Cabin fever: Vail Valley family needs help restoring a wilderness cabin
August 6, 2017
Andy Walker and Renee Azerbegi are inviting you to their cabin in the woods.
Wear sturdy shoes. You'll hike a few miles up the Bighorn Creek trail out of East Vail, about 2,600 feet and 3.2 miles above the trailhead.
They're providing the work gloves, so you won't need to pack those, but you will need them. They're also providing lunch, so you won't need to pack that either.
Andy, Renee and their sons Josh, Alex and Kirby Walker are restoring a cabin that has been part of their family since the 1850s.
"It's more like a repair project that has gotten out of hand," Andy said, laughing.
The walk is worth it. The Eagles Nest Wilderness surrounds the cabin. The Bighorn Creek trail goes right past it.
Recommended Stories For You
Aaron Mayville is the U.S. Forest Service district ranger for that part of the White River National Forest, and said Walker and Azerbegi have been great to work with.
"It's a private inholding, and they were really good about coordinating with us and doing it the right way. I look forward to seeing it when it's finished," Mayville said.
Still building green
It may be one of the greenest building projects ever done, at least since the cabin was originally built a century and a half ago.
"We're replanting two trees for every tree we cut," Renee said.
Almost all of the building material comes from the site: logs that are already part of the cabin, dead trees from the property for logs, rocks for the foundation from a rock slide along Bighorn Creek, gravel from a mine. Most of it is hauled by hand, although they do have this ingenious zip line system to haul some of the gravel in five-gallon buckets.
What isn't hauled by strong backs and zip lines is hauled by Tom Burch's mules. Burch operates Half Moon Packing in Leadville.
Burch and his mules — usually Jake and Heidi — have hauled up 200 tongue-in-groove planks for the roof, and roll roofing to make the cabin watertight.
"We could cut down trees for the planks, but that would mean cutting down more trees. We're not going to do that," Renee said.
As long as Burch and his mules are up there, they spend a few hours skidding logs to the cabin site.
The dry stack foundation is solid, but at times frustrating. Every time a log moves, it messes it up. It will be solid as the stones it's made of when there's a cabin sitting on top of it.
A little history
Bighorn Mining Company was founded in 1859 by a couple of German brothers named Koch. In 1879 they staked a claim for the Dollie Mine. There's a big monument for them in the Minturn cemetery.
Andy's great-grandmother, Millie Price, ran the Eagle River Hotel in Minturn across the street from the saloon. The board of fare at the Eagle River Hotel was usually game, or fish that she caught that day from Gore Creek.
"She'd catch 14 to 18 trout a day and serve them in the hotel," Andy said.
She also cooked for the miners, which means she ran the hotel and then hiked or rode a mule up the Bighorn Creek trail to the cook cabin.
Millie was the Koch brothers' niece. When they died, Millie inherited seven contiguous mining claims, 71.5 acres.
Millie's adopted daughter, Olive, inherited it from her. Olive taught school in Minturn, then Red Cliff and married George Walker, who was elected the mayor of Minturn. George died in a mine accident in Gilman. Olive remarried Harold Goodale, and they lived at 400 Main St., right across the road from what is now the gas station.
Andy's dad, Byron Walker and Glenda Gartside now own the property.
Byron and his sons Andy and Victor and their families are helping with the restoration. They bring in friends with them to the cabin on weekends, to enjoy the stunning views, and to help with the work.
Made for TV
The DIY network's television show "Building Off the Grid" was looking for a cabin and they were contacted by a guy who knows a guy. The show is also sending up a film crew to chronicle the work, they said.
"It was dilapidated. A tree fell on the roof and the roof was half gone," Andy said.
Chances are good that, while they're up there, the film crew will work at something in addition to videography.
"We have lots of work gloves," Renee said.
The county building permit of $8,300 for a structural engineer are the biggest costs in the renovation, Andy said. The government required the structural engineer to help them log grading — figuring out which logs are good enough to be part of the cabin, and which ones are not.
They're trying to finish it in four weeks, but are allowing up to six, they said.
"We have to finish before it starts snowing in September," they said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
To lend a hand
To volunteer, call Andy Walker at 303-601-2378.