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Hut trip gives new meaning to ‘sliding into home’

Luis Polar
Special to the Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Verónica Whitney, left, and Abraham Baeza, pose before starting their descent towards Hunter Creek Valley, after spending a night at McNamara hut. The Aspen Highlands ski area can be seen in the background. Photo by Luis Polar.
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When I decided to attempt my first winter backcountry adventure, I would never have anticipated the epic challenge that lay before me.

Our group consisted of my good friends Veronica Whitney, Abraham Baeza and myself. We decided to travel to McNamara hut, which is part of the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association located about 5.7 miles northeast of Aspen in the White River National Forest. This trip required full alpine touring gear, a backpack full of the basic necessities, and the physical strength to accomplish the journey.

A perfect blue-bird sky welcomed us as we arrived at the Hunter Creek parking lot around 12:30 p.m. The hike started with an odd beginning as we had to walk almost half a mile through a forest of mansions before reaching the actual trailhead. But, once there, we locked our skis in place and started skiing the narrow, snow-packed trail.



The first mile climbed steadily next to a creek bed but I felt excited and ready for the challenge.

Life was great.



After an hour of skiing we reached an old road bed that extended for about a mile and a half, where we took our first break. As we laid in the snow, my feet throbbed. I took my socks off to realize that a number of blisters were starting to develop. I knew I was in trouble. And we still had nearly five miles until we reached the hut.

Nothing duct tape couldn’t fix.

I took some duct tape and wrapped the areas of concern on my feet. I slid my boots back on and we continued our journey.

Two hours into the hike and we reached a thick forested area, which then opened into a beautiful view of Hunter Creek Valley below us. The beauty of the vista that lay before me helped ease the pain in my feet. However, as we continued, each step became slower and more painful ” at least for me.

As for Veronica, she was the strongest of the group and had no difficulty traveling with a smile. But as we started the final section of the hike, we entered into another thickening forest, giving us hope that we were getting close.

After more than seven hours, the sky grew dark as we reached our destination. As soon as I saw the cabin I dropped to my knees and thanked the heavens.

Just at that moment, another guest at the cabin came out and helped us with our backpacks. As soon as we entered the cabin we felt a warm feeling of camaraderie and friendship with the other guests. We introduced ourselves to the other six people sharing the hut and spent the rest of the evening devouring plenty of chocolate, nuts and a spaghetti dinner that Veronica had prepared the night before. We even packed in some red wine, which certainly hit the spot after the day we’d had.

We awoke to the smell of bacon and coffee ” A pleasant surprise. The other guests packed their bags and left early, but not us. After the hearty breakfast we were ready to relax for a while before heading out to tackle the six-mile trail once again.

We took our time and sat out on the deck, talking about our lives and dreams.

The return trip proved to be more difficult than I had first thought. The 50-pound backpack did not help as I tried to control my descent. And being a snowboarder didn’t help, either, as I had no idea how to stop these strange planks people call skis. I fell more than a dozen times. And after each impact, it took me longer and longer to get back up. I was exhausted.

But luckily the return trip only took just over four hours, and then we were finally back to civilization. The adventure of my lifetime had finally ended.

My body felt crushed, my muscles almost unresponsive. We drove back into Aspen and caught a glimpse of a huge end-of-season party at the Sky Hotel, which was a vast contrast to our backcountry experience. Being at the party in Aspen, I actually wanted to be back at the cabin, relaxing on the deck with my amigos in the sunshine.

But at that point, it was all just a memory to be savored, an adventure experienced.

Luis Polar is the managing editor of La Tribuna. His feet have recovered fully, and he is looking forward to his next backcountry adventure with friends.


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