Maybe it was all the hype of another La Nina or maybe it was the way so many began to find burden in the onslaught of snow last season, but whatever the reason, mother nature and old man winter seem to be on strike for most of the lower 48.
So after about a month of skiing groomers or going for mild tours for sub par low tide runs we decided to take matters into our own hands.
With word spreading through the inter web that Silverton, CO opened with a 44″ base and another 16″ falling the wheels started to turn.
I gave a shout out to some buddies in Silverton who confirmed that they in fact were getting hit. While it was still early season conditions they definitely had more snow than UT and most places around.
We didn’t need much more convincing, we were primed for adventure no matter the snow. We needed to get out and try to make something happen.
It was time. We got the sled trailer dialed with a few new key items, built litters out of kiddie sleds and packed up our big packs with everything we would need to spend a few nights in our buddies backcountry hut.
The drive out was filled with anticipation and as we crept up the windy and steep moon lit Million Dollar hwy the excitement began to boil over.
When we pulled into the Silverton Hostel I gave our buddy Stan a call to see if we could meet to talk about the hut. We would be heading out early the next morning and there were much logistics involved between the dog, the sleds, the gauntlet of avi paths that we needed to cross, the specifics of hut life and the more technical side hilling that was involved in actual making it to the hut with our sleds. All of the uncertainties of the trip in were weighing quite heavily on the both of us. Needless to say, we were more than relieved when Stan said he would join us on the way up to make sure everything was in order.
After a restless night we rolled out of the Hostel around 7:30am to meet Stan and start our adventure.
As we drove to the trailhead Stan told us of the plight of his hut and the land rights battle between him and a well known land owner who owned much of the old mining land in the San Juan’s. It is yet another story of big money bullying the little guy, and an interesting issue that still shows how strongly that part of the country is rooted in it’s rich mining heritage.
We arrived at the trailhead, filled the snowmobile litter with enough gear to make the 10th Mountain Division jealous, and were on our way.
Weston towed the litter with his sled, Stan and I doubled on mine and Nelson was suited up for the long 5.5 Mile run and occasional rest.
The path up to the hut is a narrow summer 4x road that follows the Anamas drainage up to a point and then begins to switch back up to about 1200ft to meet the hut.
Riding up the drainage involves crossing under enormous peaks that often shed snow, extreme exposure on the down hill side, and the climbing of sluff/slide debris piles that feel as though they will pitch you and your sled into the belly of the narrow valley.
Once we made it through the gauntlet the next step was to climb the 2,000ft to the hut which involved long stretches of side hilling on wind buffed slabby snow and a final shoveling to create a path to reach the hut.
All said and done the 5.5 miles in took about 2hrs, but we made it with sleds, dog, and gear.
Stan gave us the quick down and dirty lay of the land and rules of the hut and then disappeared back down the valley with a group of guys from Black Diamond.
Weston and I were completely alone. We had no cells, no electricity, just a spectacular hut, rugged mountains, and some descent snow, we hoped….
The snow was extremely variable, wind buffed, sun baked, and the occasional score of powdery goodness. We made the best of our first afternoon’s soft snow score and then headed back to the hut to rest up for the next days events.
That night the moon rose like the sun over the peaks and laid down the brightest blanket of blue light we had ever scene. The stars speckled the sky as if mother nature was putting on a welcome display just for us.
While that evening’s spectacle was inspiring, for some reason the following day that positivity could not translate as we wallowed in shallow snow, got frustrated with our different styles of communication and had one of “those” days. As the clouds began to pile up, blocking out the sun we decided to call it for the day. We left the skis and camera behind and jumped on our sleds.
We were going to go check out the old mill site just down a ways from the hut. Exploring the old buildings with the curiosity of children and immersing ourselves in the rich historical context of the place we were in gave us a fresh perspective that we hoped would refresh our attitudes.
Arriving back at our cabin it was apparent that we were still not over the days disappointment and the realization that the amount of effort we were putting in to getting the shots were no was no where near the quality of shots we were getting.
In short we had reached a breaking point. A realization that we were both frustrated and this was not either one of our intentions for starting this project.
We took some breaths talked about how we could change things that were in our control and move forward.
We went to bed that night having decided that we would leave the next morning unless there was a significant amount of new snow in which case we would stay an extra night.
That night winds began to howl as if the San Jaun’s felt our frustration. We woke up throughout the night wondering what the morning would bring. Would we be able to get through the gauntlet if the winds had caused serious loading? Would there be any visibility to find our way? Would there be enough new snow to warrant staying?
The next morning we woke to 6inches of fresh snow, less wind damage than we had feared and parting clouds.
Yes! This was it!!
The air was a sparkle with the lingering snowflakes catching the early rays of sunlight and the smooth diamond speckled cover of fresh snow tickled the two of us into a state of awareness.
We looked at each other and all we could do was smile and say “Spectacular” as we both knew (but had to be reminded) that the darkest hour always arrives just before the dawn.
That day was filled with hoots, hollers, cheering, and tons of good footage. We made a huge celebratory feast that night and prepared for the gripping sled ride out in the morning.
We were nervous departing from the hut, however with the gift of the previous day we felt a bit more confident that it would all work out.
It was nerve racking, but the passage was still clear, the snow pack held over head and we made it to the trailhead safe, sound, and in tact.