Hut, hut, hike

I didn’t die.

That refers both to my blog absence and the recent solo snowshoe hut trip I went on. It was one of the more incredible things I’ve ever done. First, the pretty pictures for those without the time or desire to actually read about the trip, then for the diehards I’ll write some stuff.

The trip started with a post-work drive up to Edwards to hang with my friend Eric and his wife, Amelia. There’s at least ah photo of their brilliant Keystone wedding somewhere here in the archives. Amelia’s parents, whom I met very briefly at their wedding, were in town for the holidays, and Don and Ruthann were kind enough to take us all out to dinner at E-Town. I think it’s a shortname (nickname?) for Edwards. Or it’s what I call Eric. After a final “civilization meal,” that included sweet potato tots and discussions about travel and Iceland (I’m going to Iceland before I die), we went back to their place, hung out and chatted about mountain life, married life, and skiing, and then it was bedtime. Many thanks to the Fabers and the Larimers for the hospitality. Started me off on the right foot!

Woke up Christmas Eve and drove east out of Edwards to Vail. The trailhead is just north of Vail. Forecast was calling for more snow, which sounded fun. Then Christmas day was looking clear and sunny. Perfect.

There are two ways of getting to the Ben Eiseman Hut, which is where I decided I would spend my Christmas. The steeper, but shorter, route was the Spraddle Creek Trail. It began on a fire road, climbed for a mile or so, and then the blue blazes pointed left, and off-roading I would go. Made a quick stream crossing, hoping I was on solid land because a fall into this tiny stream might have meant utter freezing of my foot units, and then began climbing in earnest. One of the better decisions I made was purchasing a thermos from REI, and making some hot chocolate in the morning at Eric and Amelia’s. I stopped every 30 minutes or so to take a few sips of the cocoa. Not that I was cold and needed to warm up — I was snowshoeing pretty quickly and was warm, if anything — but it was still really nice to drink some hot cacao while standing there in that winter wonderland.

Once I gained a bit of elevation, it began to snow a bit more. Well, a lot more. The clouds got even darker, the sky got even snowier. Pretty cool, actually. But as I ascended ever closer to the hut, 6 miles away from the trailhead, I had to break trail and kept falling in every 20th step or so, as a good 6-8 inches had covered the existing ski tracks and when you veer off track, it’s soft and sinky, and not even my snowshoes could prevent me from postholing and then cursing and then laughing.

Eventually I came to the super steep “wall” section, which would have been funny to spectate. So much snow. I was sinking, trying in vain to not fall. I fell a few times. At 10,000+ feet and total off-season cycling shape (i.e. fatty mcfat), I also could feel my heart beating out of my chest at the exertion. Eventually I made it, continued climbing, and then smelled the sweet smell of victory in the form of burning wood coming from the chimney of the hut. Success!

I was greeted by Israel, Grant, Ananda and Andy (I think?). They had been there for a couple days, were doing some solid backcountry skiing. I was able to ask them about their gear, and look at their gear, and figure out how these people do these fun things with the skis. So many bindings and ski options and boots and skins. I learned a good deal.

We all hung out that night, playing Apples to Apples and other games. I brought a bottle of Jameson, and some egg nog, so regardless of my social skills I made some friends. Four more skiers came in just before sundown: Alison, her husband somethingsomething (Richard?), this other guy who lives in Boulder named Guynameface (Scotty?), and then another dude. Matt, maybe. Christ, I’m terrible with names. I totally knew them all at the time, I just forgot them all now. But maybe I’m correct in all of them. Anyways, we cooked, we sat around the wood furnace, we drank, we talked. Then we slept.

Santa Claus brought us clear skies and ridiculous amounts of fresh powder. I had some Christmas morning egg nog, way too much burrito, and was on my merry way. Hiked back out the way I came. It was like an entirely new hike with the clear skies and sun. I could see all the pine trees covered in snow for as far as the eye can see. What had previously been claustrophobic meadows were now wide open mountain views of Vail. There was also so much snow on the ground from the previous day. It was this crazy, untouched, virgin winterland, so quiet, almost unnervingly so. I never saw a snowshoe hare, though I did see plenty of their tracks. Saw some little squirrels, who are apparently less dense than snow, because they float on it. Like magic. I also saw Aslan. Then I stepped into a snow drift and wound up back in a wardrobe in me mum’s house.

Great workout, ridiculous views, totally original hiking content (snow hike? There’s no such thing in Chicago). All in all, a fantastic time. Time to plan the next hut trip.

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