Trip Report: Hut-Trips-Giving at Ben Eiseman Hut

Colorado Hut Trip: Ben Eiseman Hut // lynnepetre.com

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.

Colorado Hut Trip: Ben Eiseman Hut // lynnepetre.com

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.

Our first hut trip was to Green Wilson/Tagert and Lindley Huts (recap here) and the second year, we ventured to Ben Eiseman Hut, situated just outside Vail, CO.

Colorado Hut Trip: Ben Eiseman Hut // lynnepetre.com

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.

Colorado Hut Trip: Ben Eiseman Hut // lynnepetre.com

Colorado Hut Trip: Ben Eiseman Hut // lynnepetre.com

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.

Colorado Hut Trip: Ben Eiseman Hut // lynnepetre.com

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!

Colorado Hut Trip: Ben Eiseman Hut // lynnepetre.com

Colorado Hut Trip: Ben Eiseman Hut // lynnepetre.com

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.

Colorado Hut Trip: Ben Eiseman Hut // lynnepetre.com

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.

Colorado Hut Trip: Ben Eiseman Hut // lynnepetre.com

Colorado Hut Trip: Ben Eiseman Hut // lynnepetre.com

Colorado Hut Trip: Ben Eiseman Hut // lynnepetre.com

Colorado Hut Trip: Ben Eiseman Hut // lynnepetre.com

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.

Colorado Hut Trip: Ben Eiseman Hut // lynnepetre.com

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.

Colorado Hut Trip: Ben Eiseman Hut // lynnepetre.com

Colorado Hut Trip: Ben Eiseman Hut // lynnepetre.com

Colorado Hut Trip: Ben Eiseman Hut // lynnepetre.com

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.

Colorado Hut Trip: Ben Eiseman Hut // lynnepetre.com

Colorado Hut Trip: Ben Eiseman Hut // lynnepetre.com

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.

Colorado Hut Trip: Ben Eiseman Hut // lynnepetre.com
BFF Nancy and I trying to take a jump photo

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.

So until next time, HutTripsGiving! We miss you!

Fall Colors in the Midwest

Fall in the Midwest // lynnepetre.com

When we decided to move to Pittsburgh, I was really looking forward to experiencing fall in the Midwest again: the vibrant leaves in reds, yellows, oranges; the chilly mornings and crisp afternoons; snuggling up under blankets.  (side discussion: Pittsburgh is Midwest or East Coast? I call it Midwest – we are less than an hour from Ohio and West Virginia – but people in Pittsburgh seem undecided; there are arguments for each side.)

Now, I don’t know if this fall is typical of Pittsburgh or not but it’s been exceptionally great fall weather this season. There have been some rainy days, some gray days, but many of the days have brought bright blue skies, warm afternoons and chilly evenings. It’s felt like quintessential fall and I definitely dig it.

Fall in the Midwest // lynnepetre.comOf course, when I went out the other weekend to hike and look at fall colors, it was not one of those blue skied days; a cold front was rolling in so it was gray and a little drizzly. But even still, the leaves popped and looked so beautiful.

Fall in the Midwest // lynnepetre.com Fall in the Midwest // lynnepetre.com

Fall in the Midwest // lynnepetre.com

This is certainly not to say fall in Denver was anything to gripe about – I loved it! But Denver has a very different fall in my experience. It’s not usually the slow decline from summer to winter…it’s a long summer that bleeds into a warm (sometimes hot!) fall that quickly jumps straight into frigid winter temps and then bounces around between warm and cold for a number of weeks before settling on winter.

And Denver just doesn’t have the same ratio of deciduous tress as the Midwest so there are far fewer opportunities to see the beautiful reds and oranges of fall. (Though, in the mountains, Aspen trees turn the mountain-sides a glittering gold that is absolutely stunning. #tradeoffs). Even compared to Cincinnati leaves, Pittsburgh colors trump. +1 for Western Pennsylvania!
Fall in the Midwest // lynnepetre.com

We may not stay in Pittsburgh forever but I am certainly glad we’ll be here for at least 2 years of fall weather.

Pittsburgh Hike: McConnell’s Mill State Park

Pittsburgh Hike: McConnell's Mill State Park // lynnepetre.com

Trip Report: McConnell's Mill, PA // lgsmash.comSince moving to Pittsburgh, I’ve been slow to explore much outside the city. With weekend visitors, school commitments, travel and settling in, it’s been hard to get out and check out our surroundings. And frankly, despite having a super long list of things I want to be sure to do, it felt intimidating to know where to start. (note to self: just START.) 

Living in Denver, I hit the trails at least once a week either by trail running, camping, hiking or climbing and, a couple of weeks ago, I realized just how much the lack of nature was affecting me and did something about it. Of course, the forecast called for rain all day long but I loaded up a small day pack and hit the road for McConnell’s Mill State Park, fingers crossed for a break in the drops.

As luck would have it, the rain eased into a light drizzle as I pulled into the parking lot and had completely dissipated as I locked up my Subaru to explore.

I’d done only a little bit of research before my trip; I knew the gristmill was a short hike from the parking lot and I knew there was climbing somewhere in the park. My goal was to find both.

Trip Report: McConnell's Mill, PA // lgsmash.com

A short hike from Johnson Road/McConnell’s Mill Road parking lot, the trail to the mill is a packed dirt trail with rock obstacles throughout and full of lush greenery alongside. It was really beautiful and hard to believe the colors around me. I forgot just HOW green the midwest is!

The hike is maybe 1/2 mile from the parking lot and is marked with a blue reflector. It’s a well worth path and easy to follow along the river.
Trip Report: McConnell's Mill, PA // lgsmash.com Because it was a rainy afternoon, I enjoyed a very quiet day on the trail and inside the mill. I poked around inside and around, snapping photos and reading the plaques inside before deciding to continue further up the trail. (Note: there is also a parking lot right at the mill so visitors who don’t want to or can’t hike are still able to visit the mill!)

Trip Report: McConnell's Mill, PA // lgsmash.com

I ventured up another 1/2 mile southwest on the trail, past the Kildoo Bridge and falls; the trail follows the river the majority of the length of the park and, while there were no kayakers while I was hiking, I know it’s an option and I plan to come back and kayak along the trail I hiked.

Trip Report: McConnell's Mill, PA // lgsmash.com
Kildoo Bridge

Trip Report: McConnell's Mill, PA // lgsmash.com

I turned around and headed back towards the mill as darker clouds started rolling in above. I made it back to the parking just as the sky opened up and dropped big fat raindrops on my car, satisfied in my short afternoon jaunt in a Pennsylvania state park. While I didn’t see the climbing spots I’d hoped to scope out, I know exactly where to find them for the next trip out to McConnell’s Mill.

Trip Report: McConnell's Mill, PA // lgsmash.com

I drove back to Pittsburgh with a full heart; I’d found a small piece of what I’ve been missing so much in Pennsylvania. Trails and dirt; places to play outside. And over the coming weeks with no weekend plans, I’m penciling in a lot more park adventures to find beautiful vistas to view the fall colors. I can’t wait to see miles of reds, oranges and yellow; fall in the midwest can’t be beat.

IF YOU GO: 

Only 45 minutes away from Pittsburgh, this state park is an excellent choice for hiking, backpacking, camping and climbing. Hikes are available for outdoor enthusiasts of all levels of ability. The park is 2,500 acres and is situated next to a sister state park, Moraine State Park, that looks to have a beach(!).