Beathard: The mountains keep us humble
I’m sure my parents were quite surprised to hear from me Friday night when I arrived home early from a hut trip that was supposed to last until the next morning.
We set out for Markley Hut on Thursday afternoon after one friend and I picked up our gear at Aspen Expeditions. For the two of us, it was not only our first hut trip but our first time using skins, and that was a learning experience in and of itself.
After a mellow hike in learning the hard way that having your boots too loose causes blisters, we arrived at Markley Hut, an expansive cabin with a warm, friendly potbelly stove and an outhouse you can access without stepping off the porch. It was perfect, and we spent that first night celebrating and bonding in the woods.
The next morning we started out for Goodwin-Greene, a hut that one of our friends who came to Markley had gotten lost going to just a few days before. He couldn’t stay for the second night, but he gave us specific enough instructions on how not to make the same mistake that we felt confident we would be OK.
It was a glorious morning: The snow was falling but it was warm, keeping our bodies at just the right temperature. My blisters doctored up by a friend, I finally got the hang of skinning and my legs felt strong.
As we left treeline, we took the lefthand trail up to a peak that (we think) was Gold Hill, where we supposedly would easily find our path down into the hut. Starting to feel the altitude, it was a bit of a struggle for me to reach the top, but we were rewarded with astounding views one only gets by leaving the beaten path.
A popular area for snowmobilers, too, the area was covered in tracks, but we followed the ones we thought were headed in the right direction. We paused while two of our more experienced friends combed the trees, eventually growing impatient and heading down in after them.
We must have trudged around for an hour before we again stopped and let the two mountaineers do a big sweep. Sitting in that meadow, my head still buzzing and running low on water, I began to get nervous. We pulled out a map and compass, but no one had a GPS, and I felt increasingly that we were unprepared and searching for a hut in a location above our experience level.
The best judgment call we made was to set a time when we would stop looking and turn around and ski home. As 5:30 loomed, the two boys continued to skin across a ridge above us, and we started skinning out to meet them.
We climbed the lower slope of (what we’re still not sure was) Gold Hill and began prepping to ski down. As I leaned over to buckle my boots, we heard a sound that I could really live without ever hearing again — a “woompf” just below us that you almost felt more than heard.
Nervous, I continued to carefully put my gear and then we got the heck out of there. My legs were shot and I pretty much had to pizza all the way down — wearing rental touring boots made me feel like it was my first day on skis — but we made it back to our cars just before some weather moved in.
It was a little more nerve-racking than I was hoping for my first hut trip, but it was a powerful lesson in preparation and a reminder to take the backcountry seriously. As one of our companions said over dinner once we were safely back in Aspen: “The mountain will always humble you.”
Jill Beathard is the editor of the Snowmass Sun. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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A six mile cross-country ski race brought 168 skiers to the trails between Snowmass and Buttermilk in 1971.