Two weeks ago we packed up our gear with big plans for an early Saturday departure followed by a long weekend deep in the Colorado Rockies avoiding reality, cell signal and any adult responsibilities. Paula showed up at 5:30am, we loaded up the car, stopped for donuts and headed into the mountains. By 9:30am we were parked and unloaded at the Spraddle Creek Trailhead, ready to head up, up, up to the Eiseman Hut.
We were mentally prepared for lots of climbing…but the first few miles weren’t unbearable. There were a few short, steep stretches but otherwise the climbs weren’t too intimidating. There were even a few steady downhills! Our mental game lost all of its mojo by the time we finally arrived at the switchbacks that relentlessly climbed onward.
By this time other people in our group had caught up with us looking far more energized than we were. When we left the trailhead we were talking smack about having the hut all ready for everyone else when they arrived, clearly this was not going to happen. When we arrived at the hut we became very okay with this – the hut was toasty warm but we still had our pick of the bunks. Perfect timing!
Paula and Chris were the only people I knew when I arrived at the hut but as expected we all meshed well – if you’re hanging out with people happily spending a long weekend in the backcounty there is usually a lot of common ground to bond over.
Our first evening was spent getting settled, warming our souls with backcountry beverages and playing cards while the supper crew prepared the meal – burritos with all the fixings! After a long day of touring none of us lasted too long and the main room cleared out before 10pm rolled around.
In the Eiseman Hut there was a separate bunk room without direct heat, unlike the McNamara Hut where the bunks were above the “living area” and kitchen. At first I was afraid I’d be cold – you know, after my gloriously frigid winter camping experience – but this set up was perfect! Sure, the bunk room was chilly but that meant I got to burrow deep into my sleeping bag. I slept like a freaking baby and was one of the first people up the next morning, ready to go as soon as the sun broke the horizon.
On Sunday morning my “food crew” was responsible for filling hungry bellies. Paula suggested sweet potato hash and oatmeal which turned out to be a great breakfast! We had made a veggie and a bacon hash back in Denver then packed it in to reheat while Jen made oatmeal and Chris got all the toppings ready.
After breakfast everyone layered up, strapped on beacons, packed up their bags and headed out for some backcountry skiing and riding. The avalanche risk was fairly high so everyone was being extra aware of the changing conditions and terrain. It sounds rather stupid to be out on the mountain when the risk is ranked as “high” and “considerable” but the added caution had everyone making better decisions. Knowing everyone was playing it safe had me feeling more comfortable than when the risk is lower and no one is paying attention. Basically, yes, we were out in the backcountry during higher-than-ideal conditions but we were being smart, going out of our way to avoid sketchy terrain and everyone has the gear and knowledge required to assist in a rescue if needed.
As we got ready to head out we realized one of our beacons was missing. It had made the trip up to the hut but in the hustle and bustle of settling in it got misplaced. Rather than disregard the risk I opted to stay in the hut to chill with Paula while Chris took the beacon we did have to play in the snow. Best. Decision. Ever.
We spent a few hours just hanging out, reading books, drawing pictures and chatting while everyone else frolicked in the snow. No distractions – just dishes to wash, snow to melt and a fire to stoke. This is the part of the backcountry that I truly love. So peaceful, so stress-free, so worth the pain to get there!
After lunch Paula and I got bored with card games and decided to join the majority of the group outside in the snow. I borrowed an avalanche beacon and we headed out to skin above the hut and find fresh snow.
Since it was a group of snowboarders and skiers that headed out we ended up with very different routes down. The skiers were able to stay higher on the slope while the snowboarders dropped lower because we cannot side step to main our elevation. Usually this is not a big deal, that day it was. We dropped into two clearings that appeared to be obvious avalanche chutes…on a week of very high avalanche risk.
We managed to cross the first very close to the top with minimal added risk but were far too low on the second chute. Rather than cross our fingers and risk it we choose to unstrap and hike back up to safety through a thick stand of trees. The hike was not easy, we were tossing our board ahead of us and post-holing in hip deep snow…but I’d rather get one heck of a workout heading straight up a snowy mountain than frantically digging someone out of an avalanche!
By the time we got back to the hut the sun was setting and we used this an excuse to return to our vegetative state with a handful of playing cards. The dinner crew reminded us just how hungry we were as we killed time playing games and just hanging around. Once again…this is why I love the backcountry. Sure, everything takes longer but that quiet time is amazing!
Once again bedtime came early and I got another incredible night of sleep in my cozy sleeping bag – which was much needed for the harder-than-expected trek back to the car. The hike in was fairly rolling and we commented on how much this could suck on the way out…but sometimes you just do what you can to ignore the painful inevitable.
Paula, Chris and I were the first to start back to the trailhead. Our packs were far lighter on the way out but they still made riding a snowboard interesting! We immediately dropped into the trees for an interesting stretch of dodging trees and hoping we were headed in the right general direction. After making our own trail down the mountain we came upon the actual trail and a few others from our group. Eventually the trailhead was in sight in our long trek was over!
With our car loaded up and layers removed we started the drive back to Denver with chatter of burgers, french fries and our next hut trip. Yup, it was long, hard trek in and out but it was so incredibly worth it! We are already planning our next hut trip – this time we won’t have the full hut so it should be extra interesting with a few unknown hutmates!
Stop by the #STPLive chat on Thursday at 4pm MST to talk about hut trips with a focus on what to expect, how to prepare and share your stories! I’ll be co-hosting with Sierra Trading Post for one last time before I take over as the Voice of Sierra on Twitter!
2013 McNamara Hut Trip Stories…
Have you done a hut trip? Do you have any tips for our future trips? Want to come with in April?