The past few weeks have been pretty perfect, weather wise, in Colorado. Crisp mornings with warm afternoons; the quintessential fall, if you ask me.
A few weekends ago, Alex and I headed west to Golden Gate Canyon on a Sunday, the day before the first October snow, to catch our last glimpses of alpine leaves. Unfortunately, most had already fallen on the trail we hiked but the drive in/out was stunning.
Then, when Alex’s parents visited last weekend, we gave them the full Colorado tour, driving from Denver to Buena Vista to Leadville Copper and back home on I-70. I didn’t think to record snippets till after I had delicious BV diner food in my belly so this is a taste of the back half of our drive.
I recorded these on my phone so they’re nothing to write home about but in thinking about inspiration and finding beauty and light in the world, I’m posting here to preserve the memories.
Hope you’re enjoying a lovely fall wherever this post finds you, too!
As Alex was considering which capstone track to pursue, we very quickly decided that he should absolutely do the study abroad track. (Well, in real life, he wasn’t 100% sold at the beginning but I aggressively talked him into it; 6+ WEEKS IN EUROPE! WHEN ELSE IN YOUR LIFE WILL YOU HAVE THIS OPPORTUNITY! I HOPE NEVER UNLESS I’M WITH YOU! GO TO EUROPE!) So Europe it was!
Tepper encourages students to travel during their breaks and gives an extra ‘experience week’ during winter and spring breaks. There are typically ‘treks’ organized that students (and partners!) can participate in and experience Japan or Israel or Yacht Week or Silicon Valley and more. We did not participate in a planned trek either year but we certainly made the most of our experience week this year!
We planned to spend 2 weeks in Europe together, prior to Alex’s capstone starting in Germany in mid-March. Before the unexpected anxiety, we’d planned to bounce around, spending a few days in various places. After anxiety, we opted to chill out instead: 5 days in Paris, 2 days skiing in Chamonix and 1 day to explore Germany before I left and his program started. It was relaxing, recharging and perfect.
Rather than a play-by-play, I’m opting instead to share snippets of our week via photos.
I can’t even overstate how much we needed a vacation – both as individuals and as a couple. Sitting on the plane to Frankfurt, we reminisced about the last time we took a vacation…4.5 years earlier for our honeymoon. Between vacations, we took many long weekend trips, road trips, ski trips with friends – but never a vacation for just the two of us with the sole intention of doing whatever the heck we felt like.
Now, I’m back into the swing of Denver life while he finishes his last few weeks in Europe before coming home for graduation. To say I’m anxious for him to be home (especially with current, unpredictable government) is an understatement. 3 weeks!
For the first time in a few years, Alex and I will be celebrating Thanksgiving in Cincinnati with our families this year as it’s a short 4.5 hour drive from Pittsburgh. While living in Denver, we usually decided to spend Thanksgiving in Denver and travel home only for Christmas due to limited PTO and crazy expensive flights into CVG.
So what did we do for Thanksgiving in Colorado? We spent one Thanksgiving celebrating ourselves (our first Thanksgiving dinner as a married couple!) and spent the next two with our fellow displaced, mountain-loving friends who organized a backcountry hut trip! As much as we missed being at home with our families, Alex and I loved spending our holiday weekend in the mountains with friends.
But let’s back up. What IS a hut trip, right?! Good question!
Hut trips are the best. Throughout the Colorado mountains, there are a series of hut systems that were borne out of backcountry skiers and mountaineers looking for a way to extend their playtime in the in the winter wilderness in the 1940s and 50s. The largest system, 10th Mountain Division Huts, includes 34 huts and more than 350 miles of suggest trails – several of the huts are close enough to travel between (Green Wilson/Tagert + Lindley, for example) to offer great ski touring options.
Huts usually sleep 10-16 people and require a hike in. Hut trippers will reserve their dates online (many dates now are on a lottery system because of the popularity of hut trips), note the number of people in their group and cross their fingers to get the dates/hut they prefer. Our groups always had 16 people but smaller groups can still make a reservation and will share the hut with another group to book out the hut.
Many hut trippers with AT skis or split boards (snowboard that splits into 2 skis) choose to ‘skin’ up the trail vs. snowshoeing. Skinning feels like Nordic Trekking up a mountain but allows for playtime once the hut tripper arrives at the hut – pull off the skins from your skis, reattach your board and you’ve got touring and downhill fun!
But we snowshoed into the hut, carrying our gear, Thanksgiving dinner and ‘mountain margarita’ ingredients on our backs and in sleds pulled behind us. For some people, this was their first back country experience so not everyone had the gear required to skin into the hut.
This trek into Ben Eiseman Hut from Spraddle Creek Trailhead is not for the faint of heart. It’s a 7 mile hike which feels like eternity with a 50 lb pack on your back. The majority of this hike journeys through rolling meadows and and tricks you into thinking it will be an easy finish. But it’s not. The last 2 miles of are intense switchbacks with significant elevation gain. After already snowshoeing for 6 hours, these last 2 miles feel like literal death. And as the sun is setting and the air is getting colder? Even more discouraging.
(One note: because this group had a few inexperienced folks, we chose Ben Eiseman Hut for it’s lack of avalanche danger; always check CAIC before you venture out in the backcountry but getting to/from Eiseman is an avy free zone.)
But we made it! We found the hut!
Those of us who arrived at the hut first began warming the hut and a few even ventured back to grab packs and relieve those still on the trail.
As you can see, the hut was very spacious and include a number of ‘glamping’ amenities like solar powered lights, a wood burning stove, a sink, outhouses, beds and pillows, books and games. Most (all?) of the huts in the 10th Mountain Division include the same amenities. It’s a perfect trip for anyone who loves to have a fun weekend. Sure, there is sweat equity in the hike but once you’re at the hut? It’s pure mountain house enjoyment.
Because it was Thanksgiving night, we immediately set to making/reheating our Thanksgiving fixings: turkey, sweet potatoes, salad, mashed potatoes and more. Oh, and bacon. We brought at least 12 pounds of bacon on this hut trip, between the 16 attendees. 1 year later and my clothes still have a bacon stench baked in.
Let’s chat food for a hot second. How do you carry in food for a hut trip?!
Our group leaders decided 2-3 people would be responsible for breakfasts and dinners – planning/bringing ingredients, prepping and serving; lunches were on your own (Alex and I brought salami, cheese and tortillas – standard Petre family trail lunch). For Thanksgiving dinner, we split up the different components and each person brought one piece of the meal to share. It worked out perfectly; everyone was invested in the meal and contributed and it was so delicious after 8+ hours of snowshoeing up a mountain.
Thanksgiving night, we ate and retired early to bed but the next morning, we all arose, ready to enjoy our long, mountain weekend.
We played games (so much Farkle!), we built dangerous sledding ramps, we trudged through snow around the hut, and we built even crazier sledding ramps. It was perfect adult recess time. With little cell service, we relied on ‘old school’ ways to entertain ourselves – books, board games, camaraderie and downloaded dance tunes. Lots of singing and dancing.
One of my favorite parts of each day at Eiseman Hut was sunset. The only sounds were pine tree branches woooshing as the wind rushed through.
How lucky was I that I got to spend a long weekend, in the mountains, with crazy mountain-loving friends, witnessing a stunning sunset. Unreal! In that moment, I gave thanks for all things in my life – my husband, my family, my friends, the ability to do these ridiculous mountain adventures, living in Colorado, and so much more.
On Saturday, more of the same – sledding and relaxing, not thinking about our 7 mile hike back out the next day. And the weather was perfect the entire weekend – sunny bluebird days where it was warm in the sun and chilly in the shade.
While others brought in gallons of tequila (not exaggerating) and bagged wine, I brought my Pat’s Backcountry Kit to wash down my dinner with a legit mountain beer. We’ve brought Pats on a few of our mountain adventures and it never fails to delight; drinking an IPA at treeline will never get old.
After dinner on the last night, we busted out more games and Cards Against Humanity. Drinks + Cards Against Humanity = hilarious evening.
When the sun rose Sunday morning, all 16 of us meandered out of bed to help make the remaining 3 packs of bacon and clean up the hut to prepare to leave. We were the first guests of the season so we arrived to a pristine cabin; there are no cleaning crews that come in in between reservations so it’s up to the group to clean the cabin and leave it exactly as they found it. With so many people, it wasn’t that hard to divide and conquer chores to straighten up the hut before heading out.
The hike our was uneventful and (thankfully) quicker than our climb in – I think knowing exactly where you came from helps, mentally, make the miles tick by faster, too. Before we knew it, we were back at the cars and planning our refueling at a burger bar, halfway between Vail and Denver. No matter that we ate our weight in bacon and snacks over the weekend…we were hungry for food someone else would prepare and clean up!
Sadly, our hut trip group is not making their annual trek this year – too many people traveling or have moved away. Selfishly, I’m a bit relieved because #FOMO is real. As excited as I am to spend the weekend at home with my family next week, I’d be lying if a part of my heart wasn’t missing our annual HutTripsGiving and spending the weekend in the place we love the most – the Rocky Mountains.