Bacon in the sun
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
It was a bright, comfortable day as we approached the ghost town of Ashcroft.
I was elated to finally be embarking on a hut trip, after six years of being shut out. It was my own fault, as the offers were there but the gear was not.
I finally purchased a backcountry ski setup this season and couldn’t wait to try it out.
But with the summer-like weather, my skis were put away at the last second. They would have to wait another season to bite into the backcountry snow.
We were headed for the Lindley Hut, in the Braun System, which is located near Aspen at the base of Star Peak, at an elevation of 10,480 feet.
Early April usually provides fantastic conditions for backcountry skiing.
This year, however, Mother Nature had other plans.
The record-low snowpack and warm temperatures dampened our expectations for the high country.
The word “epic” probably wouldn’t be used much to describe the conditions, I thought.
The hike to the hut is 4.5 miles from parking lot to door, but without the snow, we started out hiking in mud about 2.3 miles from our destination. I did welcome the shortened trip, however, as I had loaded a small brewery in my pack for the two-night stay. And I was on snowshoes for the first time in a decade.
If I couldn’t ski, I’d enjoy the sunny weather and amazing views, as well as a few cold ones with friends.
Fifteen minutes into the hike, I could tell by the looks of amazement from our crew that this was not the same path they remembered from years past.
I was told that the trail was unrecognizable from last April. Far more rock showing than anyone had seen before.
I had broken the avalanche beacon that a friend loaned me – sorry Seth – and was carrying a backup. I approached a slide area and asked how we’d cross.
“Usually one at a time,” Ryan said. “But this year I think we’re all right. It looks pretty safe.”
“We’re at greater risk of a rock slide,” Bryan added.
I crossed the expanse silently, knowing that I need to learn much more about the backcountry before returning on a normal year.
I reached the other side and took off my pack, waiting for others to pull their sleds across. One of our group members, Jen, brought her bicycle, a Surly Moonlander, and was pushing it through the slush while towing a sled behind. I couldn’t help but think of Sisyphus.
With colder weather, she could have ridden it up, but now she labored the two-wheeled beast uphill.
Faith, skinning along on skis, generously offered to pull Jen’s sled, allowing Jen to focus on the bike.
Suddenly my pack didn’t seem so heavy.
Bryan skied up on his split board next, lugging nine pounds of swine for dinner on his back. Between other packs, there were six more pounds of pork as well. I wondered how many pigs must die so that we can go skiing.
The rest made it up, and we continued on.
My girlfriend, Jolene, had gone to the hut this same weekend a year prior, but this time took cross-country skies in as her feet were ripped to shreds by rental gear on last year’s trip. She had learned her lesson in a painful way, and was enjoying the ease of her chosen method of propulsion.
However, as we rounded a corner the trail turned from slushy snow to mud and rock. Ryan and I had the upper hand now, being the only two on snowshoes.
We trudged on, while others had to take off their skies and hoof it.
The sun was getting warm, and I was glad that I had worn shorts for the hike up. The snow had melted considerably in the last 100 yards of the hike, leaving me post-holing several times, even with snowshoes on.
But the slog was well worth it. The view from the deck of the hut is breathtaking.
“Why haven’t I done this before?” I thought.
A small structure surrounded by pristine wilderness and majestic peaks pretty much sums up the Lindley hut – a cozy home within 360 degrees of perfection.
Famished from the hike, we heated up the wood-burning oven, and got some bacon cooking.
All trips amongst friends end up incorporating a theme and this one was no different.
Smoky bacon aromas wafted across the deck as the first round came out.
“Courtesy bacon,” Bryan announced. “Everyone gets a piece.”
We began to come up with new publications and events, all revolving around pork.
“Whiskey and Bacon Connoisseur,” someone yelled.
“No, Cigar and Swine Enthusiast,” said another.
“We could have the first annual Bacon and Boxed Wine Festival right here in the valley,” I offered.
“We could have tastings,” Brad said. “And there could be a bacon spittoon so you don’t get too full.”
B.L., host of the trip and wilderness sage, sat back playing his guitar smiling at the ridiculousness of it all – a druid in a leather cowboy hat.
A group of backcountry – and now bacon – enthusiasts wearing Chacos, and other warm-weather clothing, sipping ice-cold Colorado microbrews and liberally applying sunscreen where there would usually be 10 feet of snow. It’s like revisiting spring break, even though most of us have been out of college for 15 years or so.
We rode the Moonlander to see who could make it the farthest through the snow, and cruised down the hill to the hut on sleds.
You could feel the pressures of our lives at lower elevation melting away like the snowpack at the feet of Star Peak. No cell phones, laptops, checking email, enduring the 24-hour news cycle, driving through thick traffic or meeting deadlines.
It was like childhood again. We could simply be ourselves and enjoy the stunning wilderness.
I hiked around in my snowshoes, imagining what the landscape would look like both in a normal snow year and in the heart of the summer. “What creatures call this home when we’re not around to disrupt their harmony?” I thought.
It was getting close to dinnertime and I headed back inside to check out the digs.
The hut is magnificent, with a woodburning stove for warmth, a propane stove for easy cooking and a wood-burning oven for larger eating endeavors.
I looked at the bookshelf and picked up the copy of Moby Dick. One line in the venerable novel really stuck with me: “I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote.”
I’ve spent weeks in the outer islands of Fiji, dove the cerulean waters of Aitutaki, hiked in the wilds of New Zealand and spent countless days in the woods in northern Minnesota and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We sometimes have the need – and duty – to cut ourselves off from the rest of the world to reset our minds and retune with the natural world.
Sure, this wasn’t exactly roughing it, I thought, as I poured a glass of pinot noir, but we were without running water and television … on such a short ride from home, it would do.
I sat back with a plate of pulled pork and sides, smiling that we had the entire next day to play in this mountain paradise and basked in the warmth of the fire and wonderful conversation with friends old and new.
Collin Szewczyk is a copy editor for the Post Independent. He also asked his girlfriend to marry him on this trip, she said yes. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Rockfall mitigation work will impact traffic on Highway 133 between Carbondale and McClure Pass throughout 2021.