Trip Report: Backcountry Skiing at the Sangree M. Froelicher Hut and Buckeye Peak Climb, March 2017

Photo: Sangree M. Froelicher Hut
Sangree M. Froelicher Hut.

This page contains a report about the trip we made to the Sangree M. Froelicher Hut in March of 2017 as well as a return trip to the same area that I made a few weeks later to complete the climb of Buckeye Peak.

Click here to see the photos from this trip.

The Sangree Hut was once known as the Belvedere Hut. The trailhead for the hut is on the south side of Fremont Pass on the road from Leadville to Copper Mountain. This is one of the easier huts to reach. The route to the hut is 3.5 miles long and requires about 1,500 feet of climbing. Snow machines cannot go to this hut so we transported our gear and food on our backs.

See the sidebar for various resources including general hut information, guides, gear stores, maps, and guidebook excerpts. You can peruse reports and photos from our previous trips on my Skiing Page

Photo Big Horn Sheep along the road from Creede to Lake City.
Big Horn Sheep along the road from Creede to Lake City.
Photo Early breakfast at the Golden Burro Cafe in Leadville.
Early breakfast at the Golden Burro Cafe in Leadville.

On Saturday, I drove to Lake City and met Howard at his house on Lake San Cristobal. This beautiful lake formed about 700 years ago when a mountain side collapsed and created a dam across the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River. Lake City is also near the infamous Alferd Packer site where an unfortunate group of six prospectors including Packer were stranded in the winter of 1874. In April, only Packer emerged alive. He was later accused of killing and eating some of the others in his party to survive.

At approximately 9000 feet, Howard's house provided a nice place for me to acclimate prior to climbing higher on our hut trip. On Sunday morning, we enjoyed a nice ski tour around the east side of the lake. The next day we drove to Leadville.

After having breakfast at the Golden Burro, we began our ski up to the hut. The parking lot for hut visitors is just off the highway. After ascending about 1/3 of a mile, the trail approaches but does not join Buckeye Gulch road. At this point, there is a small parking lot with signs warning hut visitors not to park there. There was a 10th Mountain Division Hut System truck parked there when we were there.

Above that point, the trail climbs above and parallels the road. About 2/3 of a mile from the trailhead at about 10,600 feet, the trail rejoins Buckeye Gulch Road for a short distant until it turns left and follows FR 37A, crosses a creek, and ascends toward the hut. This is not clear from my maps. This short stretch of trail parallel to and above Buckeye Gulch Road has sections of steep traversing combined with a steep drop-off. It had not snowed in the area for some time and the snow on the trail was rock-hard and icy. Traveling this section on skis was very dicey under these conditions. Snowshoes would have worked much better. Pulling a pulk would have been next to impossible. In retrospect, it would have been much better to forgo following the 10th Mountain Division trail marked with blue diamonds and to have followed the road. This is what we did on the way down.

The remainder of the hike to the hut was unremarkable but we both realized that the snow conditions were much more suited to boot-packing or snowshoes than ski's and skins.

The Sangree Hut is a very typical 10th Mountain Division Hut. It has beautiful views and when conditions are right, great ski slopes nearby.

The next day we did a short tour up to the col between Points 12,156 and 12,254 below Buckeye Peak. As we had seen the day before, the snow was bullet-proof and it was difficult to make our edges work to make turns coming down.

Photo Howard at the trailhead.
Howard at the trailhead.
Photo Bob on the rock hard snow above the hut.
Bob on the rock hard snow above the hut.
Photo Bob and Howard on the approach to Buckeye Peak.
Bob and Howard on the approach to Buckeye Peak.

On Wednesday, we set out to climb Buckeye Peak. Although the summit is only 1.8 miles and 1,266 feet above the hut, we found it difficult going and turned around shortly after we gained the ridge at about 12,300 feet. Again, the hard, icy snow made descending difficult. As time passed, the sun softened the snow, and I was finally able to make a few decent turns.

The next day we headed out. Howard drove back to Lake City and I headed to Boulder to get some adjustments made on my mountaineering boots.

My Scarpa Phantom 6000 mountaineering boots have been giving me heel blisters despite several trips to the boot fitter. I again visited a boot fitter in Boulder and had some adjustments made then I drove home to Amarillo.

Back at home, my next training workout in my mountaineering boots showed that the recent modifications made no difference at all. After ascending about 800 feet up a 30% grade, I begin to develop hot spots on both heels just as before.

About a week later, after making some inquiries, I decided that I needed to either replace my boot liners with some heat moldable liners or perhaps even the entire boots. I planned a trip to Colorado to resolve my boot problems and to thoroughly test them by returning to the Sangree hut and climbing Buckeye Peak.

I drove to Golden and visited another mountaineering shop. They talked me out of replacing the liners and made some additional adjustments to my boot liners. I immediately went to a gym in Golden and tried them out on a treadmill inclined to a 30% grade. This time I overdid my testing and created fluid filled blisters on both heels.

I decided that I wanted to replace my stock boot liners with a pair of La Sportiva Baruntse liners and to have them heat molded to my feet. After some additional shopping in the Golden and Boulder area, I made arrangements to purchase the liners and have them heat molded to my feet. Because of my new heels blisters, I canceled my plans to go climbing and returned Amarillo.

After about 10 days, my heels were about healed and I returned to Leadville to climb Buckeye Peak. I trekked to the Sangree hut in snowshoes and my mountaineering boots. The hut was completely empty. The next day, I climbed Buckeye Peak. Early that morning, the snow was so hard that I used crampons with my mountaineering boots. The sun began to warm the snow and about 500 feet from the summit I switched to snowshoes. I reached the summit and then descended to the trailhead. My feet stayed happy the whole time. I then drove home.

Photo Sastrugi on the approach to Buckeye Peak.
Sastrugi on the approach to Buckeye Peak.
Photo Bob on the summit of Buckeye Peak.
Bob on the summit of Buckeye Peak.