Now that daylight hours have just turned longer and we head into the final leg of ski season, it's time to catch up on completing all the winter plans that we've been talking about but just haven't gotten around to yet.
Last week I was able to complete a long-gestating desire to sample the delights of an overnight winter hut trip. Along with our experienced and intrepid leader, Bob Purvis, Jack Kennedy and I spent a week or so under Bob's expert tutelage gearing up for this backcountry adventure. I was the novice in the group and thus thought more gear and rations than less was the way to go.
Although the proprietors of Ute Mountaineer and Bristlecone Mountain Sports benefited from my lack of experience and my less-than-full attention to Bob's sage advice, the first lesson I learned for future treks is that less is better. Whatever you take in and take out goes on your back, and what with my initial attempt at maneuvering snowshoes through deep powder, more weight than necessary is not a novice from Santa Monica's way to hit the winter trail.
The trailhead to the Point Breeze cabin is about a 21⁄2-hour drive from Snowmass at the top of Tennessee Pass and across the road from Ski Cooper, which is at the dividing line between the San Isabel and White River national forests near Leadville. For history buffs, the area was host to the Army's Camp Hale and served as a training site for the 10th Mountain Division during World War II.
We started our adventure early in the morning with a quick coffee stop at Saxy's in Basalt and a fish-taco lunch at Mango's Mountain Grill in Red Cliff, an old mining camp in the canyon of the upper Eagle River, just off U.S. Highway 24. After getting the flavor of the area from a longtime local, we headed up to our final destination and a beautiful blue-sky backcountry adventure.
The hike in to our cabin was just the right distance for a novice on snowshoes. As advised by my compatriots, the Point Breeze cabin is only a year or so old and rather luxurious by 10th Mountain hut standards - two separate bedrooms and a large communal living area with a huge wood-burning stove for heating and cooking, solar lighting and a small propane cook-top to augment our wood-burning cooking skills. The toilet facility with the traditional half moon cut into the door is outside just a few feet down a covered walkway from the cabin proper. This was a point of advance worry for me because, due to my advanced years, I usually visit this facility a couple of times during sleeping hours and was pleased to find a lighted path that was not unreasonably cold in the wee hours.
After Bob instructed us on the rules of backcountry cabin living, including frequent reminders to conserve our limited solar power as well as water purification, from snow to liquid boiling techniques, we were off on a hike of the surrounding terrain.
Bob thought it would be a useful learning experience to give us a bit of avalanche-recovery training. He furnished each of us with a beacon and a probe and some operational instruction, and then they decided it might be interesting to test out the equipment. I drew the short straw and became the victim they would try to find. Luckily they knew what they were doing, and all the electronics pointed to my location. Needless to say, Bob also came equipped with a GPS locator/signaling device and some other gadgetry in case anything turned ugly, but luckily all went well.
As the sun began to set, we returned to the cabin to prepare our evening meal, which consisted of various packets of freeze-dried delicacies, various trail-mix hors d'oeuvres and a bit of bourbon and tequila. I was quite surprised and pleased to find my freeze-dried fettuccini alfredo with chicken quite tasty. I'm thinking about stocking up for the trip back to Santa Monica.
After dinner and cleanup, we spent well into the late hours with a bit more alcoholic refreshment and a lot of great conversation, not the least of which was centered on our attempt to solve several of the big problems currently facing our village, but more on that in a future column.
At sunrise, we awoke to another beautiful blue-sky day, had a modest breakfast of tea and trail mix and moved out for further exploration of the surrounding trails, which led to some interesting landmarks and historical points of reference.
By noon, we had returned to the cabin for a final cleanup of the facilities for the next group. I was appointed executive in charge of the broom and sweeping detail, and a fine job well done, if I say so myself. We then packed up our gear, snowshoed back out to the trailhead and headed home to Snowmass via a Maryland crab-cake lunch in Edwards at the Gashouse, along with a back-to-civilization stop at Starbucks.
It might sound a bit trite, but my two-day camping trip with my comrades, Bob and Jack, was one of the most exciting and enlightening adventures I've ever been on. Hopefully we can renew this experience sometime this summer and visit another of the numerous huts in the system and then on to another winter excursion when the snow falls next year.
If you're looking for a fantastic bonding experience with family or a group of friends, nothing can beat the solitude and beauty of a backcountry trek within the forests surrounding our little piece of paradise.
By the way, anyone who's disappointed that Bob and Jack brought me back out of the woods and returned me to Snowmass is welcome to contact them directly with your complaints.
You can reach Mel Blumenthal at
firstname.lastname@example.org for hut tips.