Hut Trippin' 101 With Aspen Alpine Guides
Media outlets have coined 2018 as the “year of the woman.” Women are rising up. We’re speaking out. We’re supporting each other more than ever before. Here in Aspen, the most fulfilling way to fuel that sense of empowerment may be to head out into the backcountry together, with nary a man in sight.
Four years ago, Aspen Alpine Guides launched Leave the Boys Behind (LBB), female-centered and -led hut trips, backcountry ski outings, and mountaineering classes intended to “take the testosterone out of outdoor pursuits,” says Managing Partner Stephen Szoradi. “I was tired of that constant ‘bro’ attitude, which was infiltrating more parts of our work than I wanted to see. I wanted to offer something that didn’t involve any dudes whatsoever.”
After working with a handful of female guides to steer the launch, Szoradi brought Aspen native Jordie Karlinski on board in late 2016 as LBB’s program manager. After retiring from the US Snowboard team in 2014, Karlinski, 28, has become passionate about exploring the backcountry around Aspen. “Growing up here, I’ve been exposed to the outdoors for so long, but getting to know these mountains while not competing has created a completely different love for me,” she says. Having recently launched a side business as a performance coach, Karlinski now intends to bring this mindful approach to LBB trips, so that participants are not only “learning about the wilderness and safety,” she explains, “but also about ourselves.”
Discovering our local out-of-bounds terrain has long been on my bucket list. But I felt intimidated by intrepid locals and Mother Nature herself. Without having a mountaineering mentor to take me under her wing—and not having ever skied on Alpine touring gear—I booked a spot on a two-night LBB hut trip last March to learn the ropes.
Armed with a detailed packing list, our intimate group of five (LBB can host up to 12 guests on a winter hut trip) met the night before to get acquainted, review the three-day itinerary, go over our gear, and get a crash course in avalanche safety. Participants can borrow beacons, shovels, probes, sleeping bags, and liners through the guide service and rent ski or splitboard touring setups for a discounted rate at Aspen’s Ute Mountaineer.
With most of my anxiety already at ease, we met at 8 the next morning at the upper Hunter Creek trailhead off Red Mountain and set out to the McNamara Hut. Built in 1982, it’s one of the original two in the 10th Mountain Division hut system, which now manages 34 huts in Colorado. A 4.8-mile trek through snow-covered meadows and dense aspen groves ensued—it was grueling, but the camaraderie of the group helped immensely.
At just over five hours, the hut appeared. Our cozy log cabin still seemed like a mirage at this point until we ditched our gear, collapsed in celebration on the sun-drenched patio, and then went inside. We had the entire 16-capacity hut to ourselves for the next two nights, which gave us ample space for cooking, chatting, and truly connecting.
Located in the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness, McNamara offers great skiing for backcountry newbies, as an approachable one-hour skin up to the summit of 10,360-foot Bald Knob nearby leads to intermediate terrain. The next day, after taking part in some additional avalanche training, we made three laps up and down Bald Knob, with breaks for Tecates, charcuterie, and chicken noodle soup in between. (LBB provides all food and drink for its hut trips.) As the sun started to set, we warmed up in front of the hut’s wood-burning fireplace—where sharing our reflections was made even sweeter in the much-welcomed cell-phone-free zone.
A hut trip does involve some hard work, whether it’s tending the fire, shoveling snow to melt into water over said fire, prepping food, or cleaning up, but on this trip, we learned teamwork at its finest. By the final morning after breakfast, we packed up quickly and swiftly swept through the hut’s cleaning checklist before beginning the descent back down the trail.
Following my new friends, and much more confident about venturing out into the backcountry, I began plotting my next adventure, though the next time I might bring along my man—and show him how it’s done.
Leave the Boys Behind’s next trip is March 6-8, 2018 to the McNamara Hut ($685 per person); it’s billed as a Backcountry Skiing and Yoga Adventure. leavetheboysbehind.com
Leave the Boys Behind, But Bring These
In addition to the requisite clothing layers, avalanche safety gear, food, and water, these items will help keep you cozy and organized.
Rubber-soled felt booties ($155) from Glerups are the perfect hut shoe: lightweight, warm but not too hot, and high enough to deflect snow on trips to the outhouse.
Dial in the fit of Big Agnes’s Sidney SL 25 down sleeping bag ($300) with hook and loop closures that snug the bag closer to your body and eliminate cold spots.
Comfortably carry everything you’ll need in Deuter’s Rise 32+ SL pack ($169), which includes a breathable foam back panel, shovel pocket, and removable mat for sitting pretty (and dry) during snack breaks.
Toiletries stash neatly in the light-as-air Pack-It Specter Tech Quick Trip ($25) from Eagle Creek; the interior is seam-sealed and water-repellant.