Best Blogs: Outdoor Junkie January 20, 2009

Fowler-Hilliard Hut ski trip included Scrabble, sunshine

Posted by Ann Driggers on Sunday at 9:53 a.m.

Ski. Eat. Sleep. Repeat.

We just returned from a fantastic three days at the Fowler-Hilliard hut, located above Camp Hale. Owned and operated by the 10th Mountain Division, it is a cozy but spacious hut, and beautifully situated at 11,500 feet where excellent skiing and touring opportunities abound.

Nothing beats a good hut trip for an extended dose of the high mountain experience while staying in relative comfort.

Normally I would load myself up with a heavy pack and ski the 5 miles and 2,500 feet climb into the hut. With the Vail Pass Recreation Area close by and numerous motorized trails, we chose to access the hut via snowmobile over the summit of Ptarmigan Hill. Arriving at the hut, we snagged the private bedroom, ate lunch and headed out to get some turns in, all before our hut mates showed up.

The sun was shining and for the first time in several weeks the weather was warm — hand warmers and frost-nipped feet became a (not so distant) memory.

We made a run from the hut on south- and east-facing slopes where the snow was getting baked by the sun, knowing that the crust would eliminate these aspects from the search for quality skiing the next day.

Back at the hut, we found the rest of our party installed and we spent the evening feasting on copious quantities of pasta, melting snow for water and playing hut Scrabble. Hut Scrabble is significantly more challenging than regular Scrabble, since critical board letters and important pages of the dictionary are invariably missing. Although intensely frustrating, it is an integral part of the hut experience.

The following morning, the sun rose in a cloudless sky and we set out for a long and fun day on skis. The snow was deep and light on the shaded northerly aspects. Powder turns were accompanied by a tinkling sound as we sliced through the big hoarfrost flakes on the surface. To call it good would be a ridiculous understatement.

We carved our signatures into the bowl behind the hut many times before stopping to refuel.

Basking on a sunny ridge, we snacked on cheese and crackers with a stellar view of the Mount of the Holy Cross off to our west. Next we took a longer run into McAllister Gulch, an area with tight trees but plenty of good snow. My new GPS rescued us from the deep, dark woods and had us skinning back up for yet another run before heading to the top of 12,000-foot Resolution Mountain for a pre-arranged rendezvous with the rest of our group.

On the summit, we watched the sunset over the Sawatch and Gore ranges before skiing back down to the hut at dusk. With almost 4,000 feet of vertical under our skins for the day, we were whipped.

Another fun evening was had, involving delicious food and great conversation around the fire, including a debate on the merits of either a slipper crampon or skins, designed to prevent skidding and falling on the icy path to the outhouse.

The final day dawned, again sunny, warm and reminiscent of spring. Tired from the previous day’s exploits, we took just a couple of short runs before retiring to the deck for sunbathing. In the afternoon we regretfully packed up our gear, cleaned the hut and headed back to civilization.


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