I’ve never tried getting Hamilton tickets but I imagine it’s as hard as getting weekend group spots in Colorado’s 10th Mountain Division huts. The hut system’s current lottery protocol has most of the premier spots reserved by the end of the prior season. So when I saw 8 Saturday night spots available at Jackal Hut over my mid-December birthday weekend, I sent out an urgent email telling (/guilting) my friends to quickly commit to the best experience yet to happen in their already awesome lives.
Convincing friends to sign up for a 3-day, 2-night venture into Jackal was straightforward. Making sure they would still be my friends after the trip? Less clear. I wanted to set them up for success, especially for the few first-timers, but didn’t know what expectations to set. Reading about multiple trailheads, a river crossing on an impermanent snow bridge, and an approach described by other bloggers as brutal, relentless, and punishing didn’t exactly inspire confidence in me. So 2 weeks before the real deal hut trip, Emerson and I skinned up to Jackal on a scouting mission.
Finding the right trailhead is not terribly difficult but could be confusing if you’re not paying attention. The snow bridge, despite being a little off of the marked trail, looked to be in good shape. The incline, once it starts, is persistent but easily navigable and wholly manageable with good pacing, snacks, and high spirits. We reached Jackal in exactly 3 hours, leading me to confidently estimate that with loaded backpacks and a sled, it would take the group about 5 hours.
I never won any “Guess how many beans are in this jar” contest growing up, so I was pretty happy with how my estimate turned out. As a group, we left the trailhead on Saturday morning around 10:15am and got up in about 5 hours and 10 minutes. Pretty good considering we confronted one mild case of food poisoning (and consequent emergency dash into some bushes), one considerable case of some other abdominal issue, and multiple severe cases of overpacking.
Though I never doubted anyone’s ability to reach the hut, I did doubt whether or not the sled would make it. It was packed down with 2 nights’ dinner, a pair of skis and ski boots, and a couple miscellaneous items that added up to weigh a lot. I pulled it the first mile, not out of generosity, but because it was flat. Once we met the incline, we tried cycling through each person pulling for 10 minute intervals. That sucked and morale sunk until eventually, without saying a word, Emerson was like, “Get out of the way you feeble mortals” and pulled the final two miles. We did lighten the sled by spreading the load among us, leaving just dinner ingredients, but having had another go at pulling later on, I’m grateful that Emerson tapped into beast mode so that the rest of us wouldn’t starve.
To prevent everyone from depleting their snacks for the weekend, we started prepping dinner soon after arriving. For the first evening, we made pad thai with peanut-free sauce because we were worried about peanut allergies for other hut guests. Since we’re talking about dinners now, I’ll just mention that we made the same sweet potato chili that we made at Vance’s during Hut Trip 2017. We ate and deliriously socialized until most of us passed out by 7:30pm.
On Sunday Funday, we took our time getting ready. Around 9am, Emerson, Tyler, and I went out for the first, exploratory run of the area directly left and down of the hut. We skinned up the ridge behind Jackal but then back down to a steeper slope that allowed us to slide. On this first run, we wove through trees, trying to link up the several meadows we could see on the map. With the recent dump followed by warm temps of the past few days, patches of crust and thick snow hid among sections of light, powdery goodness. It made for a weird yet still fun time.
Megan and Keely came with us on our second lap and we started skier’s right of our first line. Comparatively, this one was more treed but with better snow as more sun time had softened it.
The third run, with just Emerson and I, was the best run, as we had more familiarity of the terrain and snow conditions were finally consistent. We started above a rock outcrop on the right edge of the meadow we’d been dropping from. These features made for whoopy drops where we could confidently run out the landings.
While we were riding, our friends were extreme lounging on Jackal’s sunny deck and sledding down its adjacent sidehill. A small group went out exploring on their snowshoes. It was a ridiculously photogenic day for all the activities.
By the time we got back, the jump Emerson built that morning was done baking and ready for people to flop off of it. Before we joined them, Megan and I rode from the top of the ridge behind Jackal down into the open, mellow meadow to the right of it. If you want to make some textbook hippie turns, this is the place to go.
Generally speaking, since hut trips require hiking uphills for a few hours while carrying heavy things to play in snow, those who go on hut trips are objectively pretty awesome. But sometimes you get people with different preferences for interaction and circadian rhythms so subjectively, you end up with a pleasant but pretty neutral relationship. On Sunday night, we lucked out by getting to share Jackal with a group of 5 who took awesome to the next level. Led by Dr. Jon, they had us dancing all night (with lots of intermittent breaks to catch our breath because — elevation), laughing until our bellies ached and then laughing even more.
After cleaning and packing up Monday morning, we bear-hugged our new friends goodbye and headed back to our cars. Those with sliding implements lapped the mellow meadow a few more time while the snowshoers got a head start. The ride back was as exciting as one might expect out of sliding down a chunky ice luge with a pendulum on your back.
I probably don’t need to reiterate why hut trips are awesome (but I will anyways because I can’t help myself — great snow, great views, great old and new friendships). Like the rest of the 10th Mountain Division huts, Jackal is well-maintained and fit the definition of alpine glamping. However, Jackal stands above the rest for its layout and location. Its open design makes for a very pleasant and social space. One can enjoy the expansive views of the surrounding mountain ranges from the outdoor deck or from cozy indoors thanks to big windows covering each wall. Though getting there is tough, I think the difficulty is just enough to make the experience unforgettably rewarding and magical. If you have the opportunity to go to Jackal, try not to think about it too much and say yes!