It's been several years since my last hut trip. When my friend Brad Swanson invited me this year, I jumped at the opportunity. Trish skipped this trip and my good friend Ryan joined in her place. It was Ryan's first hut trip. As a snowboarder, he opted to snowshoe with his snowboard on his back.
Our journey to Harry Gates Hut began early last Friday morning. Our Syncro had just returned from the body shop the night before and was ready to head for the hills. We arrived in Basalt, Colorado (in the Roaring Fork Valley) around 11am and were on the trail at 12:30pm.
From experience, I knew it was going to be a long slog uphill. I rented telemark skis, with NTN boots/bindings, from Confluence Kayaks. We both quickly realized we'd packed too many supplies, as our packs were quite heavy. Nevertheless, we trudged on, one foot in front of the other.
At 6.6 miles and 1900' elevation gain, Brad estimated it'd take us 4-6 hours for the hike in. We thought we were close to finishing the uphill when the sun set around 6pm. Because it was dark, and we only had one headlamp, we were unable to ski the last mile of downhill near the end. We arrived at the hut at 8:00pm, after 7.5 hours of hiking and sweating profusely. We were extremely happy to be finished.
The next day, we woke up, had a delicious pancake breakfast, then hiked to the top of Burnt Mountain. It was a two mile jaunt, straight uphill.
About halfway up, I noticed the other guy's heals looked funny. They had some sort of post that prevented their heal from coming all the way down, making it a lot easier for them to climb. I thought "WTF?", then looked at my own bindings and realized I had the same contraption. I shouted "Hey guys, this is a helluva lot easier - why didn't you tell me about the heal posts?!" They laughed and marveled that this was my third hut trip and no one had ever mentioned climbing posts. I guess that's what happens when you're always at the back of the pack.
The views from the top of Burnt Mountain were spectacular.
The run down wasn't great - we got about six turns in before we ran into flat trees. From there, it was lots of traversing and navigating between trees back to the hut. Our Saturday ski excursion took around 4.5 hours. We hung out at the hut, played cribbage, enjoyed the scenery and went to bed early that night.
Sunday, we hiked out. It took us around two hours to reach the high point in the trail, then 30 minutes to complete the 5-mile downhill stretch.
Looking back, Ryan and I estimated we did about 14 hours of hiking at 10,000 feet over the weekend. While my pack was heavy, it was much easier for me to skin up the mountain than it was for Ryan on snowshoes. Especially when he kept post-holing on the hike up Burnt Mountain. Nevertheless, we survived and created some great memories from the experience.
Thanks to Brad and everyone else for showing us that packing light can make a real difference. To lighten the load on my next hut trip, I plan on bringing nothing but a sleeping bag, some almonds and a couple bananas.
For more pictures from this adventure, see my Harry Gates Hut Trip photos on Flickr.