Thanksgiving Hut Adventure

It takes a special friend to forgo family and be willing to travel over Thanksgiving weekend. Luckily I have one of those friends. In short, our phone call goes like this:

Me: “Hey”

Him: “Hey”

Me: “I have a kinda crazy plan for Thanksgiving...”

Him: “I’m in!”

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The plan? Rent a backcountry hut, fill it with friends, build a pulk and lug up a turkey + all the fixings for Thanksgiving. Ok, maybe not that crazy, but certainly fun.

He’s not lying, he books tickets from Seattle to Denver shortly after our phone call. After looking through the huts we settle on Jackal Hut, part of the 10th Mountain Hut system. Not too far from the front range and close to Vail where about half of our guests live (this will end up being very fortuitous, but I’ll get to that later).

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The hut is only 3 miles from where we park but it climbs 2,400ft. We’re fully loaded and then some. I have snowshoes & skis on my pack and then the pulk which has 2 12lb turkeys, 2 pies, various bottles and bladders of wine and who knows what else. Halfway up, when I’m seriously regretting my offer to haul all this up, I do a mental approximation of the weight in the pulk - 50 lbs at least.

The first half of the way up has patchy snow and mud (makes the pulk pulling almost impossible), thankfully the second half is snow covered and much better (though still insanely steep). We make it up to the hut around 3pm, exhausted, but in good spirits. Time to get this turkey cooking and the bread proofing.

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Getting the woodburning oven up to a good heat works surprisingly well. I’m nervous that actually cooking the turkey for 3 hours won't be so easy… it turns out to be a little finicky but the turkey comes out looking awesome (no one took a picture, wtf). The bread also comes out nice after rising for a few hours. The rest of the crew chips in and makes green beans, mac and cheese, potatoes, stuffing, cranberries and gravy. After stuffing ourselves and downing a few glasses of my Seattle friend’s home-made wine we all agree that persevering to get all this up here was worth it. Now we have to eat more so I don’t have to carry it down!

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Day 2 brings another 3 guests, 6” of snow, skiing and turkey #2. This one has been precooked and smoked and requires much less effort but tastes amazing, especially with all the leftovers from the night before.

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Day 3 it’s still snowing. After skiing and lazing around the hut we descend down to the cars (it takes less than ½ the time it took to get up). There is about a foot of snow on the cars and the snow is flying horizontally. The road back to the highway is flat and even with the low visibility I don’t think too much of the snow, until we get to the highway. The plows have been busy… plowing us in behind a 4 foot high wall of snow, ice and grit. I should have known better, but that’s irrelevant now. After using snowshoes and hands to shovel a hole for the car to fit through I back up and get ready to gun it through (again no pictures, sorry!). My friends are ready to push from behind to get me over the hump if need be (it was needed). I make it over and we slowly crawl on the highway back towards I-70. Cars are in the ditch all over the place and the snow keeps getting worse. When we get back in cell range we discover I-70 has been closed. There’s no way I’m turning around and going back over the pass to try to get out (the usual 1.5 hours back to Boulder is estimated at 6 hours).

Thankfully one of our hut crew lives in Minturn (where we are stranded). We head back there and wait until the rest of the group shows up. It’s decided that in exchange for dinner and beers we can all sleep on his floor for the night. Empire Records on Netflix it is, slumber party style!

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Pictured Rocks Group Trip

The North Country Trail through the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is one of my favorite stretches of trail. Part of that is due to the scenery and part is due to the fact that I’ve been coming up here since before I can remember.  

Last year I did the whole 43 mile stretch in one go for the first time. This year we’re doing 36.4 miles from Miners Castle to Au Sable Falls. There is a hiker shuttle that runs between Munising and Grand Marais, but with a group the car shuttle is pretty easy, the trailheads are only about an hour apart.

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We got started just after lunch and headed the 5 miles to Mosquito Beach Campground. The next morning we broke camp and started the walk by climbing to the top of the Pictured Rocks themselves. The forecast called for a front coming in from the north sometime in the late morning. Sure enough around 10am a bank of clouds started building to the northwest. For the next hour we watched the clouds inch closer until suddenly they were upon us. The temps dropped about 20 degrees and the winds picked up to gale force, it was awesome.

Sure I’d prefer the warmer, sunnier temps but witnessing the sudden transition really reminds you who is in control. The wind continued through the rest of the day and made for a dramatic sunset over the lake at the Beaver Creek Campground where we spent night 2.

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It was a cool and drizzly morning on day 3. Last year I had the pleasure of calm weather and was able to walk a large stretch of twelvemile mile beach along the beach itself. This time around we stuck to the forest.

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The highlight of the day was the surprise that I knew was coming. For the most part the trail stays a few miles off the main road through the park but near the Au Sable Lighthouse the trail nears the road. Before meeting with 2 members of our group a friend and I managed to stash some beers under a log just off the trail. Nearing the end of our day the team was tired, hungry and wet. When I told my unsuspecting friend to “see what’s under that log...” I got a death stare. But after some coaxing he obliged me and gleefully pulled the bag of beers out. Definitely a morale booster to walk the last two miles of the day with a beer in hand.

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The sun came out for our final day and we had good views climbing up to the top of the dunes and down through the forest to our car at Au Sable Falls. We made a beeline for the Dunes Saloon in Grand Marais for a well earned burger and beer before heading back home.

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A Boundary Waters 4th of July

I love the Boundary Waters, the ~8hr drive is prohibitive, but definitely worth it. This will be my first time in the late spring early summer, a little nervous about the “horrific” populations of biting insects I’m supposedly going to encounter.

Our itinerary is pretty cruise-y, perfect for a group trip: lots of time at camp, lots of time for side explorations. Our garage sale canoe is definitely not the lightest for the portages, but hey, it beats paying for a rental. If I was doing a longer more demanding trip I’d for sure want something more lightweight but for this trip it fits the bill.

We put in at Round Lake just before lunch and began our paddle. The first night we stayed on an island on Snipe Lake (an island!). This is why I love the BWCA, you can stay on islands, which just feels cool.

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With all the time at camp I even managed to proof and bake a loaf of yeast bread paired with homemade raspberry jam. It. Was. Awesome. Good thing the island we’re on appears to be free of bears.

On night two we stayed on the skinny Cross Bay Lake. Our campsite was a short scramble up the rocks with a great swimming hole right out front.

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On night three at Ham Lake we got a great campsite on a rocky point in the middle of the lake.

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Every night around dusk we had turtles coming up the rocks towards our campsite and digging in the dirt. I’m assuming they are trying to lay eggs and we gave them as much privacy as possible.

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And the bugs that were supposedly going to carry me off? Didn’t happen. Sure there were bugs but other than 30 min before/after sunset they really weren’t a problem.

If you go:

New Years in the Porkies

Back to the Porcupine Mountains. Crazy how much difference a month can make. Full winter mode now and today it’s a walk in snowshoes back to the Union River Hut. Not quite enough snow for grooming but more is forecast for tonight so fingers crossed for some good skiing.

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Day 2 brings in more snow (yay!) and also the rest of our group for a New Years celebration. Groomers were out rolling (but not tracking) the trails so we have some skiing. Let it be known that the woodstove in the Union River Hut is either on full steam ahead or off. Someone from our group got a little overzealous loading the stove with wood before bed and I woke up in a sauna.

New Years Day the sun was out and we had really nice conditions for skiing. Hardly any activity on the trails besides us and plenty of new snow to ski through. We spent most of the day exploring and enjoying the trails. The West Vista lookout is a tough climb but well worth the views (my phone battery died so no pics).

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The last night it was just 4 of us in the hut. Matt and I decided to do one last sunset ski up to the East Vista Overlook. After the sunset we started making our decent back down and stopped outside a warming shelter to get our headlamps out. While we were digging in our packs the door of the warming shelter opened a crack and a man called out “I’ve got a nice fire going in here...” (me: skeptical/possibly creeped out) “...also if you want to help me finish this 6 pack of Hopslam….” Matt turns to me, raises his eyebrow and bolts into the hut. I follow. After a good hour of “helping” our new friend and enjoying the cozy cabin we ski out by moonlight to our hut.

If you go: