Party size: 14 friend + 1 stranger
Duration: 3 days, 2 nights
Date reservations made: Late October 2016
Trip dates: January 22-24, 2017
Weather: Cloudy with constant snow
Would do again?: 110%
Video recap: Vance’s Hut Trip Jan 2017
Throw 14 friends, and a rogue Canadian visitor, into a rustic-lite hut situated in the middle of wintry forests and you’re going to get a good time. This was the first hut trip for a majority of the group and Vance’s provided them a great introduction to some good and honest hut fun.
Our group arrived at Ski Cooper Sunday morning and slowly drove into their parking lot, searching for hut parking signs. We found one by a line of cars parked along the right back end of the lot. We nestled among them and started situating ourselves for the next 3 days.
Soon we were by the trailhead ready to embark. Before that though, there were several gear malfunctions that were quickly solved with straps and bungee cords. So let that be a lesson, always pack extra bungee cords and buckle straps.
The 10th Mountain Division did a great job marking the trail. We had no issues finding and following blue diamond markers to the hut. Even lugging a homemade sled filled with 2 days of food for 14 people, we got there in just over 2 hours. The trail had a few short steepies but was mostly a gradual uphill stroll. Overall, the hike in wasn’t difficult, but we were all glad when we were able to strap in and ride down the meadow to Vance’s front door.
A few in our group were veterans of Vance’s and they galloped ahead to the hut, knowing the upstairs sleeping area only fit 6. They were determined not to sleep in the dark, damp, creepy basement with ghosts of lost backpackers past. Just kidding. There are no ghosts in the basement and despite it being darker and adorned with a few hanging medieval chains, it is more spacious and warm since it’s right by the wood burning stove.
Vance’s kitchen is better stocked than most college apartments so one can feast like adults there. That first evening, after taking one sunset run down the meadow, and while solving a kitty puzzle that had (at the time) 3 runaway pieces, we made sweet potato chili. Emerson and I had precut and portioned all the ingredient so dinner for 14 people took under an hour. We also made cornbread and discovered that butter diluted with water was a viable substitute for milk!
Sleeping at Vance’s can become a trial in temperature control. With a well-kept fire and 15 people in the hut, the upstairs got quite steamy, especially since the beds had us packed like sardines. Most of us went to bed with our mandatory festive leggings but woke up looking like we were in a Calvin Klein underwear catalogue.
Try as you might, late night bathroom visits cannot be avoided with 15 people at high elevation. We emptied ourselves before going to bed but nonetheless, the classic backcountry paradox encroached on us: do I leave this warm comfort and enter the dark, unknown cold to pee while miserably failing to move around quietly, or can my bladder tough it out until the morning? Most of our bladders surrendered to the call. How do I know this? Well, the back door to the bathroom, at the time, was heavy, stuck, and announced every entry and exit. As the night progressed, people soon picked up that the other 2 doors allowed for more discrete visits.
A couple inches of freshies greeted us the next morning. Everybody whipped into gear to get out and about. Our plan that day was to go up and ride Taylor Hill (about 2 miles roundtrip), and then up to Chicago Ridge for those who wanted to chug along a bit farther. Slogging in a single file line, we made it up Taylor Hill in under an hour and took in the views.
Onwards to Chicago Ridge! It was perhaps another flat, wooded mile of trail breaking fun from Taylor Hill to Chicago Ridge. We cut straight through the trees, keeping the ridge drop-off to our left, and eventually exited to a beautiful, faint white mound in front of us.
It appeared a quick jaunt away, but snowy, cloudy conditions fool even those with eagle quality depth perception. We started up the steep slope, excitement growing for the ride down with each step. A lone sapling in the distance encouraged us to ignore the building wind and dropping temps. Our group of 15 had dwindled to a group of 5 at this point and when we reached the sapling, we celebrated with communal swigs of whiskey because that is only proper. Looking ahead at the faint outline of a ridge in front of us, I estimated it’ll be another 10 minutes to top it.
That was a stupid estimate. After a few minutes, we realized it was probably another hour to the top due to the now relentless snow and winds. With those conditions and our footing becoming more icy and scratchy, we decided to transition about half way between the sapling and top. Dane, who had snowshoed up with skis on his back, proved superhuman as he switched into his now ice-caked ski boots. If I were his tiger mom (if only), I would be so proud.
The way down was fresh! Probably not I-am-Travis-Rice fresh, but fresh enough to put smiles on all our faces. As with backcountry skiing, sometimes the fun is greater than the sum of the uphill and downhill.
As we came down, we heard Megan and Camilla, world-class pioneers of extreme snowshoeing, cheering us on. We might as well have been Travis Rice based on their enthusiasm.
We toured back to Taylor Hill and strapped in, ready for whatever awaited us in the trees below. They did not disappoint. The snow in there was light and deep with none of the crustiness of the Chicago Ridge ride. Riding down, we kept the skin track in view and that popped us out right above the meadow. The earlier group had kindly made some scooty tracks through the flat upper meadow so that we were able to coast through and regain speed without unstrapping.
Back at the hut, we ravaged through our makeshift pantry and warmed up. In the hours before dinner, members of the group (1) wondered around some more in the surrounding woods, (2) threw themselves off makeshift jumps, (3) napped.
Importantly, hut trips are great, not just for the views and snow, but also for the friendships they strengthen or create. This particular trip brought Megan and Camilla, two people who had never met before, together to become the trip’s fun captains. With their snowshoes strapped tight, they were unstoppable. As mentioned earlier, they were the only two snowshoers to have followed us up on Chicago Ridge. Now, with some time to kill before our Saag Paneer dinner, Megan and Camilla were the only two willing to take a headlamp meadow lap with me. While I snowboarded, Megan and Camilla Cool Running’d down with much success.
Our daal and saag paneer dinner was excellent and made lugging in the dense lego blocks of pre-marinaded paneer all worth it.
The next morning, Emerson and I snuck a quick lap up Taylor Hill. While we were up there, the clouds cleared up for a short window.
Cleaning was uneventful. We left Vance’s sparkly for the next group.
As for our return journey, our snowshoeing friends offered to drag the trash out, freeing Emerson and I up for a second Taylor Hill lap that morning. Instead of heading back down towards the meadow, we dropped down the southern face and got some nice clean tree turns before reconnecting with the trail.
Like most other hut trips, Vance’s Hut ended with new friendships and many fond new memories. Every member of our group experienced hut withdrawal to some degree (some still to this day). If you’re on the fence about going on a hut trip, just go. Commit and go. Whether you go with a bunch of friends or go alone, you won’t regret it.