jerky and put “google, snow-cave digging” on the list of things we should do before hitting the trail. In short, the Chris and Spice formula for fun is simple, learn the basics and then plan as if you’re a pro. Not only will you’ll increase the level of adventure but you’ll also increase the amount of hilarity…mostly in hindsight.
Don't our skis look romantic leaning against the rustic logs of the cabin? Good, because it took a forever for me to set up this shot. We rented everything from Sawatch Backcountry Outfitters in Leadville, a great group of people who gave us some valuable information.. that we promptly forgot.
And the formula did not fail. Once we reached the rental shop in Leadville we realized we didn’t want anything remotely to do with cross country skiing because the trails we’d be using weren’t groomed and we’d basically die trying to make the skinny skis work on the natural terrain. So we immediately educated ourselves on Alpine Touring, thicker skis with “skins” on the bottom so you don’t slide backwards while hiking uphill (Whaa? Uphill? Where? When?). After that was settled we discovered they didn’t have an Alpine Touring set up big enough for Chris’ size 15.5 hoofs so the lifelong snowboarder ended up on Telemark skis (hahahahahaaa), finally exposing the one thing his God given ability to immediately master all things athletic, couldn’t do. For those of you who don’t know what Telemarking is, it’s where your boots are only connected to the skis at the toe so instead of pushing in your heel (with all the strength of your leg) to change directions on the slope you have to bend at both knees and lean / finesse the skis into the direction you want to go. Learning the alternating perma-lunge is a ball-buster of a skill that apparently takes months and months to master, and that only happens after you’ve developed enough of a thigh-pain threshold to enable you to begin connecting turns.
I lucked out with a perfect set up that allowed me to lock and unlock my boots so that I could climb hills without putting my foot all the way back down to the slope of the ski. Very relaxing in relation to Chris’ situation… and I also loved the color.
There’s obviously so much to share about the hiking, the cooking and the latrines but I’ll resist the little details and let the photos take it from here. You’ll get the idea. Needless to say it was an amazing trip and we are thrilled to be planning another. Can’t wait to share that story soon!
It never fails, whenever we reach the top of some challenging hike there's always an older woman there yapping on about how easy it was. In this case, we met up with three older couples who have been traveling the huts for many years. They are a group of very accomplished skiers as well as accomplished teasers who love sticking it to the younger generation. Hysterical! This is Linda and she shared amazing stories about the adventures (and costs) of raising two Olympic Ski Jumpers. She was (still is?) a very interesting woman and we seriously could not have asked for a better group of bunk mates.
The rules are simple
For water we'd gather snow, melt it on the fire and then boil it in the kitchen to kill all the little things that can kill you from the inside out (another stress inducing detail for my mother). It was a long process but considering the alternative was to gear up in all your weather clothes and bring in the wood, I jumped at the opportunity to stay in my long-johns and be the water boiler.
The hut kitchens are well stocked so all you really have to carry in is your food; something we didn't trust on our first trip so we carried an extra 5 lbs of kitchen utensils each. The old stoves are pretty amazing when it comes to taste... or maybe it's the exhaustion that makes reconstituted soup taste so divine.
This is what the term "above the treeline" looks like, it's when you're above the altitude where trees can grow. On day 2 we decided to climb beyond the hut and work up an appetite with a little back country skiing. I actually tuckered out half way up and opted to ski the bottom half while Chris climbed to the top to take this photo before Telemarking back down (hahahahahaaaa). I was so pathetic, I'm not even one of the ones standing in this pic, those are the 80 year olds, I'm the little spec on the far right that's sitting in a heap of tired. But I'm glad I got as far as I did, the views around the huts are spectacular. I'll see if I can get Chris to weigh in on Telemarking that day... let's just say he was pretty concerned about the narrow descent he was going to have to manage back down to the car the following day.
Let me introduce you to a little sleeping pill called "exhaustion". It works like a charm in community sleeping situations. In this case we had the entire room to ourselves so there wasn't a big issue with noise, but sleeping above 10,000 feet is always hit or miss so it's best to play hard and eat big when you're hoping for a good night's sleep on trips like this. How precious are the little tea lights in the middle of the room? With no electricity they work wonders for the upstairs heat.
Seriously? Even I can't believe I took a photo this amazing! This is exactly why we love living in Colorado and as much as I hated getting dressed in all my weather gear to trek outside and snap this picture in the freezing night air, I'm so happy (in hindsight) I did. I love being able to share our adventures with family and friends...and seem like a badass.
Suited up and ready to ski out. It was a fabulous trip and one I wish everyone could experience... except for the kissing Chris parts (which I think Linda tried to do).
May you have many amazing adventures!