Following in the Footsteps of the 10th Mountain Division
I have lived in Colorado for an adventurous 18 years, but I hadn’t quite “arrived” until last March. That’s when friends showed me the ropes. They took me to Markley Hut.
The trip was booked months in advance, and because friends were hut trippin’ together, it was sure to be a blast.
Markley Hut is located at 10,400 feet, outside Ashcroft at the foot of Green Mountain. To get there, we skinned in on split boards, alpine touring and telemark equipment, trekking two and a half miles from the parking lot and gaining 1,000 feet in elevation.
To prepare, I used a packing list from the 10th Mountain Division website. I looked at what gear I had and what amenities the hut offered to figure out I what would need to borrow or buy.
I borrowed a good backpack and personal locator beacon, a device that will broadcast a personal distress signal if you get lost or caught in an avalanche. I needed a sleeping bag, and I got my hands on a Big Agnes Boot Jack 24, which is made in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. It’s lightweight, easy to pack and filled with high-quality down that kept me comfortable while sleeping inside the hut.
Perhaps you’re asking, “What’s a hut?”
It’s back-country cabin, one you reach by skiing it, or by mountain biking or hiking.
The Roaring Fork Valley is smack-dab in the middle of hut country. More than a dozen huts are run by the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association, a nonprofit formed in the early 1980’s by several Aspen skiers, including 10th Mountain Division veteran Fritz Benedict.
The 10th Mountain Division was a World War II infantry unit that trained at Camp Hale, near Leadville, and at nearby huts. After learning alpine tactics, men from the 10th Mountain Division fought in the Italian Alps, and following the war, they founded most of Colorado’s ski areas.
Today, one chain of huts is located in the Maroon Bells – Snowmass Wilderness area, and others cluster along the Front Range and around Vail. Colorado’s entire hut system includes more than 30 huts: The 10th Mountain Division system has 13 huts. Some privately owned huts have been added into the network. Another group is operated by Braun & Friends and still another by Summit Huts. There is even a yurt alliance!
Huts are available year round, so you can access them by snowshoeing, skiing, hiking or biking. You can plan a single-hut adventure, or you can travel between huts as the 10th Mountain Division did during training. For example, the Tagert and Green-Wilson Huts can be used in conjunction with the Friends’ Hut, enabling you to ski between Aspen and Crested Butte.
The average hut route is six to seven miles long and climbs 1,500 to 2,500 feet, starting from a trail head located at 8,000 feet or higher. Given those elevations, weather and safety must always be factored into your planning and packing.
The first step in planning a hut trip would be to check out the 10th Mountain Division’s website (Huts.org) and to call them at 970.925.5775. You can reserve an entire hut or reserve space on a per-person basis.
But plan ahead! The huts are popular, so you might need to reserve months in advance. After all, hut tripping is a rite of passage not just for Colorado kids, but also for grown-ups from other states who, like me, finally go native by arriving at the huts.