My good friend, Jesse Hill, can sure plan a hut trip. He can plan most things in life to a “T”, but hut trips in particular are a specialty of his. So, when Jesse called upon our crew to take part in the Hardman Hut Trip in April of 2016 almost a year ago, 12 courageous dudes immediately jumped at the opportunity. Not only was this a hut trip, but it was a hut trip traverse between three huts in the northern Sawatch Range from the Basalt/Ruedi Reservoir area to the Sylvan Lake area south of Eagle. It was a fantastic trip and afforded all of us a great opportunity to just unplug from society and enjoy the outdoors, the wonderful 10th Mtn hut system, and the camaraderie. I mean we’re all close friends who have shared a lifetime of adventures, climbs, raft trips, ski trips, etc, but it was so cool for all of us to get back together as a group. This trip already has us scheming Hardman 2017.
The huts with the various routes marked. Photo by Joel
We began by leaving a few cars, including my Tahoe, at the Yeoman Park trailhead south of Eagle. Jesse organized a CME Sprinter van to take us all around to Basalt and then up the Fryingpan River past the Ruedi Resevoir to the Montgomery Flats trailhead.
Our shuttle van – not bad 🙂 Photo by Derek
We picked up Brett at his home in Glenwood Springs as well. The van left us at the nondescript Montgomery Flats trailhead with no one else around. The only issue was that the trail was fairly dry so most of us packed our skis and boots on our backs for the first 2 miles or so.
Left to right: J, Jesse, & Chuck en route to the Harry Gates Hut
Left to right: Joel, Nico, Matt, & Brett upon reaching the Burnt Mtn Road
Following the power lines for a bit
The crew back on the Burnt Mtn Road
We then de-skinned at the summit of the Burnt Mtn Road and were able to ski about 1.75 miles slightly downhill on the same road to the Harry Gates Hut turnoff. After a a few hundred vertical feet of gain and 1/4 mile, we arrived at the hut around 5pm. It was so so nice out and we all relaxed on the deck with cocktails.
At the Harry Gates Hut turnoff
The Harry Gates Hut with the south face of Fools Peak (12,947′) behind
The views of Fools Peak were amazing and the south face isn’t even the “fun” side of the peak. The north ridge of Fools provides awesome class 3/4 scrambling. Kristine & I climbed this route back in September of 2010.
Fools Peak’s north ridge from Lake Charles
Kristine on the lower portion of the ridge
K climbing the class 4 headwall from the notch
Fools Peak summit (12,947′)
Anyway, back to our Hardman 2016, it was a fantastic evening at the Harry Gates Hut. Scotch, beer, and whiskey were consumed by many as were several rounds of hors d’oeuvres. Jesse made a phenomenal dinner that we all helped to carry into the hut, poker games were played, and late night antics and stories ensued.
Mikey chilling in the late afternoon sun on the Harry Gates deck
A great south-facing deck. Photo by Derek
Jesse in “suns out guns out” mode with cocktail in hand. Photo by Joel
Me enjoying the warm sun. Photo by Derek
Inside the Harry Gates Hut
The first night’s pasta dinner. Photo by Derek
I think we were all surprised at how efficiently 12 guys gathered themselves, made breakfast, organized gear, and cleaned up the hut each morning. After a delicious monster burrito made by Mikey, I finished packing and we were all out the door by 9:30am. It was another beautiful and very warm day even at elevations between 9,000′ and 11,000′. Harry Gates is one of the lowest huts in terms of elevation at 9,700′. We skied for maybe a mile and a half down the Burnt Mtn Road to Lime Creek at the head of the distinct Lime Creek Canyon. Lime Creek Canyon is a wonderful limestone sport climbing area. J and I climbed here last fall for a day and just loved it. It was really cool to see it all snow-covered and inaccessible by truck. I’m looking forward to going back to this secluded climbing area this summer and fall.
Leaving the Harry Gates Hut
Skiing back down to the Burnt Mtn Road. The Elk Range 14er Capitol Peak can be seen in the middle of the picture with Mt. Sopris at far right
Almost down to Lime Creek
Lime Creek Canyon and the sport climbing cliffs
Some of our crew switching to uphill skinning mode with Lime Creek Canyon behind
Beginning the lengthy 5 mile uphill skin to the Peter Estin Hut
The skin up to the Peter Estin Hut was really beautiful along ridges and through groves of Aspens. We took periodic breaks to snack up and enjoy the views.
Skinning along with the Elk Range in the far distance
Lime Creek Canyon down at far left in the picture
Left to right: Pyramid Peak, Maroon Bells, Snowmass Mtn (behind the right Aspen tree), and Capitol Peak. All Elk Range 14ers
Scott enjoying the “shorts” weather
Expedition leader, Doctor Jesse Hill
Group shot in the Aspens. Photo by Derek
Andy showing us the way with Fools Peak behind
Chuck on a steeper section of the broad ridge
Finally, after about 4.5 hours on the go, we hit the turnoff for the Peter Estin Hut at 11,200′
We arrived to find three other fellas relaxing on the deck whom we would be sharing the hut with that evening. The views south to the Elks and Northern Sawatch were phenomenal. We all unpacked and each broke out a cocktail or two and more hors d’oeuvres of salami, cheese, and Jesse’s canned octopus. It was yet again an awesome evening and J and Andy made the awesome tacos from the elk meat Jesse had organized for all of us. Yum.
Peter Estin Hut views. Pyramid Peak and the Maroon Bells are visible on the right
Appetizers and cocktail hour. Photo by Joel
Relaxing on the Peter Estin deck. Photo by Joel
Nico’s breakfast. Photo by Joel
Saying goodbye to the Peter Estin Hut the next morning
The weather on day 3 was very overcast and a bit breezy as expected and forecasted by the OpenSnow gurus. We had a 2,000′ ski down the Iron Edge Trail to the Fulford Cave/Lake Charles trailhead, which was fun for some and not so much for others. We passed a decent size crew who were all heading up to the Peter Estin Hut on the ski down. We then skied down the East Brush Creek Road about a 1/2 mile to the Newcomer Spring trail turnoff and skinned up for the long uphill. The weather definitely moved in and out all day graupelling on us, then getting some sunshine, and then heavy snow for the last few miles to the Polar Star Inn.
Mikey beginning the descent down to the Fulford Cave/Lake Charles trailhead on the morning of day 3
The crew heading up the Newcomer Spring trail
J and Chuck in some sunshine
Then, the snow came
Scott enjoying the skinning and snow
Chuck and Brett on the final mile push to the Polar Star Inn
The Polar Star Inn. Photo by Derek
We all arrived by 3pm making for about a 5 hour day of skiing and skinning. I quickly got a fire going in the wood stove to dry things out as we were all pretty drenched from the wet snow. Two more friends, Alec Hall and Sam Collentine, arrived at around 4:30pm from the Yeoman park trailhead as they just came for the final night. It was awesome having these two fine dudes come in and hang for the night with us. Two grad school physicists from CU Boulder were sharing the hut with us. They were very cool to put up with our rowdy crew of 14. Again, Jesse delivered with a phenomenal dinner of bread, salad, and jambalaya.
Day 3’s dinner. Photo by Joel
Joel’s day 3 cocktail. Photo by Joel
The OpenSnow dudes. Photo by Alec
Late night at the Polar Star Inn. Photo by Joel
The weather wasn’t supposed to be too stellar on Sunday, but Joel and a few others wanted to give New York Mountain’s summit a shot, so we set the alarm for 5:30am. Mikey and I had slept downstairs by the wood stove and we got a fire going immediately in the morning as we had left the windows open all night and it was pretty cold. Back in March of 2008, Kristine & I had skinned up to New York Mountain’s summit (12,550′) via the Polar Star Inn and it was a nice few hour jaunt in good weather.
New York Mtn summit (12,550′) in March 2008
The massive cornice along the northeast ridge as seen from the summit
However, this day was some rough weather. It was decent below treeline, but once we climbed to the northeast ridge the wind was pretty stern and the visibility was not ideal to say the least. Sam, Joel Mikey, J, Chuck, Scott, & myself ventured out for the morning but ended up turning around below the false summit likely at around 12,400′ just a hundred or two hundred feet shy of the summit though we still had some distance along the long ridge to cover. We really couldn’t see much of anything and with a monster cornice to our left, we just decided to save the summit for another day. It wasn’t very enjoyable anymore. However, the turns down from the ridge to the trees were very enjoyable with a few inches of powder over a firm base.
Chuck & J on Sunday morning skinning up through the woods behind the Polar Star Inn
Breaking out of treeline with some cool clouds down low
Joel high up on the northeast ridge. Nice day, eh buddy?
Departing our highpoint
Sam getting some soft turns
We regrouped back at the hut around 9:30am and packed up and cleaned the hut. The ski and skate out went pretty quick back to our cars at the Yeoman Park trailhead arriving at around 11:15am. A few dudes had some pretty nasty blisters, but sometimes that’s the price you pay for a good time.
Carnage – Andy’s heels
What a wonderful few days deep in the backcountry with a great crew. I literally cannot wait for Hardman 2017.
For those interested, here are Joel’s stats day by day for the adventure (you know, because he likes maps and technology and all that sort of thing):
Route Day 1 Thursday – To Harry Gates Hut
Route Day 2 Friday – Harry Gates Hut to Peter Estin Hut
Route Day 3 Saturday – Peter Estin Hut to Polar Star Inn
Route Day 4 Sunday – Morning jaunt toward New York Mountain
Route Day 4 Sunday – Polar Star Inn to the car