Just a few days before New Year’s we still hadn’t made any definitely plans. Each time we discussed our options another three options came up and we weren’t getting very far. We had a little extra time off, but not a ton. A quickie trip to Jackson Hole was our top option until we got an invite to go on a hut trip.
With little to no discussion needed, we committed to joining a group where we only knew a few people and heading to Betty Bear Hut to ring in the new year.
Since we were late to join the group the food planning has most been done, so we weren’t in charge of a whole meal, but rather dessert, snacks and extra booze.
We were keeping our packing to a minimum this time around since the last time we went on hut trip we super-mega over packed and nearly died carrying it all in.
I was pumped to use my new Osprey Kode 38 pack that Evan had gotten me as a gift. It was 50 liters smaller than the bag I brought on the last hut trip, so that was a major step in the right direction! In addition, I had a new, much smaller, sleeping back to bring that I was pumped about.
In my pack: sleeping bag, under garments, shorts, tech-tee, half-puff jacket, goggles, mittens, socks, yoga pants, down booties, first aid kit, bladder, shovel, probe, compass, slope meter, and some other odds ‘n ends.
For food we split the following between us: 6 PB&Js, 6 apples, 1 lb cheese, Triscuits, pepperoni, salami stick, nut mix, dried soup, 2 rolls of pinwheels, coffee, half & half, dried fruit mix, marshmallows, rice krispies, butter, hot drink mixes, 1 liter of tequila, 1 liter of rum, powdered drink mix.
I wore in: baselayer pants, socks, ski boots, tank top, l/s wool baselayer, smartwool hooded top, Flylow Bib ski pants, shell, fleece hat, sunglasses, thing gloves, beacon, ski boots, skis, skins, poles.
In addition to packing we did some research on the route through the 10th Mountain Division website, trip reports, and GPS tracks. We knew the first 5 or so miles would be pretty painless, but the last 2 looked steep and daunting. We brought along a map from the 10th Mountain Division and the written route description.
To The Trailhead
The trailhead was about an hour past Basalt, past Ruedi Reservoir on Frying Pan Road. Our friends met us bright and early and we hit the road just as the sun began rising. The drive was uneventful with the exception of a stop for some breakfast, bathroom, and a quick stop in Glenwood.
While we were in Glenwood it was freaking cold. Really cold. It worried us all a bit, but we had faith it would warm up before we got on trail.
We hit the parking lot at 11:30ish had some snacks, changed clothes and got our gear all together then hit the trail around noon. Probably later than we should have, but it could have been worse!
Day One: The Skin In
The first 5 miles were out a snow-covered road on a super mellow grade. We zoomed through those miles really quickly, no major issues except a few hot-spots and blisters to tape up.
We were happy to not be breaking trail.
When the blue diamonds started indicating the trail we were heading up I think I laughed out loud because it was so steep I couldn’t imagine it actually being the way we were suppose to go.
On our first attempts to ascend the start of the trail I think all four of us went sliding backwards and eventually fell. It was kind of ridiculous. I finally made it, so did our friends. It left Evan still sliding backwards.
Let me take a minute to note that Evan’s skins were cut for his other skis which were 10+ centimeters shorter than the skis he was on and the tail clips weren’t secured because they weren’t long enough. Mistake number one. Mistake number two was that the skins were also significantly thinner than the skis he was on.
Mistake number one proved to be the most problematic. As he slid backwards on the steep section the skins began peeling off. As they peeled off, the glue side became covered in snow rendering the glue and essentially the entire skin useless.
We tried to rig up something to hold them on the trail, but at the next steeper yet section they failed again. At this point we were only about a quarter-mile into the steep last two miles and the best option was for Evan to take off his skis and bootpack it.
Honestly, the bootpacking wasn’t too much slower than the skinning for a lot of the climb because the skin track was super packed in from the others skinning in the previous day.
I had my GPS and we were counting down the miles and climbing that was left, but they were ticking by slowly. Much more slowly than we anticipated.
As the mileage grew closer to the 7 miles we expected and the elevation neared the hut elevation we remained positive, but knew we had to keep moving forward.
As a group, our forward progress had slowed immensely. It wasn’t just because Evan was hiking and often post-holing, but also because I was getting cold, tired, and anxious and didn’t make it more than a few minutes before stopping for a rest. Not only was the daylight fading but also our moral. At each steep section we couldn’t imagine that we had much farther to go. Once we hit a small clearing which we determine to be a meadow, our spirits lifted as we thought according to the written directions that we were only ⅛ of a mile from the hut. The distance according to my GPS agreed.
At about the distance we were suppose to have reach the hut at, 6.9 miles, we encountered a split in the trail. I felt a sense of panic. My friend skied ahead to see where one spur took us, but returned without much information. Once the boys caught up, we pulled out the directions and compass and chose the path that headed mostly South.
Again, our speedy friend on nordic skis, skied ahead. Shortly after I heard her hollering back. I couldn’t tell if it was good yelling or bad yelling. I sped up to catch her, as I rounded a corner I saw her excited face and could hear her yelling that she saw a sign.
My body relaxed in one big sigh of relief as I approached the sign that read Betty Bear with an arrow pointing down a skin track.
As we moved forward we smelled the fire and knew we were close. I sped, out of control, down the steep hill around the left hand turn and at that moment I saw the hut.
We cruised into the hut just as the sun began to set and I couldn’t have been more relieved. I dropped my stuff and ran in my boots back up the skin track to meet Evan and encourage him for the last few feet of the long slog up to the Betty Bear hut.
The hut was warm and comforting. Food was already being made and we were so thrilled to be there.
Our trip was longer time and distance wise than we expected.
Night One: Exhaustion
The first night in Betty Bear hardly deserves it’s own section because we basically stripped off all of our gear, warmed up, changed, then did the rounds of introductions.
Once we got through all of that it was time for dinner. Amazing hot bowls of green chili with cornbread. We excited for food, but I hardly ate a whole bowl before I was full. Totally unusual for me. After a few bites of his meal Evan turned greenish white and I knew he wasn’t feeling well.
He was exhausted, nauseous, and had a headache. I think he had a bit of altitude sickness, so he laid down to rest as I pushed water on him and tried to get him some more calories in the form of sugary hot chocolate.
We laid down at like 6pm. I was feeling better than Evan, but just as exhausted. We napped on and off until about 10pm when we emerged from the sleeping quarters to say hello to everyone for a few minutes before heading back to bed.
Sleeping was glorious after the day we’d had.
Day Two: Touring
After an amazing night of sleep we woke up feeling much less exhausted, refreshed, and surprisingly not that sore.
All I could think about was percolator coffee. If you like coffee and you’ve never been on a hut trip you should probably go on one just to have coffee out of the percolators in the huts. I’m obsessed.
I downed lots of delicious coffee and enjoyed lots of buttery French Toast for breakfast.
The sky was cloudy but the sun was trying to peek out. It was really beautiful.
After breakfast Evan focused on figuring out how to affix his skins so they could at least get him through the rest of the trip. He came up with a great plan and with a lot of diligence and determination he implemented it flawlessly.
Evan, a friend, and I headed out after the rest on a small tour toward Hagerman Pass. The goal wasn’t to get to the pass, just to get out, test Evan’s skins, enjoy the surroundings and tool around. We did just that.
We covered around four miles (I started my gps late) and actually saw where everyone else was skiing, but didn’t go join them.
It flurried all day, but the snow started falling a bit harder as we came in from our adventuring.
When we returned from our tour we pulled together a huge plate of meat, cheese, and crackers so the group had a snack after their tour.
As people returned to the hut, sledding became the focus. Folks sledded, drinks were made, games were played, and relaxing was the main objective.
Night Two: Happy New Year!
Games and drinks commenced and our New Year’s celebration was underway. Margaritas, whiskey sours, hot buttered rums, and beers were enjoyed while we celebrated New Year’s in a different location each hour.
We enjoyed a tasty dinner of pasta, sauce, and meat before beginning rowdy game of charades. As charades ended out came the Rice Krispie Treats I made for dessert. Perfect hut dessert, lightweight, squishable, easy and delicious! I’ve added this to my list for every hut trip from now on.
I was still super tired, but was willing myself to stay up later and later. I knew I wouldn’t make midnight but I was giving it a shot.
At some point during the day, the outside fire pit got dug out, so we had a lovely fire outside. We might have even had a few fireworks to celebrate.
Finally around 10:30 I couldn’t’ keep my eyes open. I went to sleep and missed a night-time sledding session and more bonfire fun.
Evan woke me up at two minutes to midnight so I could run upstairs and join in the Happy New Year! I made the countdown, got my kiss, and went back to sleep.
Day Three: The Skin Out
Everyone was a little slow to rise on New Year’s Day, but eventually we were all up and the hut was bustling with folks packing and breakfast preparations.
Packing up was pretty quick and painless. Somehow my pack didn’t seem much lighter than it had on the way in. I’m sure it was, but my tired body just couldn’t tell the difference.
Throughout the time at the hut we had built the ski out up to be horrible. The steep packed in terrain with lots of rocks seemed like an insurmountable task.
A bit anxious to get it underway, Evan and I set-out in the front of the pack.
The first few steeps were manageable, but the switchbacks got tighter and the more people that skied them the more rocky they got.
We mostly sidestepped, and snow plowed our way out with skins still on to further help control speed. Finally near the bottom, it just wasn’t possible to keep the skis on so we popped them off and hiked out.
Once we hit the road, we knew we had about a mile climb to the high-point and thought it would be fast cruising from there.
The high-point came quickly and we pulled the skins off to glide the last three or so miles out. Our judgement of just how downhill it would be was a bit off. We did a lot of skating, slipping, and sliding.
The ski out the road didn’t seem that much faster than the skin in on it, but alas we rounded the final turn and could see the parking lot.
I think I speak for both Evan and I when is say we were relieved to be back at our cars and take our skis off for a few days. Walking without extra weight felt so freeing!
Hut trip number two provided us with even more lessons and experience. We learned both good and bad things.
The number one lesson was make sure your gear works! Evan has already replaced his skins and tested them out. Huge improvement.
We need to do more skinning. It isn’t like any other sort of activity. I run and workout a lot and Evan bikes a ton, but neither prepared us for the struggle up the last couple steep miles of the skin in. We started on this by doing a little tour this past weekend.
Leave early. We should plan on starting our skin into any hut earlier than we did since we were approaching the hut at dusk. This is mostly to keep me from panicking
A super positive thing I learned was that my new pack was amazing! It fit my back perfectly and carried the weight evenly no matter how well I packed it.
Rice Krispie Treats are an awesome, lightweight, squishable dessert to make!
Looking at the Garmin info, we waste a lot of time on the skinning. We should work on stopping less.
We learned plenty more, but those were some that stuck out for me.
Have you ever been on a hut trip?
What are your most memorable hut or backcountry experiences?