About 2 months ago, a group of friends and I decided we would stay in either a yurt or a 10th Mountain Division Hut in the Colorado backcountry this winter. We know that these fill up insanely quickly and often over the summer, but that didn’t keep us from looking. While not a true hut, we feasted our eyes on this.
Jay’s Cabin at Shrine Mountain Inn. No, that’s clearly not a hut built in the 40s to train WWII troops. Essentially, it’s backcountry luxury. Also, at 2.7 miles from the parking lot off of Vail pass, it’s just far away enough to consider it backcountry without spending an entire day snowshoeing or skinning. It’s absolutely one of the (if not the) easiest backcountry places to skin out to and the immediate area is generally all rolling hills so the avy danger is low. Perfect for everyone’s first time.
Minor setbacks at the trailhead (such as needing 4 stitches in your finger) caused our group to split up. 4 went up to the cabin and 2 headed down to the nearest urgent care. Fortunately, being that Jay’s is so close, we had time to fit in 4 stitches, a surprisingly delicious gas station panini, and hiking out to Jay’s all before sundown.
The trail was super mellow and insanely gorgeous. An elevation gain of only 629 feet over those 2.7 miles made it super easy and gave us more time to enjoy the view and, of course, take mountain selfies.
Once close to the cabins, we were greeted with a sign that read, “The TMTA huts are reserved by people who seek the peace and solitude of the backcountry. Please respect this privacy.” Following this was a long, winding, tree-lined trail that led us to Jay’s. Perfection.
We spent the afternoon planning for the next day, enjoying the wildlife outside our door, kicking ass and taking names in UNO, and enjoying crisp beverages cooled by snow. This last part was especially crucial so we didn’t have to carry all that weight back down—wise thinking on our part.
After slowly rising from our warm, wood-burning stove cabin the next morning, we set out to reach the summit of Shrine Mountain. From the summit, the dudes would ski down and the ladies would take a more leisurely stroll back to the already warmed up cars. The amount of snow up around Shrine Mountain shocked me. I know it snows a lot at this elevation. But man, it snows a lot at this elevation.
Everything was coated in feet of white, pristine, fluffy snow. This made our falls much softer, our legs much more tired, and me so much happier. Once we reached a safe spot beneath the summit, we dug an avy pit to check the snow conditions. Our backcountry-trained friend taught us the basics of the snow and gave us a peek into how one checks the conditions to determine the likelihood of an avalanche. The snow was good, the terrain was calm, and the boys set off to race us back down to the car. They won.
Our hike back out to Vail Pass was as gorgeous as the day before. But this time we got to stop and chat with all the other backcountry hikers that were headed out to Shrine Mountain. Chatting with fellow hikers is my favorite thing. Everyone’s so friendly and happy that they’re out there. Love it! We passed about twelve 60-year-olds (I think) on the way down. And based on the amount of gear they had on their backs and were pulling up on sleds, I think they were going to enjoy a feast with plenty of booze that night. Either that, or they just all overpacked. I’m sticking to the first guess, though.
All in all, after the urgent care stop, it was an amazingly awesome and successful trip. I would recommend these cabins at Shrine Mountain to anyone new to the backcountry. And especially to those who prefer indoor toilets over vaulted ones. This trip has all 6 of us wanting more so I know this won’t be my last. Spring hut trip anyone!?
Have any of you been to the 10th Mountain Division huts? Which one should I visit next?