Camping season is over in Colorado, but the state’s extensive backcountry hut system offers outdoor lovers and adventure seekers overnight access into the deep powder pockets of the mountains.
Kim Sievers, a Denver resident and 10th Mountain Division Hut Association member and volunteer coordinator, has three hut trips planned this winter.
“Everything about a hut trip just brings people together in the mountains,” Sievers said. “It offers you solitude, gives you exercise and brings you to a haven to share with others.”
Sievers said her family has been going on hut trips since her kids were little, and now her 27-year-old daughter is planning her bachelorette party to be at one of the deep woods destinations.
A winter adventure
The 34 huts managed by the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association are connected by 350 miles of suggested routes, each with a wide range of accessibility factors. Research and preparation are a key component for new and experienced trekkers. Never-ever hut trippers should look into some of the shorter trips, although these huts are the ones that tend to fill the fastest.
“Anything under four miles can be very attractive to people coming up from the Front Range,” said Cindy Carpenter, office manager at the hut association. “The huts closer to Aspen have more wiggle room availability, but it can be a real commitment to come all this way.”
Longer trips are seven to 10 miles, on average, from the trailhead to the hut. This can mean not only a full day of snowshoeing or skinning in, but also only the potential of a variety of winter weather.
“We tell first-timers or people with kids that the group may move a little slower — about one mile per hour,” Carpenter said. “Your timing, or how much time you allow, makes or breaks a hut trip.”
She suggested ensuring a comfortable and nicely paced excursion, and to be sure to be well oriented with the route and hut location, allowing yourself and your group enough time to turn around if necessary. Backcountry safety and navigation precautions are always necessary, especially in areas where ski and snowboard terrain is accessible.
“If we keep getting snow like this, it’s going to be perfect,” Carpenter said. “It’s just a great way to get in shape for the slopes — it’s cheaper than resort skiing and you will probably get more out of it.”
Hut trips can bring you closer to your natural surroundings, Carpenter said. It’s a chance to slow down and a time for reflection, as well as a little extra adventure to add to your wintertime sports.
“If you love groomed trails or love lift assisted skiing, that’s fine, but you should definitely try breaking trail under your own human-powered body,” she said.
Information and preparation
Most of the huts sleep 16 people, but size ranges from three beds to 20. The huts are booked to capacity and are often shared by more than one group, including guide services and their clients. Most huts are booked on a per-person basis for an average of $35 per person, per night (rates vary). Fabi’s Hut, Ken’s Cabin, Carl’s Cabin, Chuck’s Upstairs, Walter’s Upstairs and the Braun Huts are only booked for one group at a time. For the winter season, huts fill up fast, with a majority of them open from Thanksgiving through April 30.
Each hut is equipped with at least one wood burning stove for heating and cooking, as well as firewood and starter paper, matches and propane burners for cooking. Toilet paper, mattresses and pillows are also provided. Plan to melt snow for water (in winter months), and guests are responsible for their own water filtration (boiled water is safe to drink). Amenities vary greatly from hut to hut, so check the hut amenities chart on the association website. Dogs are not allowed in any of the huts.
To plan a hut trip, designate a group organization leader as well as a group trip leader. The organization leader can book the hut, organize teams and complete necessary waivers. Have a group trip leader who is skilled in route finding, avalanche awareness and first-aid. Be aware that every individual treks in and explores the backcountry at his or her own risk.
Many huts become booked a year in advance on weekends or holidays, so dedicated hut trippers may be interested in becoming a member of the hut association. Members can enter a hut request into the annual lottery drawing, which has a deadline this year of midnight on Feb. 13, 2014, for the 2014-15 season. Carpenter said there is an average of more than 2,000 participants in the lottery each year.
There is still some limited hut availability for this winter season, and interested parties can check the status of huts on the association website.
A family affair
Carpenter said the hut association has been emphasizing youth participation for the trips, which allows parents to showcase the outdoors and their love of nature to their children.
“Get your kids unplugged and off the grid,” she said. “Let your kids know that it’s OK to leave your house for a day and a night, that their friends will still be there, Facebook will still be there.”
The shorter routes in — three miles or less — are generally preferable for kids, especially if they are new to hut tripping, Carpenter said. She recommended the Shrine Mountain Inn (includes Jay’s, Chuck’s and Walter’s Cabins) off of Vail Pass, Continental Divide Cabin and/or Point Breeze Cabin, both near Tennessee Pass, Francie’s Cabin near Breckenridge and the Broome Hut, located near Berthoud Pass.
“The Shrine Mountain Inn huts have been a starter hut trip for all ages,” Carpenter said. “For a newbie or never-ever, 2.7 miles can be a real adventure. Weather on Vail Pass can be a blinding blizzard, and that’s enough for the first timer, but once you gut up to Shrine it’s amazing.”
Sievers said she loves hut trips because they give her the opportunity to enjoy solitude and the beauty of the backcountry with family and friends.
“The travel to the hut requires physical effort and team planning, which brings people together,” she said. “Sometimes at the end of the journey, you have made new friends and have learned something new, perhaps about the 10th Mountain Division history, a mountaineering skill or about yourself in the quiet of nature.”
For more information and to make reservations through the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association, visit www.huts.org or call 970-925-5775.
For information on backcountry cooking, and ideas on what to bring food-wise on a hut trip, visit this story online at www.vaildaily.com.