Fowler-Hilliard hut rises from the ashes
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – When the Fowler-Hilliard hut burned down, Eagle resident J.T. Thompson was sad to see it go.
“It was a huge loss,” he said.
Now, he’s looking forward to the hut being up and running again this winter. He’s been there with friends about six times over the years and he’s anxious to resume the tradition.
“We used to volunteer to help take care of it,” he said. “We’re happy to see a new hut put in its place.”
Located in the White River National Forest between Camp Hale and Vail Pass, The Fowler-Hilliard hut is one of the most popular backcountry huts in the region. About 2,500 visitors sleep there each year.
But in September 2009, the hut burned to the ground.
There was so little left, the hut’s charred remains fit in the back of a pickup truck.
“The most likely cause was lightning,” said Ben Dodge, executive director of the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association.
A year later, a brand new hut is taking shape in its place. The hut should be finished by Nov. 1 and open to the public by Thanksgiving, Dodge said.
The nonprofit hut association hired Structural Associates of Glenwood Springs to rebuild the popular overnight destination. Since the project started in June, workers have been sleeping in a nearby yurt as they rebuild the hut, which stands atop Resolution mountain at 11,500 feet above sea level.
“The building conditions are extreme,” Dodge said.
Given the remote location, the project is pricier than it would be on the ground. The entire project will cost about $600,000, Dodge said. Insurance money covered most of the expense but the hut association raised another $125,000 for some added improvements, he said.
Most of those extras make the hut more energy efficient. A new mud room at the entrance acts as a buffer between the indoors and the cold mountain air. The hut also has triple-paned windows and spray foam insulation. That means the hut will warm up faster once guests arrive, Dodge said.
“It will also mean they don’t have to burn as much firewood,” he said.
Along with getting warmer faster, the new hut has lightning rods – just in case history repeats itself.
Visitors will notice a few more perks as well. With new windows, the enclosed rear deck now has a sweeping view of the Gore Range. The hut also accommodates handicapped visitors with a ramp and downstairs bedroom.
Perhaps the most noticeable change is the exterior. Instead of the log cabin design, the hut has a standard stick frame with stone facing.
Some things haven’t changed. The hut still spans about 1,600 square feet and sleeps 16.
The original hut dated back to 1988. It was a memorial to Ann Fowler and Ed Hilliard, climbers who died in an accident on North Maroon Peak. Their families raised the money for the original hut and members of the next generation pitched in for the rebuilding project.
Shortly after the hut burnt down, the hut association built a yurt in the area for the people who had already booked their reservations.
“We were able to give people the opportunity to stay in the yurt or give them their money back,” Dodge said.
Workers have removed the yurt now that the hut is near completion.
The hut charms visitors for several reasons. First of all, visitors can ski in from Vail Pass or Camp Hale.
“The approach to the hut is very serene and beautiful,” Thompson said.
Also, Fowler-Hilliard is part of a chain of huts in the backcountry. Many people like to sleep there after stopping at Shrine Pass Inn.
The hut association won’t start taking reservations until the hut is finished but once they do, Dodge expects the reservations to fill up fast.
“It’s going to be first come, first serve,” he said.
Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.