One of the main disadvantages of the popularity of the 10th Mountain huts is that you have to book them so far in advance that you have absolutely no idea what the snowpack will be like by the time your reservation arrives. This is exactly what happened to us. 2009-2010 was one of the worst early seasons in recent memory, as we left the trailhead we knew that both snow depth and stability would significantly affect our trip. A short, flat 3 mile skin from the Vail Pass parking lot brought us to our residence for the next two days:
The view from the front porch:
We spent the first evening cooking a delicious dinner:
...and playing bananagrams:
The next day was rather interesting. We all wanted to get out for a tour together, so we headed out towards Wingle Ridge with the plan of skiing the west facing trees into Turkey Creek.
As we approached the ridgeline things quickly fell apart as Ethan remotely triggered a little slide on a small roll above us. Understandably, this caused a lot of concern in the group, and stopped our progress for some time. After deciding we could safely reach the ridgeline we continued. Once on the ridge we remotely triggered two large avalanches which ripped snow from our side of the ridge over the ridge crests. These are two of the deeper and scarier slides I have observed in person in the backcountry.
These slides quickly confirmed that we would be going nowhere near anything steep. So, we headed west into the the trees of Turkey Creek. Up high these trees were just what we wanted: low angle & well spaced with a deep enough base to ski. As we reached the bottom the trees tightened and the snowpack thinned. We spent the last 300 vertical feet suffering through thick deadfall and stumps before reaching the valley floor. There we switched back over to touring mode and headed up Shrine Pass Road towards the hut. This skin was a bit of a slog:
Eventually we all made it back to the hut where we enjoyed more bananagrams and another delicious dinner highlighted by snow ice cream!
Our last day at the hut we woke up to beautiful clear skies and 6 inches of new snow:
Knowing that the avy danger had risen with the new snow and wind, and that we needed to head home that afternoon, we decided to stay around the hut and build a little jump.
After a successful jump session we prepared to head down to the trailhead. At which point Rachel's binding and my ski pole snapped. We were able to rig up a relatively functional fix for Rachel's binding, but it highlighted the value of a compact backcountry repair kit. My kit now includes Volie BC straps, duct tape, cravats, and bailing wire for this type of repair.
The trip was a great time with great friends, and I will always look back fondly on it. But, it highlighted some considerations that I would keep in mind in the future:
- If you want more than great memories, but want to ski as much as possible, filling up a hut is a bad idea. A smaller group moves much faster.
- If I went here again I would ski the Black Lakes Ridge or bring my snowmobile for ski access.
- A good repair kit is important for making an unfortunate gear failure a good memory.
- Hut systems that are less popular allow booking closer to the trip dates, allowing some knowledge of likely snowpack conditions.
- Because of Colorado's typically shallow and unstable snow pack late February or early March are the best bets for good skiing.