Trip Report: January 2008 10th Mountain Division Hut Skiing
Click here to see the photo album from this trip.
This report gives a brief description of the specifics of this trip. If you would like to read more about backcountry skiing in general, the 10th Mountain Division hut system, or Paragon Guides, please see this page about one of our other trips:
On Friday, Bill, Connie, and I drove to Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort and stayed at our townhouse in Silverpick. Saturday morning, Connie and I attended the Silverpick homeowners association meeting. I skied Purgatory in the afternoon. Connie graciously ran errands preparing to host our annual (at least most years) homeowners get together. Bill's shoulder kept him from skiing at all on this trip. The party that night was fun.
Connie and I had originally planned to stay and ski at Purgatory on Sunday and then drive to Vail on Monday. Watching the weather, I saw that a giant blizzard was approaching southwestern Colorado. The meteorologists were predicting two to three feet of snow with winds gusting to 75 m.p.h. beginning Sunday afternoon. Our travel plans required driving over Coal Bank, Molas, and Red Mountain passes that would very likely be closed by this storm. We decided to drive to Vail early on Sunday. Bill drove to Santa Fe as his shoulder problems made it impossible for him to do this hut trip.
The drive from Purgatory to Summit County covers some spectacular scenery. The "Million Dollar Highway" from Durango to Silverton to Ouray must be one of the most beautiful drives in the America. Continuing north through Ridgeway, we spotted the profile of Owl Creek Pass we has just seen watching John Wayne in True Grit. We headed north through Montrose and to Grand Junction. The drive along the Colorado River east of Grand Junction via I-70 is interesting.
I wanted to try some wider skis. I have been skiing on a randonnée (alpine touring or French: randonnée) skiing setup with Atomic Tour Guide Super Light skis and the original Dynafit TLT bindings. This setup is ultra light (7 pounds 4 ounces for 2 skis and 2 bindings), but the skis are narrow by today's standards (97-68-86 mm with 24m radius sidecut). With fresh snow predicted, I was concerned that more surface area under foot would be needed for this trip. Plus, it is always fun to try something new.
I rented skis from Mountain Outfitters in Breckenridge. This is an excellent backcountry shop. They have a full range of both alpine touring and telemark gear to rent or purchase. Paragon Guides is a good source of telemark rental gear for their hut trips. Mountain Outfitters is a good place to rent alpine touring gear, which Paragon doesn't have. I rented some K2 Mt. Baker Superlight skis paired with Diamir Fritschi Freeride Plus bindings (10 pounds 14 ounces for 2 skis and 2 bindings, 121-88-108 mm).
Connie and I stayed in Frisco at the Snowshoe Motel so that I could skin up a run or two at Breckenridge early Monday morning to make sure the rental gear was going to work satisfactorily before venturing into the backcountry.
Monday morning, I tried out the rental skis, bindings, and skins at Breckenridge. Then Connie and I headed over to Vail to meet up with John, Cindy, and Howard. That evening we had a really good dinner at La Bottega in Vail. As we left the restaurant that evening, the storm and wind were beginning to rage.
Our guides for the trip, Mike Holmes and Kurt, picked us up early Tuesday morning in West Vail. We drove to Minturn for breakfast at the Turntable Diner. Donny Shefchik, Paragon's Field Director and Senior Guide joined us for breakfast. This spot is decorated with great memorabilia the from pre-Vail development days in Minturn as well as other pop culture stuff from the last century. If you visit, I suggest trying one of their breakfast burritos, "The Baby Boo".
After breakfast, we drove to the Crane Park trailhead just south of Tennessee Pass and skinned up to the Tenth Mountain Hut. As we started, it was cold, but the sun was out, and the wind was mild. The trip to the hut was uneventful except Connie had problems with the tongue of her boot squashing the front of her shin. As we approached the hut, the wind beginning blowing and it was clear that a storm was on the way. That night, the wind howled, and the snow flew.
For most of the rest of the trip, high winds and falling and blowing snow obliterated the view of the surrounding mountains. We skied despite the weather. Wednesday morning, we toured west of the hut in the direction of Slide Lake (see the maps ). That afternoon, Howard, John, and Kurt skied north and east of the hut. At one point, they saw a small avalanche release immediately above them.
On Thursday, we took a long tour up to the slopes just below Homestake Peak. For a while this day, it was sunny and clear. We delighted in getting to view the gorgeous scenery. Although the terrain was well suited for making some nice turns, the snow was not. Despite lots of fresh snow, it had been tumbled and roiled by the high winds causing it to metamorphose and then settle into quite dense stuff. As we were skiing down the slopes, our path led into a narrow passageway between several clumps of trees and then a sharp left turn. One member of our group did not make the turn and crashed unceremoniously into the trees. The tree limbs and trunks resulted in some scrapes and bruises. Mike dubbed this skiing maneuver "the Amarillo tree stop".
We skied out early on Friday and celebrated the trip with champagne when we got to the trailhead. After the drive back to West Vail, Howard, Connie, and I headed for Denver.