10th Mountain Division huts offer unique view of backcountry
Most Coloradans who enjoy the outdoors, especially those who enjoy it most with skis and snowboards strapped to their feet, have heard about the 10th Mountain Division huts nestled high in the Rocky Mountains.
I’d heard tales about these huts for years and was finally lucky to get an invitation for a trip with the Mesa State (College) Outdoor Program earlier this month. The trip was three nights at a hut miles miles off roads near Leadville.
Winter or summer, anyone wanting to stay in one of 29 huts in the 10th Mountain Division hut system can reserve a single space or an entire hut. For large groups, early reservations are essential and so is considerable organization so that enough food and other supplies get packed in to the hut.
In my situation, the Outdoor Program provided organization for the trip and program staff reserved all 16 spots in the 10th Mountain Hut (other huts have names such as Jackal, Ken’s, Polar Star Carl’s and Uncle Bud’s) when it was still 100 degrees outside. The program also organized the meals, and the group wasn’t skimpy. We feasted on strip steak, sushi and stuffed portabello mushrooms.
The 16 participants, most of whom were college students and program staff, shared the cost of the trip, and everyone was expected to help with duties at the hut, such as cooking and cleaning.
Arriving at the hut was the most surprising part of the trip. Exhausted from snowshoeing 4 miles with a 50-pound pack that included my snowboard equipment and some of the food for the group, I was relieved to spy the hut on top of one final hill.
It was big. It had solar panels. It had two attached outhouses. It had a massive deck.
The interior was just as impressive. There were enough beds for 16 people, pillows, two stoves and a full kitchen with all the utensils.
It was not some cold shack in the woods, but a luxurious cabin that our group was happy to call home for the next two days.
From the panoramic windows of the hut you could spy boulder fields, tree runs and 13,209-foot Homestake Peak.
While the hut was nice, it wasn’t really my reason for going on the trip. I came to ride powder.
Fortunately, the first heavy storm of the season swept through the high country just days before our arrival at the hut, leaving several feet of fresh snow.
A few members of the group managed to summit Homestake Peak, skiing down the ridge to return to the hut.
Being a snowboarder, much of the higher terrain was out of my reach. It wasn’t because I couldn’t come down. It was because going up on snowshoes was a long, difficult process.
I realized quickly that on a trip like this, travel is much easier on skis with skins or on a split-board (a snowboard that splits lengthways and used like skis when going uphill).
Luckily, there was plenty of snow for me just a short hike from the hut. My favorite spot was a boulder field approximately 100-meters wide that had plenty of different, fresh lines.
It was safe skiing close to the hut, with very low avalanche danger. Even in low danger situations, we always went out with a buddy and wore avalanche safety beacons to be on the safe side. In addition, we carried shovels and probes just in case a rescue was necessary.
Members of the group new to backcountry skiing, or needing to refresh their memory on how to use the beacons, participated in a mock-recovery with senior members of the group before we headed out.
After all, when you’re four miles into the backcountry and out of cell phone range, you can’t be too safe.
After two days of all the hiking and powder I could dream of, it was time to trek out. With my pack several pounds lighter and the route mostly downhill, it didn’t feel like a chore.
In fact, it just made me want to go again.