We are pretty darn lucky in Colorado. Backpacking trip options to last a lifetime. Rivers to go rafting. Places to climb from cragging to mountaineering and excellent places to ski or snowshoe.
Among the many things Coloradoans can enjoy is a trip to a backcountry hut nestled in the Colorado mountains.
The huts are what I called “rustic luxury”: A wood stove, bunks with mats, propane stoves, solar panels to charge up lights at night and often incredible views to the mountains with excellent skiing surrounding the hut.
Winter camping can be fun, but there is something about a hut trip. Besides being very social, the huts offer a way for a person who generally could not enjoy the winter backcountry for more than a day to get out there.
I must confess to enjoying them quite a bit. I’ve always referred to huts as a “dinner party with a ski trip attached.” 🙂
Or, as my friend Terry put it “The backcountry person in you loves the location and the skiing…the Italian in you loves the cooking and food!”
Indeed! A chance to get in an amazing Colorado winter experience, cook some yummy food and share it all with friends. What’s not to like?Sunset from Sangree Hut
But the actual logistics of a 10th Mountain hut trip can be intimidating if you have never done one.
What do I bring? What amenities are available? How do I sign up for the trip? Heck, where do I go to the bathroom? 🙂
All common questions that most of us (myself included!) have learned through trial and error.
This article will hopefully make preparing for a 10th mountain hut trip a little easier.
Happy Snowy Trails!
Note: This doc is aimed towards winter backcountry use of the 10th Mountain hut system and affiliated huts. Other huts (and yurts) may have a similar setup, but you should always perform some initial research into each hut/yurt to see what facilities are available. This doc is also meant for winter use. Summer use of the huts can be similar, but there are differences. Finally, it goes without saying that this doc is meant for initial planning purposes only. You should always do further research about ANY hut and choose your gear, clothing, food and route based on your personal preferences and experience level. Winter backcountry travel can fun, pleasant and rewarding. But it is not for the unprepared. Have a good time and be safe!
OK, what exactly is a 10th Mtn Hut?
Rather than repeat the history of the huts, I’ll be lazy and just direct you here..
From the 21st century perspective, the 10th Mountain Huts are huts situated in the backcountry that generally has space for 12-16 people. The huts typically feature bunks with pads, a kitchen with propane and wood stoves, dining tables and a common area centered around a wood stove. Photovoltaic lights add a nice touch.
When getting hut slots, a person can buy one spot…or all 16 (with some exceptions). A hut trip is an excellent way to spend a weekend with friends or make new friends who also love the outdoors!McNamara Hut
Signing up for a hut trip
The first part of a hut trip is getting on a hut trip! 🙂
Several ways to sign up for a hut trip. You can buy all the spots at a hut or simply a few or even one spot (with exceptions depending on a few of the huts)
- For winter weekends and prime holidays, you need to enter the lottery.
- If you wish to go during the week (holidays excluded), pretty easy to get a hut spot
- If you are a single person or even a couple, there are often spots avail at the last-minute on the 10th Mountain Division bulletin boards
- Have some really nice friends who always invite you on a hut trip. 🙂
Signed up..now what???
- Be sure to sign the electronic waiver that the 10th Mountain Division will send you
- Make a note of the door lock combo and WRITE IT DOWN
- Figure out how you are getting there (carpooling? posting a ride wanted on the bulletin board? Offering to share gas costs with a friend or two?)
- Figure out if you are going to drive straight from your home or hotel (if flying into Denver) OR will you get a room for the night at a hostel or motel room relatively close to the trailhead
- Be sure you are in physical shape for the trip
- If not, get in shape for the trip!
- If you are coming from lower elevations, factor in at least a day (or better, two) to be acclimated before schlepping gear up to 11000 feet
Mode of travel: Touring skis? AT/Tele Skis? Snowshoes?
Depending on your skill set, preference and type of terrain you may decide to use one of the ways to access the hut:
- Snowshoes: If you have limited (or no) ski skills, snowshoes are a perfectly fine way to get to the hut. More stable with a heavier winter pack and anyone who can walk can snowshoe. Overall slower and perhaps more tiring than skis, they are a good way for people to access the huts during winter
- Backcountry touring skis: With its double camber and light weight, Nordic backcountry touring skis are a good option getting to the huts in a quick and efficient manner. The touring skis work best for moderate terrain and trips where there is more touring than ‘big mountain’ skiing. Whether you take waxable of waxless skis, you may want to take skins for all but the most moderate/flat approaches. Esp with overnight winter packs, climbing without skins can be quite frustrating!
- AT/Tele skis: If the approach (and, more importantly, the descent back!) is steep and/or there are lots of opportunities to carve some turns in deep, fresh powder down a glade, than bring the AT or Tele gear. Less glide and not as suitable for flat or rolling terrain as touring skis, these skis shine on steeper grades where control is more important than the distance covered.
What do I bring? Being a hiker at heart. I’m a sucker for my touring gear. I use Norwegians skis that are a bit wider than typical Nordic gear. Additionally, they have a 3 pin binding with an optional cable for more control on descents. They are perfect covering distance with a heavier pack in mixed terrain.
However, if the terrain around the hut is more conducive to “carving turns” and my friends are in the same mindset, I’ll bring my Tele skis and show my shortcomings as a Telemark skier. 🙂
I wouldn’t bring classic x-country gear for all but the flattest approaches. Esp with a pack, hard to maintain control on steep descents in the backcountry.
Finally, I frankly do not know enough about split boards or snowboards to discuss their use. If you are an avid snowboarder and don’t mind snowshoeing in with a board, then go for it! 🙂
Day use gear for a hut trip
For the gear during the day, you’ll want to bring your standard gear for skiing or snowshoeing (that includes skins, wax and avalanche gear as appropriate). Though this article was written as an introduction to snowshoeing, perhaps 80% of the document covers information for any backcountry winter snow travel. Make use off the suggested gear list included. Note that some items (such as a headlamp) will be utilized while at the hut, too.
One thing I’ll emphasize is that even if you don’t plan on being in avalanche terrain, I think it is prudent to take a shovel for any overnight winter trip. You can build an emergency shelter, could find it useful for during the day or perhaps digging your friends’ car out of the parking lot if it snows too much while on the trip. 😀 (Not really a joke I’m afraid. Seems I’ve used my avy shovel for digging cars out than any other use! )
Overnight gear to bring
The huts are stocked with many amenities: Usually water from a well for washing dishes, sleeping mats (no pad needed) soap for dishes, outhouses with TP and hand sanitizer (that’s where you go to the bathroom and NOT IN THE SNOW SURROUNDING THE HUT! :D), propane stoves, cook ware,, oven, fireplace, and other items listed here
Even though it is a hut, you’ll still want to bring some of the following clothing and gear for overnight use. Here are some suggested items:
- Sleeping Bag – A 20F bag is suggested. Though the huts are quite toasty with a wood stove, it can get colder at night. Bring a bag appropriately rated to stay warm
- Hut Shoes – etiquette dictates that you take your boots off in the foyer/entrance to avoid getting snow in the hut. A pair of Crocs, down booties or even simple house slippers, are nice to change into once in the hut and out of the snow
- T-shirt, shorts and/or light pants – As mentioned it can get toasty in the hut. Some comfy cotton can be nice to change into esp when the winter clothes may be a little damp
- Change of socks – An extra pair of fleece or wool socks to change into as well. Your ski socks may be slightly damp from sweat. Let them air out a bit. And in winter, an extra pair of socks is not a bad thing!
- Book – Sometimes just relaxing at a hut is wonderful. A small paperback or the electronic equivalent is a good thing to bring. Most huts have a small library of books as well.
- Appropriate food – A hut trip is a chance to bring food a bit more gourmet than the usual backpacking fare. I typically take standard backpacking food for lunch (gorp, chocolate, jerky and so on) in addition to Ramen noodles for a quick and brothy meal when I first get to a hut or back from a long day of skiing. But for breakfast and dinner, I like to be creative. French toast? Eggs and bacon? Shrimp scampi? Pork roast? Be creative! Cook some delightful food at 11k feet and show off your culinary creativity! Keep the Mountain House meals for weekend backpacking trips
- Hot drinks – The huts typically do not have hot drinks stocked. Pack in some tea, coffee or hot chocolate. A hot drink while looking out at the mountains surrounding the hut has to be one the great pleasures of the Colorado winter
- Adult beverages – What’s a nice dinner without some wine? 🙂 Rather than a bottle, bring a box (or, better yet, just the bladder). Pour the liquids into a plastic bottle for other beverages. If you want to bring beer, bring one of many delicious craft beers now sold in cans. Don’t over do it, though. You are at elevation and can be more dehydrated in the cold, dry air of winter. Ultimately you still have to ski out. Difficult to do hung over! 🙂
Schlepping it all in
Of course, the more you take, the more you have to carry. Study the terrain, the elevation gain, mileage and do an honest assessment of your abilities and physical fitness. Hauling in a whole ham dinner sounds awesome in the comfort of your living room. Does not sound as awesome after an 8-mile haul with 4000′ vertical gain while breaking trail esp if the only exercise you’ve gotten lately is watching your Netflix queue.
If the terrain is flat or even only moderate regarding steepness, consider taking a gear sled. For this type of terrain, a gear sled can be a wonderful way to haul in gear. If you are packing for a significant other or even a family, a sled may the best way to still do trips in the right conditions. Easier than hauling it on the back at times. Be sure the terrain works for a gear sled first!
Navigation, maps and other terrain beta for getting to a hut
The 10th Mountain Huts, and some others are generally well marked and signed.
Traditional Nordic markers often guide the way:
With appropriate signage often at junctions:
Sometimes there are other markers along the way:
But a marked trail is not something that can be followed blindly. Sometimes junctions can be confusing; weather can be inclement, and the path may be hidden among the trees and deep powder.
Having a map and compass is a must. While electronic aids should not be depended upon, they can come in useful during winter.
For great information about each hut, route descriptions, and free topos, I suggest going to Hut-ski.org. An excellent, and free, resource.
While the resource is ideal for areas to and from huts, a wider view is often needed for skiing around the huts.
The following maps work well for areas around huts:
- Trails Illustrated Maps offer a wider view if not as much detail as other maps. Usually, adequate for most navigation purposes
- The appropriate quad (or printed section of quad) from a 7.5 topo is going to offer the most detail but not a broad overview
- The 10th Mountain Division Hut Assoc also sells maps appropriate to each hut
Personally, I’ve had good luck with the free maps from Hutski.org to get to the hut and use the TI maps for areas around the hut.
As mentoned, electronic navigation can be useful. But always have a map, compasss, and the skills to use them.
This little doc really can’t explore the science behind avalanches too much, but use common sense when going above the hut. The terrain to and from the huts are generally safe. Above the hut? Take the appropriate gear as needed and do not take any unnecessary risks.
Dogs are not allowed at huts. Fido may be part of your family, but those who are allergic to dogs will not necessarily appreciate the dog hair that lingers in a hut after a trip. Please be considerate and do not take a dog to the hut. Thanks!
Besides the wonderful skiing, yummy food, and beautiful scenery, there are a few tasks that need to be done at the hut
- Melting snow – Try to have some snow being melted on the stove in a pot at all times. Hot drinks are almost always welcome
- Chopping wood – Kindling sized logs need to be chopped
- Cleaning the dishes – All that cooking means the dishes will get dirty. Don’t be a slobbone…clean up after yourself and make it easier for the other hut guests
- Packing up – Before leaving the hut: Sweep the floor, wash the dishes, make sure the wood pile is stocked, double-check that the fire is damped down and pack out all your extra food and garbage. Leave the hut in good condition for the next guests. Do another check to make sure all the belongings are gone, lock up and then ski back down to your vehicle!
This doc is really meant for a general overview. There are many books on skiing, snowshoeing and winter travel in general that can help you prepare in more detail for these activities.
For hut specific information, you should check out this FAQ from the 10th Mountain Division Hut Assoc. Hutski.org is also a good place to start for not only hut info, but for general winter backcountry info as well.
Suggested Gear List
Here’s a list of suggested gear to bring. As always, this list is just a suggestion. Look it over and adjust accordingly. Bring the gear appropriate to your activity, safety and comfort levels.
|Copy of waiver|
|Snowshoes or skis with appropriate accessories (skins? wax?)|
|Day use clothing and gear as suggested in this document|
|Change of clothes for post-ski|
|Avalanche gear as appropriate but ALWAYS BRING A SHOVEL|