Historic 10th Mountain ski tour leads man closer to his father | AspenTimes.com

Historic 10th Mountain ski tour leads man closer to his father

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

David Christie was never very close with his father, Neil.The one thing the two bonded over most while Neil was still alive was a love of the mountains and skiing – an affection that first blossomed for Neil during his service with the 10th Mountain Division during World War II.Christie said his father’s fondest memory from his time spent training for combat at Camp Hale, near Leadville, was when he and 32 other soldiers made a daring 40-mile traverse to Aspen.On Friday, after completing the same traverse himself for the first time on skis, Christie said the gap between him and his father had grown smaller.”This was meaningful to him and consequently meaningful to me,” said Christie, who was guided by local mountaineer Lou Dawson during the five-day trip. “I’d always wanted to do it. It’s a nice connection.”Dawson first retraced the tracks of the storied “Trooper Traverse” in 2001, after a year of research. He spoke with 10th Mountain vets who were still alive and scoured for photos and records to piece together the route before setting out from Camp Hale in May.

Christie, who lives in Golden, read about Dawson’s successful four-day trip in a Denver Post article and became interested in the possibility of doing the traverse himself.His first attempt in 2003 ended just after it began. One of the members of his group fell and broke an arm only a few miles outside Camp Hale, and Christie was forced to turn back.He hiked the traverse the following summer but was still intrigued by the idea of skiing the route, which crosses over Darling Pass, the Continental Divide and the rugged Williams Mountains.After some discussion, Dawson agreed to lead Christie on another traverse attempt this May. They invited local mountaineer Scott Messina, as well as Christie’s friend Mike Inman of Denver and journalist Steve Lipsher. Dawson also decided to bring along his teenage son, Louie, for his first overnight backcountry trip.The group left Camp Hale on Monday and, after three nights of tent camping followed by a night spent in the McNamara Hut near the upper Hunter Creek drainage, arrived Friday morning in Aspen for lunch at the Hotel Jerome.The trip wasn’t without incident. The heel piece on one of Inman’s bindings snapped while touring on the second day, and the group had to create a makeshift binding by lashing straps to the binding’s base. The group also encountered uncommonly cold weather for this time of year. On Thursday morning, Dawson said, the temperature was 9 degrees when he woke up.

“We had fairly decent [sleeping] bags and clothing, but we were wearing every stitch,” he said. “When you plan a trip like this, you do think about worst-case scenarios. You have your stuff to handle. It also snowed the first night.”Lipsher said his favorite part of the trip was skiing the “Trooper Couloir,” a steep chute that the soldiers skied down from the Williams Mountains into the Hunter Creek drainage.”It’s a very elegant line, and it’s one that these guys found looking at a map apparently and figured out when they were going over their route that they could get over this thing and go down it,” he said. “Going down that steep little pitch was really neat. It had a historic aspect to it and fantastic skiing.”Dawson said the chute is comparable to the top portion of Highland Bowl, with an average pitch of 40 degrees.”It was cold and windy when we skied it,” he said. “It’s cool because you see what those guys went down with the equipment they had. We were very careful going down, and we had a lot of fun.”The group also saw its fair share of wildlife – including grouse, snowshoe hares and ptarmigan.

Dawson also found bear scat and tracks during the long slog down Hunter Creek heading into Aspen.All agreed, however, that the most memorable part of the trip was skiing a route with such historical significance.”Those guys demand an enormous amount of respect for what they did with the gear that they had, compared to the gear we have today,” he said. Added Christie: “I love this kind of stuff. There’s real camaraderie involved with something like this, and it was neat to have the historical connection. A trip like this has all the ingredients. It’s got adventure and personal struggle, and the importance of working together. … I’m really glad I did it.”Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is npeterson@aspentimes.com

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