Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Hut Trip

BlakeHutThey are called huts, but don’t let the name fool you. Although these structures have a history as a simple system of shelters used by shepherds as they moved their sheep from one mountain pasture to the next, they have evolved into a collection of cabins used by summer hikers and winter, backcountry enthusiasts. Today the simple wooden shacks have been replaced by sprawling cabins complete with large windows that open to breathtaking views, efficient woodstoves, comfortable sleeping quarters, and battery powered lights that are charged by solar panels.

To reach the hut I visited this past weekend, we hiked 3.5 miles over 9 inches of fresh snow that covered the season’s accumulated snowpack. The trail rose nearly 1600 feet from the trailhead parking and took about 3 hours to navigate.

My brother Blake has been on 4 similar trips and my schedule finally allowed me to join him. Also in our party were my brother Cody, Blake’s friend Hull, Hull’s coworker Kerry, and her husband Mark. My brothers and I are snowboarders and use a system called a splitboard to hike on the snow, (I’ll discuss my split board in a future post), the other members all ride tele skis which transition easily from carving to hiking.

BlakePowOnce we reached the hut we quickly emptied our packs of anything but the safety essentials and headed back out to carve some turns.

The recent snowfall gave us numerous powder turns, and I soon realized this trip was going to be special. You see, here in the NW the snow falls at a temp just below freezing and is usually met by rising temperatures, causing the snow to feel heavy. What I found in Colorado was much different. Their snow falls when the mercury reads 10 degrees and it regularly stays below 20 keeping the snow light and fluffy. Light, cold snow offers an effortless glide that is amazing to ride.

The next day was spent exploring and riding the numerous glades around the hut. The snow continued to fall and kept us from venturing onto the slopes above timberline because of high winds. This mattered little since the trees protected us from the weather and offered remarkable stashes of powder-filled delights.

Group
On our final day the storm receded, and we climbed the large snowfield above the hut where we found generous carving options. My brothers and I enjoyed them so much that we hiked back up and rode them again even though it meant we would be caught in the afternoon traffic-jam that was sure to clog I-70 as the ski resorts sent people home for the night. Such are the sacrifices for a group of powderhounds intent on satisfying their fix.

As grand as I’ve made this all sound, there were moments of severe discomfort. ClimbNot only is my NW snow different from that found in Colorado, so is the altitude. I live at about 300 ft above sea level. Our first day’s hike began at 10,160 ft and climbed from there. Most of the time I felt as if I’d had 7/8 of my lungs surgically removed. It didn’t help that Blake’s friends are amazing athletes each competing in numerous adventure-races, triathlons and ultra-marathons; not to mention the fact that they live at an elevation over 6000ft. I am grateful for their patience with me as I often practiced the deadman’s shuffle up the trail behind them.

So why endure such pain? Surely there are powder-covered slopes that can be accessed with the assistance of chairlifts? This is true, but they come with some unavoidable nuisances. The best snow is snow that no one else has touched. At a resort it will mostly all be touched in a couple of hours, so you are always racing to beat everyone else to the ‘goods’. You also have to wait in line with a bunch of knuckleheads who, like you, feel cheated that they spent so much on a lift ticket only to waste all of their time in a slow lift line. The closest I’ve come to a fistfight as an adult was waiting in line for a ride to the top.

In the backcountry these problems are avoided. The snow is limitless and lift-lines are non-existent.

The turns I enjoyed on this trip were some of the best I’ve seen. The soft, CO powder dropped from beneath me as I weightlessly glided down the slopes. For those of you who haven’t experienced this, pick something in your life that you enjoy and then imagine enjoying it under the perfect conditions. Your favorite meal shared with your closest friends. Watching your favorite team beat their rivals as you cheer from the student section. Listening to your favorite music performed by your favorite band in a private jam-session. A kiss that lingers on your lips and tastes as sweet as honey. (Do you feel me?) Such were the joys of this trip.
Sunrise

11 Comments:

Blogger Amanda Peterson said...

Sounds like an amazing adventure! Thanks for sharing!

Thu Feb 09, 08:58:00 AM PST  
Blogger Lindsey said...

If only there had been two huts, it would have been a hut-hut hike!

...Ow! Hey!

Thu Feb 09, 09:58:00 AM PST  
Blogger Johnathan M. Thomas said...

Glad you could have the fun... Someone should. You could write for Snowboard Magazine you know. I don't snowboard... yet. I have a friend who I hope will teach me someday.

Of course, the pics are great. Good thing you had that dream or you might have missed that last shot.

Good stuff.

peace.

Thu Feb 09, 10:12:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Blake said...

I would have to agree, this was some of the best riding I have had at any of my Hut trips. Any time anyone wants to come to CO to ride just remember to bring the NW storm (and Jason, of course) with you. Cody and I will be happy to cut your skin trail.

Thu Feb 09, 09:36:00 PM PST  
Blogger Carol said...

Wow what a wonderful trip, I see a family tradition adding brothers year by year.

Fri Feb 10, 06:42:00 AM PST  
Blogger Johnny said...

I read your comment about the sunrise picture on your flicker site. It totally flew over my head, how about a explanation in layman terms? Any hope of seeing the Christmas pictures soon, especially the family shots?

Fri Feb 10, 09:34:00 AM PST  
Blogger Jason Hill said...

Dad, that sounds like a good topic for another post. The technique is pretty easy to understand if it is fully explained and I would be happy to explain it.

As far as Christmas pictures go...I'll get those on a CD and in the mail tonight. Its time for them to go to the top of the priorities.

Mom, we'll get Josh out there for sure!

Lindsey, I kept thinking we should have brought some pizza for the hut.

Fri Feb 10, 10:45:00 AM PST  
Anonymous Allan said...

Ahh, this post brings back so many deep, long-forgotten memories of skiing in Colorado - der long-lost Fatherland. Nothing quite like getting lost in the White Room.

Going backcountry is the way to go. You never, ever get first tracks at the resort (patrol bags 'em first). Only truly great day of pow I had at a ski area was in Taos.

Glad you had fun!

Fri Feb 10, 10:46:00 PM PST  
Blogger CJ said...

Your photography and writing is phenomenal. Great post.

I have to ask: did you enjoy any cups of jabba at the hutt? *winces at stretch*

Mon Feb 13, 12:11:00 AM PST  
Blogger Tim Lewis said...

Fancy bumping into you at the airport. It sounds like you had more fun in CO than I did in TX. I was, after all, in TX.

Mon Feb 13, 10:45:00 PM PST  
Anonymous Chris said...

Awesome trip, story and pix. The more I see my friends scaling the back country, the more I realize I'm spending too much time trying to find fresh tracks at resorts...

Wed Mar 08, 09:57:00 AM PST  

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