Huts: The backcountry experience
April 11, 2011
In a traditional residence, you can fill a glass of water in a mere moment.
But at Section House on Boreas Pass – or any of the huts in the Summit Huts Association and nearby surrounds – it takes more energy, both human and BTUs, to get some fluid to drink.
Making drinkable water at a hut requires melting snow over a stove, boiling out the bacteria and allowing it to cool enough to sip. And, in winter, snow typically melts down to about a tenth of its mass in water, which means – for 12 people over two days using about a gallon of water each per day – a lot of trips to gather snow from the often wind-blasted alpine terrain.
Taking a trip to a hut slows life down for a day or weekend. The six-mile, human-powered trek along former railroad tracks that dive into the Boreas Pass backcountry forces appreciation for the rapid modes of transit we currently have. There’s no sign of civilization once Breckenridge Ski Resort and Highway 9 fade into the distance. The rustic abodes have bedding basics and provide a warm place to sleep, shelter from the weather and methods of cooking.
“Other than that, you’re on your own,” said Mike Zobbe, executive director of the Summit Huts Association.
In a place without entertainment other than each other, games, books, outdoor touring and the wood stove, hut trips are where many check back into humanity – revisit what it’s like to tell stories and jokes, ask questions and work together to live.
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“I went to the kitchen for a hot chocolate and came out with a margarita,” said Greg Dumas, who lives and works in Summit County.
“Ah, I love hut trips,” replied a companion, amid a clatter of laughter.
All of the above is what has Zobbe so smitten with the huts that he serves in his current role.
“We tend to wall ourselves off from people so much,” he said. “Here, you interact with people on a deeper basis than on your typical vacation.”
Existence at the huts is pared down to the basics, Zobbe said, where things folks take for granted in day-to-day life are set aside. Like creating about 200 gallons of water over two days instead of running it out of the faucet in 12 minutes, Summit Huts Association Board vice president Rob Parker said.
“Getting out in the backcountry is a special experience,” Zobbe said. There are so many components to it, it’s tough to summarize, he added. There’s the philosophical experience, the practical experience, the enjoyment experience, the outdoor experience and more – and often all of them are part of the same day.
Though the experience is different for everyone, one thing is the same: the challenge.
Zobbe said the most common comment he hears is, “I never thought I could do something like this.”
And that’s what keeps him fundraising, setting up volunteer opportunities and planning projects like updating the kitchen at Francie’s Cabin, staining the deck and skiing new pots and pans into the huts.
“We are providing opportunities for people to test themselves, push themselves and experience not only the natural world, but also their own preconceived notions of what they can do,” he said.