Beginner Hut Trip — 10th Mountain McNamara, Colorado

Post by blogger | February 16, 2016      

Aaron Mattix

The Dynafits were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that the powder gods soon would be there.

The Dynafits were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that the powder gods soon would be there.

Worldwide, the ski touring hut experience varies from noisy and mechanized to sublime and nearly monastic. Depending on attitude and goals, either style can be one of the crowning experiences of our sport.

Here in Colorado, we tend to keep it on the tranquil side. Our style is human-powered winter travel (including hauling our own food), complimented by the peaceful solitude of wilderness areas the huts often nestle against. One of our best groups of backcountry huts is the 10th Mountain, a network of cabins ranging the spectrum of “spartan elegance” in a mountain area roughly between world famous ski resorts Aspen and Vail.

We were looking for something new with easy skiing nearby. The 10th Mountain McNamara Hut east of Aspen is a good intro to the hut skiing experience. The 6 miles in, and 1200’ of elevation is fairly mellow for a route in the mountains. The skiing near the hut is also well-suited to intermediates, lots of low angled options, with little avalanche danger along the route and around the hut.

We packed for comfort, not for speed. Utilizing a Lucky Bums sled, we towed in our food and libations along with a load in our backpacks. Little of my gear is specialized for ski touring; most is simply what I have acquired for car camping and mountain biking. As I’ve spent more time doing backcountry ski trips, “light & packable” has moved near the top of my gear concerns, but for now, my Coleman sleeping bag takes up half of my 50 liter pack, and my down jacket compresses to the size of a mushy cantaloupe. I didn’t bother to weigh my pack, but it certainly did not make Lou’s recommended 16 lbs. A rough heft-of-the-hand guesstimate would be well over twice that much.

One of the more difficult, but under-rated navigational cruxes in a hut trip is finding your way out of the parking lot. For all the time spent poring over contour lines and memorizing trail junctions, it is easy to overlook figuring out exactly which trail to take from the door of your automobile.

It took a few wrong turns to get out of the parking lot, but the views were rewarding.

It took a few wrong turns to get out of the parking lot, but the views were rewarding.

Not until I feel the blood pumping warm through my veins again do I even begin to wonder if we are headed the right way. The road cut arcing across the hillside above us is where we need to be, not meandering along the valley floor. Fortunately, it was a little less than a quarter mile detour in the Hunter Creek Valley, and made for some nice pics with the Aspen Highlands ski resort in the background.

We took a break at the Van Horn Saddle, before switching off sled-pulling duties for the last stretch.

We took a break at the Van Horn Saddle, before switching off sled-pulling duties for the last stretch.

The trail up to Van Horn Park is open and scenic, with mellow elevation gain. Once you’re out of the valley, the route is well marked and traveled, making navigation simple. Stopping for a break and snacks at Van Horn Park, we met with a group heading out from the McNamara hut. They apologized for “tracking up all the snow,” but the grey clouds ranging in from the west promised refreshment. We made it to the cabin just as the last guests were leaving, and the first flakes falling. Few things feel as cozy as coming into a wooden shelter, stoking a fire in the stove while unpacking food & beverage, then watching snow pile up on the deck.

We debated long and hard about exactly which spritzers & mixers to bring, but we didn’t bring anything for blisters. Between much heavier than normal packs and trading off sled-pulling duty, Alison and I had both developed this bane of the backcountry slogger. But with snow coming down from a thick, grey sky, blisters are a great excuse to stay close to the warm stove and rummage the first-aid kit.

Everyday hut life chores.

Everyday hut life chores.

Snow continued to fall on our second day, enhancing our atmosphere of languor. . .err, recovery. Having the place all to ourselves while fat flakes piled on the deck, and soft avalanches whumped off the roof is as luxurious of living as I desire. During a late-afternoon lull in the storm, I got in a brief tour to the top of Bald Knob, following the rapidly disappearing skin track up through the glades & trees to the edge of what seemed to match the description of Bald Knob, but the heavy snow revealed only a lightning singed cluster of spruce, and an open meadow stretching into a white-out of infinity. This is where the route from the Mcnamara to the Benedict huts crosses into legal Wilderness, becoming one of the most difficult route-finding endeavors in the 10th Mountain System. It would be challenging enough in the best of conditions, horrifying under the present. So I was glad to turn around and ski back down through boot-high powder to a warm shelter.

My duct tape/band aid hybrid blister protection worked well enough to power me up for a second lap up through the trees directly off the deck. Though the spruce can be thick, it is all low-angle skiing, and the deepening fluff made controlling speed for tree weaves delightful.

Bluebird sky and fresh powder on the day you have to depart the hut is one of the more bittersweet registers on the scale of ski touring experiences. When the powder is so light & fluffy ski poles drag through the top 6” of snow without noticeable drag, your mind is split between reveling in the quiet winter beauty, and wondering if there is any way to prolong your stay. Indeed, hauling your own food is an ingenious method of making sure you don’t overstay your booking when conditions feel too good to leave.

Bluebird skies are enough to make anyone ecstatic, contrail crossing are a bonus.

Bluebird skies are enough to make anyone ecstatic, contrail crossing are a bonus.

We made a quick tour to the top of Bald Knob, reveled in the panorama of views, and milked all the fun we could out of the turns between the trees, and glades. Alison, whose previous backcountry experiences had been on a splitboard, found skis much easier to control in unfamiliar terrain.

The entrance to Bald Knob is rather dramatic after the close woods and glades.

The entrance to Bald Knob is rather dramatic after the close woods and glades.

On the return trip, I made another ascent of the densely forested peak southwest of the hut, planning on descending a route to Van Horn Park. By the time I reached the top, I knew I was already running behind time to make my rendezvous with Alison, and I still had not counted on a relatively lengthy flat section off the west side. I began descending across the fall line until I reached the road cut the skin track follows, then found myself faced with a hearty boot pack session in the tracks of Alison’s sled till I was able to make the low-angle descent into Van Horn Park, with much supplemental poling.

The descent along Hunter Road is an easy glide on ski touring gear, with views of the lofty Elk Mountains you may have missed on the way in. Spotting the car on the way back in is always good for a sigh of relief, and bittersweet longing for the simple, snow-driven hut life left behind.

For more information about the 10th Mountain Huts, check out

(Guest blogger Aaron Mattix grew up in Kansas and wrote a report on snowboarding in seventh grade. His first time to attempt snowboarding was in 2012, and soon switched over to skis for backcountry exploration near his home in Rifle, CO. His skill level is “occasionally makes complete runs without falling.” In the summer, he owns and operates Gumption Trail Works, building mountain bike singletrack and the occasional sweet jump.)


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


5 Responses to “Beginner Hut Trip — 10th Mountain McNamara, Colorado”

  1. Bill B February 16th, 2016 12:16 pm

    Great stuff Aaron

  2. Alison B February 16th, 2016 5:11 pm

    You have a way with words! Great trip report. Makes me want to go back and do it again, asap!

  3. Gary "CF" February 16th, 2016 8:36 pm

    It sure is hard to visualize you wearing a “mushy cantaloupe”. Great article and big fun!

  4. Joe John February 16th, 2016 10:35 pm

    Your picture of the blue bird sky and Pow is awesome!

  5. Driver Ben February 18th, 2016 6:32 am

    Great article!

Anti-Spam Quiz:

While you can subscribe to comment notification by checking the box above, you must leave a brief comment to do so, which records your email and requires you to use our anti-spam challange. If you don't like leaving substantive comments that's fine, just leave a simple comment that says something like "thanks, subscribed" with a made-up name. Check the comment subscription checkbox BEFORE you submit. NOTE: BY SUBSCRIBING TO COMMENTS YOU GIVE US PERMISSION TO STORE YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS INDEFINITLY. YOU MAY REQUEST REMOVAL AND WE WILL REMOVE YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS WITHIN 72 HOURS. To request removal of personal information, please contact us using the comment link in our site menu.
If you need an emoticon for a comment just copy/paste off the following list, or use text code you might be familiar with.

:D    :-)    :(    :lol:    :x    :P    :oops:    :cry:    :evil:    :twisted:    :roll:    :wink:    :!:    :?:    :idea:    :arrow:   
Due to comment spam we moderate most comments. Please do not submit your comment twice -- it will appear shortly after approval. Comments with one or more links in the text may be held in moderation, for spam prevention. If you'd like to publish a photo in a comment, contact us. Guidelines: Be civil, no personal attacks, avoid vulgarity and profanity.

  Your Comments

  Recent Posts

Facebook Twitter Email Instagram Youtube

WildSnow Twitter Feed


  • Blogroll & Links

  • Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information & opinion website. Lou's passion for the past 50 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about ski touring and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free ski touring news and information here.

    All material on this website is copyrighted, the name WildSnow is trademarked, permission required for reproduction (electronic or otherwise) and display on other websites. PLEASE SEE OUR COPYRIGHT and TRADEMARK INFORMATION.

    We include "affiliate sales" links with most of our blog posts. This means we receive a percentage of a sale if you click over from our site (at no cost to you). None of our affiliate commission links are direct relationships with specific gear companies or shopping carts, instead we remain removed by using a third party who manages all our affiliate sales and relationships. We also sell display "banner" advertising, in this case our relationships are closer to the companies who advertise, but our display advertising income is carefully separated financially and editorially from our blog content, over which we always maintain 100% editorial control -- we make this clear during every advertising deal we work out. Please also notice we do the occasional "sponsored" post, these are under similar financial arrangements as our banner advertising, only the banner or other type of reference to a company are included in the blog post, simply to show they provided financial support to and provide them with advertising in return. Unlike most other "sponsored content" you find on the internet, our sponsored posts are entirely under our editorial control and created by WildSnow specific writers.See our full disclosures here.

    Backcountry skiing is dangerous. You may be killed or severely injured if you do any form of ski mountaineering, skimo randonnee and randonnée skiing. The information and news on this website is intended only as general information. Due to human error and passing time, the information, text and images contained within this website may be inaccurate, false, or out-of-date. By using, reading or viewing the information provided on this website, you agree to absolve the owners of Wild Snow as well as content contributors of any liability for injuries or losses incurred while using such information. Furthermore, you agree to use any of this website's information, maps, photos, or binding mounting instructions templates at your own risk, and waive Wild Snow owners and contributors of liability for use of said items for ski touring or any other use.

    Switch To Mobile Version