Turquoise Lake, just a few miles outside of Leadville , Colorado was long ago out of sight and mind.
Now, well over 11,000 feet, climbing towards Hagerman pass, I gasped for air, putting a foot down to steady myself before pedaling any further. Oh how my lungs yearned for the thick, often cussed, humid air, so abundant back home in Des Moines, Iowa.
Months earlier, Outside magazine had shared an article detailing a three night,4 day bike packing trip through the Rocky mountain's 10th Mountain Hut System. Already familiar with the hut system after adventuring the past few years on winter journeys, the idea of loading the fat bike, kicking it with great friends and pedaling to the sky was a certain "Hell Yeah." Touring/Bikepacking has been a love now for some time. A 2000 mile, 12 mountain pass, 5 state, 1 marathon bike trip in 2004 sealed my fate. In truth, the adventure bug had bitten me years prior, but this first really big 'go' really opened my eyes to the wild, high places, the joy of seeing them self supported and on two wheels.
Outside laid it out perfectly, detailing mileage, things to see and do, the area, pretty much all the intel one would need. Maria and Kevin, two great friends were in from the start, it may have actually been Maria who first found the article, so maybe it would be correct to say Michele and I were in from the start. Joe and Joanne Schmidt were next to fall in line. They had a BIG trip planned already for that time that entailed heading out to Montana to see their son Stephen, doing their own biking around Glacier and much more. They were helpless to resist the temptation. I don't remember them fighting it much, or at all. A few more days added to the front end of their journey, bikepacking with friends, early fall in the Rockies? Duh.
The 10th Mountain hut system is a national treasure. Years prior, Bill Dabney and Tim Bock, great friends from Denver had invited me to join a crew headed up to Janet's cabin. They had been picking off cabins for a couple years, back country skiing, using different 10th mountain huts as base camps. I should clarify, that to classify many of these structures as huts is akin to calling the White House just a house.
It appears that there are some more primitive dwellings in the hut system but so far, I believe I've stayed at 8 or so of these, none of which would be called roughing it, unless perhaps your name was Donald Trump. (sorry, couldn't help myself). Janet's cabin consisted of the following. Composting indoor toilet, which is no small deal. A two a.m. January walk to the outhouse at 11,000 feet is a bit more adventure than some may like. Look up during the walk though and all will be forgiven. The kitchen, or in this case, kitchens are propane served, stocked with utensils and well lit thanks to the solar panels feasting on the over 300 days of sunlight Colorado supplies. If your bones are a bit creeky after carving out a few lines on the virgin snow or snowshoeing up the mountainside to take in the view from 12,000 feet, the wood burning sauna will heal what ails ya. Like I said, certainly not roughing it. Janet's, if memory serves correctly, sleeps well over 20 so an added benefit of these trips is that you'll likely meet some like minded cool folk. I've found, almost without exception that people who dig hiking up mountains in the winter or pedaling up them during the warmer months, supplies in tow, don't suck. On this inaugural trip up the snow packed trail to Janet's a gentleman in his early seventies was toting a couple bottles of wine and some ribeyes on the sled behind him for he and his lady. I'd have been impressed with that were it at sea level and had the guy been in his thirties. Lucky gal. Like I said, plenty of cool folk. I have yet to find another wood burning sauna on my travels through the 10th mountain system, but each "hut" has impressed in it's own unique way.
Betty Bear to Skinner's to Uncle Bud's, that would be the sequence of huts we'd be seeing on this journey. All sit above 11,000 feet so don't be lulled to sleep by the posh accomodatio's, this trip is far from soft. If there was one shortcoming of the Outside article, through no fault of their own, it is that conveying the lack of oxygen available while attempting to pedal a loaded bike up double digit percent inclines, over and around rocks bigger than your head, is impossible. I'll do my best to do so here.....it's a real bugger...and if you are not physically prepared it will suck the joy out of your trip, may induce debilitating headaches and perhaps a few tears. A couple tips. Drink often, eat often, rest often. Leave your flat lander ego behind and allow your body, not your mind to be the boss. Each little break allows the opportunity to take in some of the most remarkable views offered on this planet. Eventually, you will find your pace in this rare air. To be hurried in this place is to miss an opportunity to immerse in solitude, to breathe in a silence not found in everyday life, to make deposits into the mental bank account that can be withdrawn when needed upon return to your "real world." It is in these places that one is afforded the opportunity to lose oneself...and find oneself.
Thanks for taking the time to read part 1 of "Going Up? - Bikepacking the 10th Mountain Huts". Part two will be coming soon. Headed out for a bike ride so that's all for now.
If you have enjoyed this, perhaps you would enjoy my first book, recently released "40 DAYS - Life, Love, Loss and a Run Around one of the World's Largest Lakes" - Now available FREE HERE.
Dream Big Dreams,