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Retreat To A Backcountry Hut

Eiseman Hut near Minturn, Colorado, takes some hard work to get to in the winter, but every step is worth the reward.

Our winter adventure into Eiseman Hut took six hours on the way in. We each carried our own packs with food, layers and backcountry gear, slowly making tracks up the snow-covered road. 

Our talkative exchanges began to subside as we gained elevation, gradually replaced with our persistent steps and heavy breaths that broke into the surrounding stillness.

By the time we completed the long, eight-mile trek in my wool socks and sturdy boots were hardly enough to shield my feet from the cold and wet snow we had been breaking through for most of the winter daylight.

We got inside and started a fire, changed our clothes and settled our things into an array of bunk bed areas and private rooms. I sat near the fire and its warmth began to wrap itself around my frozen toes. Feelings of fatigue started to fall away, dripping like snow from the seams of our hanging base layers and waterproofs.

Photo by Kim Fuller

This huts feels like its on top of the world, surrounded by the astounding beauty of snow-topped peaks and trees. It felt good here, like a home-away-from-home, and although the trip was only two nights long, we all relished in every minute in those mountains. 

Located at 11,180 feet of Rocky Mountain elevation, this backcountry building is owned and managed by the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association. Eiseman is one of the closest huts to Minturn, Colorado, and can be accessed from the Red Sandstone Creek trailhead near Vail.

Hut trips can hold the moments of winter solace that you may not find amidst ski resort crowds. The 10th Mountain Division Hut Association manages a system of 30 backcountry huts, connected by over 300 miles of routes in the Colorado mountains. The huts are open in the summer for mountain biking and hiking trips, and in the winter for snowshoeing and backcountry skiing trips.

Although Eiseman is one of the more difficult huts to get to in the winter months, the views reward your efforts in every way. There we were, sidled up in a cozy mountain hut and surrounded by the snow-covered peaks of the Gore Range and the Holy Cross Wilderness. Here, we found peace and humility in the space we shared, and rejoiced together in moments of simplicity and bliss.

Photo by Kim Fuller

PLAN YOUR HUT TRIP

Plan ahead for your next hut trip and everything should go smoothly. Here are some preparations that will help you get ready to head out into the hills:

-Book a hut in advance. The huts fill up fast, but there are often spots that open up on short notice. Visit huts.org to check hut availability and to read up on the different hut features.

-The night before (and/or after): Minturn has a new addition that welcomes guests looking for a more affordable overnight. The Bunkhouse is a boutique hostel with rates starting at around $40 per night, per person. 

-Plan what to pack: The 10th Mountains Division Huts are fully equipped with kitchen utilities, sleeping quarters and fire amenities, but you still need to bring in all your food, beverages, sleeping bags, dry and warm clothing layers and backcountry recreation gear. Bring a first-aid kit and a cell phone for emergencies (you may get lucky with reception), and be sure to bring avalanche safety gear if you are trained to use it and plan to do any backcountry skiing or riding. Don’t forget the combination to the hut that they will send you after you book it (my group learned that lesson the hard way).

-Plan your route. The average route to a 10th Mountain Division Hut is six to seven miles long, and climbs 1,500 to 2,500 feet in elevation from a trailhead that is 8,000 feet or higher, according to the 10th Mountain Division Hut website. The site states that “someone in each group must have leadership, route finding, avalanche awareness, and first aid skills.” Make sure that you are equipped with a topographic map and are comfortable navigating the route you are taking to the hut. Contact the Hut Association with questions or concerns regarding your route before leaving for your hut trip.

-Know the risks. “The Colorado backcountry is known for widespread and long lasting snowpack instabilities,” according to the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association website. “Avalanche hazard is a real concern for all winter travelers.” If you are uncomfortable with the risks, you may want to look into a U.S. Forest Service guide service, which will provide your group with knowledge of the backcountry and routes to the huts, as well as instruction and guides on transportation, food and gear rentals.

HUT HOW-TO

-Visit huts.org and click on “Check Hut Availability” on the upper right-hand side of the site to see what spaces are available to reserve. Some huts are not owned by the 10th Mountain Division, but they can still be booked through the association.

-10th Mountain Division Huts cost $30 per person, per night. Some of the other huts booked through the association can be rented fully rented for up to $275 per night. Visit the “Dates, Rates and Capacities” portion of huts.org to see a list of all the hut rates, or call the association at (970) 925-5775.

-10th Mountain Division Huts can all be reached from trailheads around the Vail Valley, and other huts systems are accessible from other high-country areas, including Aspen. Eiseman Hut, Shrine Mountain Inn, Fowler Hilliard Hut, Janet’s Cabin, Jackal Hut, Polar Star Inn and Peter Estin Hut are a few that surround Vail and Beaver Creek mountains. You can see all the huts on a map on the Hut Association website.

Kim Fuller is a freelance writer, editor and photographer based in Minturn, Colorado. 

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!