Mountain club follows in the footsteps of the 10th Mountain |

Mountain club follows in the footsteps of the 10th Mountain

Carol Kurt
Members of the Aspen chapter of the Colorado Mountain Club enjoy bluebird skies and soft snow during their recent trip to the Jackal Hut near Leadville.

We had heard, and were impressed, by the legendary prowess of the soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division. We read about their training at Camp Hale before being deployed in the second World War. Since we, the Aspen branch of the Colorado Mountain Club, were going to be in a hut overlooking their old campsite, we decided to try and emulate their training. It did not start out that way, but we quickly found that was what we had to do to get to the Jackal Hut, near Leadville.The Aspen group has a tradition of going to at least one hut each winter. We are very fortunate to have Tenth Mountain Hut Association staff as members of the club, and local guide Scott Messina volunteered to lead this trip. The group tries to visit huts they have not seen before and this time they were going all the way over to Leadville and the Jackal Hut.

The training to become 10th Mountain Division soldiers included numerous, rigorous hikes in the area of Camp Hale, but few could have been any more difficult than the 2,400-foot climb up Ranch Creek to the Jackal Hut, which sits at 11,660 feet. The soldier-size backpack loads came about as the result of appointing Heather Morse as chief cook and meal planner. Heather is a from-scratch gourmet cook. Nothing comes from a box with her and certainly not from a freeze-dried pouch. Another problem of Heather’s is that she felt that since we were working hard physically, we all needed 6,000-calorie meals.We were told to leave room in our packs for a grocery bag of food, but little did we guess that each bag would feel like it started out with 10 pounds of rocks. But, like good soldiers, we divided the groceries as evenly as possible and loaded up. Also, like good soldiers, we began to grumble under our breaths about the sadistic nature of our first sergeant. In true first sergeant fashion, we were told that the exercise was good for us and what did not kill us would make us stronger. We got stronger with each step of the 2,400-foot climb up to the hut and none of us died from it.

Shortly after reaching the hut, appetizers appeared. Whole avocados, salsa, chips, crackers, artichoke dip and more. It was enough to make a whole meal, but dinner soon followed.It’s amazing how great fajitas taste from scratch: fresh lettuce, whole avocados, fresh onions and peppers, refried beans and great big chunks of chicken, with a side dish of whole-grain brown rice. The guy who carried all the fresh tomatoes had threatened to throw them into a tree well grudgingly did his task, and we had fresh tomatoes.

The next morning, after finishing off fresh blueberry pancakes with more fresh fruit on top, fresh coffee cake and banana nut bread washed down with fresh orange juice, we got to the meat and potatoes of the trip: a full-day avalanche course.The course was to include a long ski tour and a search for a buried avalanche beacon, an exercise Messina routinely does for his regular customers at Aspen Alpine Guides. It was a real treat as a part of the trip for the club. The ski tour took in numerous turns on Pearl Peak. It was well worth the effort of getting there to take in a tree-lined trail under Colorado bluebird skies and bright sunshine. And just when everyone was tired and hungry (no kidding), Messina came upon a fresh avalanche (simulated), and we all quickly went into emergency mode. The buried skier was quickly found and after-avalanche care was discussed.This trip had it all, and more: good friends, great exercise, magnificent scenery, great, fresh food and an exceptional educational experience that would do its participants well in future backcountry excursions. Of course it also has to be said that the backcountry snow was absolutely perfect.

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