Get Off The Grid!Feb 20, 2020
Do you know what I love most about Colorado? That I have an activity to look forward to each season! I look forward to our annual backcountry hut trip every year!
Winter in Iowa
Growing up in Iowa, I hated winter because can be brutal! They would cancel school because the windchill would get so low. We’re talking -25 degrees Fahrenheit or colder cold! Blowing snow would cause whiteout conditions and drifts 6-8ft+ tall. And once it snowed, the snow stays alllllllllll winter long (at least when I was a kid and climate change wasn’t an issue). Oh and let’s not forget to mention the freezing rain that happens in the early winter/late spring before it turns to snow. Therefore, I did not enjoy the winter.
Winter in Colorado
Moving to Colorado, I really didn’t expect much different than the winters I experienced in Iowa. One year after living in Colorado, my friend, Yuki, told me I should get a ski pass, a snowboard, and all of the gear because we would be spending our free weekends snowboarding in Summit County. Having never been on skis, let alone a snowboard, I was very hesitant to make such a large investment in something I wasn’t sure I would enjoy doing. But she seemed to think I would like it! And I didn’t want to be left behind in Denver while my friends played in the mountains. So I took the leap and made the investment!
15 ski seasons later, I love getting on my snowboard, navigating the trees, seeking out powder stashes, and of course, apres ski and a hot tub. I’ve found an awesome way to enjoy the winter season! I actually hope for snow and colder temperatures in the winter! Now, if we could just do something about the dreaded I-70 traffic….
Colorado Backcountry Huts
5 years ago a couple of friends were sharing with us their experience in a backcountry hut. While I was intrigued, I chalked it up to something I would not have the strength or courage to accomplish myself. The next thing you know, I had committed to doing my first hut trip to the McNamara Hut. Now it has become an annual affair and recently completed our 6th hut adventure!
So what exactly is a backcountry hut trip all about? You must first get to your hut by either snowshoeing, split boarding, or skinning in. We have booked all of our huts through the 10th Mountain Division. (Yes, you need a reservation!) The distance to your hut varies anywhere from 3 -10 miles, with most of them around 5-6.5 miles. They usually involve a pretty significant elevation gain of at least 1500 feet or more. While you are making this trek into your hut, you are all hauling your clothes, food, beverages (besides water for the duration of your stay), sleeping bag, and any additional snow gear for your backcountry day trips for your entire stay.
I can tell you that I failed miserably at keeping my pack light the first year as my pack weighed 50lbs! I have since made a few modifications to what I pack in order to keep my pack closer to 40lb or less. While 40lbs is still a lot, a majority of that weight is food and alcohol.
Your time spent at the hut is a true off-the-grid experience. Most of them do not have cell phone service available. Even if there is a pocket of service around the hut, I prefer not to have that distraction and keep my phone in airplane mode. The huts do have electricity that is run by solar panels and a wood-burning stove is your heat source. Some of the kitchens have a wood-burning oven while others have a propane oven. All of them have a propane source for a burner. The huts do not have running water, but an ample amount of snow is melted, boiled, and cooled for drinking water and dishes. No running water also means you have an outhouse (supplied with toilet paper) for your bathroom and you should pack along baby wipes to use as your “shower” during your stay. A bed with a pad and a pillow is provided but you will want to bring your own sleeping bag and pillowcase. Also, note that you might be sharing a “bedroom" with someone else and private rooms are not available for all guests.
The kitchens are equipped with pots, pans, plates, utensils, glasses, dish soap, bleach, matches, salt, pepper, and an occasional spice or 2. They also provide paper towels and trash bags. Remember that anything you hike in you must hike back out!
The huts also have board games, cards, puzzles, and books that have been provided by the 10th Mountain Division or left by previous guests. We fill our mornings with coffee, conversation, puzzles, reading, and breakfast until someone suggests venturing outdoors. Most of the huts have great backcountry skiing and snowboarding available to hike to. Our most recent trip to Fritz of the Benedict Huts didn’t offer much for skiing or snowboarding. But we made the most epic sledding runs that gave us hours and hours of entertainment!
After a late lunch, the afternoon is filled with reading, napping, cards, or puzzles. If the weather is clear, we head back outside to enjoy a happy hour sunset from the deck while sipping whiskey and taking in the views. Evenings are filled with dinner, more conversation, and a rowdy game of Uno (or Uno Flip) or gambling with some Texas Hold ‘Em before we snuggle into bed for the evening.
Hut Trip Packing List
So are you wondering what you should pack for your adventure? Check out my tips!
1 set of lightweight clothes as your hut clothes. Yes, you will be wearing the same clothes for multiple days in a row but changing your socks and underwear daily :)
Wear 1 base layer for your hike in. Pack 1 base layer for your backcountry adventure while at the hut. And pack another 1 base layer for your hike out and back to the car
Lightweight water bottle to refill with drinking water
Sleeping bag and backpacking pillow or pillowcase
Camping coffee mug and Instant Coffee
Alcohol - Be smart about the weight of this! We like to have a couple of beers, a carton of wine, and whiskey. Pour the whiskey (or other liquor) out of the bottle and into a bladder or other lightweight container to save weight in your pack.
Food - I do not skimp on our food because I’m in the backcountry. Instead, I get creative! I like to dehydrate soup and hummus and rehydrate them with water the morning we plan to eat them. (Check out my blog post about dehydrating for the backcountry). There is a “refrigerator” at the hut but know that items may freeze. With that being said, fresh veggies do not fare well on the trip. I suggest you buy frozen veggies instead! Meal sharing will also help to distribute the weight.
Battery pack to recharge your phone.You’ll want it to take pictures!
Lightweight, portable speaker
Avalanche safety gear
*This list may not be inclusive of all you may need for your backcountry hut experience, but I feel like it covers the basics.*
Now that you have your pack loaded and ready to go! Let’s hit the trail! I truly love the connection and camaraderie hut life brings! Yes, it is work to get there as well as work to stay there (getting snow to melt and boil for drinking water, chopping wood to feed the fire, and doing dishes all day long). But it brings about an enormous sense of accomplishment and achievement!
What to make your own food for your next backcountry adventure? Check out Off the Grid Provisions - A Backpacking Recipe Guide. This eBook provides 18 recipes to fuel your next adventure!