You did your research, won the lottery, and now you’ve got a trip coming up. Congrats! You've seen the beautiful pictures and heard the legends from your friends, but odds are you’re still getting nervous about your trip through the backcountry. That’s why I wanted to share a list of pointers that helped me when I was getting ready for my first hut trip:
Pack the 10 Essentials:These items are necessary to stay safe on your trip. (I'm still waiting for this list to include whiskey.) In addition to the 10 Essentials, you’ll need winter-specific equipment including an avalanche beacon, shovel, and probe. I’d recommend learning how to use that equipment and stay safe in the backcountry by attending an avalanche awareness class with the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE).
Many routes to 10th Mountain Division Huts cross avalanche terrain, so you need to be aware of your surroundings and prepared to rescue in case of a slide. Everyone in your group should have training or experience in the backcountry, and should have their own map and compass (and know how to use them). Always stick together as a group, but be prepared to use your tools and training in case someone gets separated.
Plan your outfit:Remember: You’re in the middle of the Colorado Rockies. Weather conditions can change rapidly and you don't want to be stuck in the wrong clothes when it’s snowing or sleeting. Cotton layers hold onto sweat and other moisture, which can become wet, cold, and dangerous when traveling in the winter.
I wear synthetic clothing instead of cotton on these trips, and make sure I pack layers for different weather conditions. You don’t need a different outfit for each day -- just pack the layers you need and be prepared to wear the same clothes more than once to save weight! Here’s what I pack:
- 1 long-sleeve base layer to wick sweat and prevent sunburn.
- 2 mid-layers because you never know when you may need extra warmth. 1 performance mid-layer and 1 insulating mid-layer does the trick.
- 1 waterproof shell in case the snow starts to fall. Remember, it’s tough to have fun back there when you’re soaking wet.
- 2 pairs of wool socks; 1 for playing and 1 for relaxing. Merino is my favorite because it dries quickly and doesn’t stink.
Most importantly, prepare your body for a long day of traveling and make sure you've broken in those awesome new boots beforehand. Bring along a pair of Crocs or comfy slippers for when you're relaxing in the hut -- your feet will thank you.
Pick your mode of transportation:
You don’t need alpine touring (AT) skis or a splitboard to enjoy some fresh turns in the backcountry -- for my first hut trip, I snowshoed in and put my skis and boots on my pack. Before you go though, it’s a good idea to test your feet in your boots to check for hot spots or potential blister zones. Talk to experienced travelers and pros at local ski shops to see what they think is the best mode of transportation for you.
Keep your tank full:
You'll be burning a lot of calories and will need to replenish them. Know how far and long you’ll be traveling, and come prepared with enough food to fill up your tank. I only brought dehydrated food so that it didn't weigh my pack for my first trip, but other travelers skied in with seasoned chicken, steaks, and potatoes.
Don't forget to bring plenty of high-calorie snacks for the long trek to the hut, and always bring something to share. Whether it’s a bag of wine, a bottle of whiskey, or a cheese plate, people will be sharing and you don't want to be left out! The most memorable snack I’ve enjoyed on a hut trip was brownies a la mode. Delicious!
Don't roll your eyes, you knew it would end with this one. Ultimately, this trip will be one of your fondest memories. You'll make long lasting friendships and enjoy the peaceful tranquility of being in a log cabin surrounded by nothing but snow, wildlife, and the stars. There are plenty of books in the huts to read about the history of the 10th Mountain Division and the important part they played in American history, so don't forget to browse the literature.
Learn more about the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association, applying for the 2019-2020 reservation lottery, and preparing for your first hut trip by visiting: www.huts.org. Enjoy!
Words: TJay Gerber
Photos: TJay Gerber (@teejayadventures)