An Emotional Moment with the 10th Mountain Huts

Post by blogger | October 12, 2007      

You know how sometimes something dredges up emotions you didn’t know you had deep inside you? I had such an experience a few days ago. Film makers Edgar and Elizabeth Boyles (Wildwood Films) showed up here to interview me about the early days of the 10th Mountain Huts (near here in Colorado). My involvement in this is more peripheral than that of the founders, but Edgar and Liz figured I’d have a take since I was a super active backcountry skier during those days and had the privilege of working with early hut folks in a variety of ways, including doing the first guidebook, helping them with their newsletter, producing a series of archival fine-art prints, and more. All that aside, this type of thing always becomes a discussion of the Trooper Traverse, that seminal event in February of 1944 when 33 10th Mountain Division soldiers skied over Colorado’s highest alpine terrain from Leadville to Aspen.

On-camera interview at WildSnow HQ.
Elizabeth is a gracious host for an on-camera interview.

Elizabeth wanted me to share from a personal level, so I told the story of how 10th Huts founder Fritz Benedict had handed me a copy of the 1944 Blizzard newspaper from Camp Hale, where the troopers trained for the war. In that newspaper was a gem; a report of the Trooper Traverse. A few years went by, then I dug that copy out of my files and realized how significant the Traverse was, and how under-reported. The only solution: Go repeat it and then write about it.

Problem was, I didn’t know where the route went. Thus, a search worthy of Sherlock Holmes ensued, with me finally ending up at the Denver Public Library pawing through archives from famed film maker John Jay (who was an officer on the trip), and another archive from a trooper named Richard Rocker. As it turned out, Rocker had taken excellent color slides of the trip and I was able to figure out the route based on his photos. One image in particular was important, as it identified their first high pass by the distinct presence of a gigantic boulder perched above timberline on the side of a mountain.

During our second morning of the repeat, we headed up through timber still in some doubt if we were following the soldier’s footsteps. But soon after gaining the alpine, Rocker’s boulder was there above us, beckoning like a burly sentinel who’d been waiting 60 years for our visit.

His friends called Bud "pole eater" because of his reaching pole plant. By all accounts, he was a tough and spirited mountaineer.

It was then I had an epiphany. Our group had spread out so I was ski climbing in a private world of thought and experience. While I looked up towards the boulder, time compressed. The soldiers were ten minutes up ahead — not sixty years behind. We were following the trail they’d worked so hard to break in deep February snow. Along with that, I knew that one traverse solider in particular, Bud Winter, had been in his prime as a young man back then. Exceptionally strong and athletic, the young man had broken much of the trail during the traverse, and is said to have had an exuberant attitude and joy for life that was sweet and inspiring. After the traverse, Bud shipped over to Italy with his comrades and was killed in action. Bud sacrificed his life to liberate Europe from fascism — an ultimate act of humanity that’s hard to grasp even after years of discussion and philosophising about such things. (Uncle Bud’s hut, a 10th Mountain Huts cabin here in Colorado, was built in honor of Bud).

So, back to those dredged up emotions. I’m sitting in our studio/greatroom with Elizabeth and Edgar, speaking on camera about the traverse. Elizabeth’s kind eyes are encouraging me to dig deeper, so I start talking about that moment below the boulder, and the feeling that Bud and his friends are up ahead. Suddenly a wave of grief hits me like an earthquake and I break out in uncontrolled sobs. I put my hands over my face and for a moment I’m being whipsawed by emotions I’d forgotten even existed in my over-worked psyche. Besides simply grieving about the tragedy of war, what’s bringing it all up is I’m thinking about the days I was Bud’s 19-year-old age, reveling in the mountains just as he did — only because he went away and gave his life I was able to have my life as a mountain boy continue unabated up to the present. I’m thinking what can I do to honor that? Is there something far beyond my trivial efforts to climb, ski, write or whatever?

Elizabeth hands me a tissue. I gather my wits and continue the story. But the day has shifted. The sun streaming through the windows is brighter, Edgar and Elizabeth are closer, and Bud is as well. The young soldier is dressed in his camo white ski clothing, just in from a run on the Camp Hale training slopes on his way to mess hall. He’s paused for a moment, thinking about what he’s there to do and that he might not return from a brutal war. He’s thinking he’s part of something greater than himself, something powerful that will stop the brutality, and thus allow a fine life for those of us who will come after. And to us he’s saying “just do what you do, do it well, and enjoy it — that’s all we ask.” Thanks Bud, I’ll try.


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21 Responses to “An Emotional Moment with the 10th Mountain Huts”

  1. Paul Beiser October 12th, 2007 9:24 am

    Hey Lou,
    My eyes teared up reading this. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Dostie October 12th, 2007 9:54 am

    Thanks Lou. Always good to look beneath the fluff of mere skiing.

  3. Ken October 12th, 2007 9:59 am

    Thanks Lou… I guess now the trick is for us to keep that perspective so that we truly appreciate every breath thats given to us.

  4. Lou October 12th, 2007 10:00 am

    Indeed, I was amazed at the emotions that welled up. What those soldiers did in Europe is so fine, so noble, it defies comprehension.

  5. carl October 12th, 2007 10:42 am

    Great post Lou, thanks. Thank you also for doing the research and the leg work enabling you to pass this part of history on to all of us. This is an important piece of American ski history that otherwise might have been lost and forgotten. For all of the publicity that is in the forefont of today’s skiing scene…the jibbing, the boozing racers, the bling and glitz of destination areas, etc. it is good to be reminded of where the roots are and what was involved.

  6. Lou October 12th, 2007 10:47 am

    Thanks Carl…

    Hey, anyone remember how to do the plural of a proper name that ends in S? As in Boyles? I’m digging through my Chicago Manual of Style but can’t find it…

  7. Ron E October 12th, 2007 11:20 am

    Hi Lou:

    Thank you so much for another great story. I’ve read your previous entries about the Trooper Traverse as well. Once again, the reason that this is my home page on my computer can be summed up by your words in the “About Lou” link: “He climbs and skis the high peaks for the joy of exploration, spiritual awe, athletic challenge, and fellowship with family and friends.” In this world of “I did this, I did that, look at me,” your attitude stands out and is an inspiration to those of us who live, play and work in the mountains for these same reasons.

  8. Ken Gross October 12th, 2007 11:52 am

    That was a great read! The courage of our soldiers then and now is hard to grasp at times. Heading off into the most difficult day of work possible, only to go back out and do it again is incredible! People like Pat Tillman, and the thousands of others in theatre show us that these qualities are alive and well today.

    P.S. would you not just put the apostrophy after the s like this: Boyles’ ??

  9. Lou October 12th, 2007 1:25 pm

    Thanks guys, as the years roll by it’s just more and more humbling to know those that came before.

    Ken, yeah, apostrophe…thanks

  10. Will October 12th, 2007 2:51 pm

    Best blog post yet and I’ve read every one you’ve ever published here. Thanks for that.

  11. Tim M. October 12th, 2007 3:18 pm

    Hi Lou,

    Good stuff, as usual. I would like to do the Trooper Traverse someday–or perhaps a spiced up variation.

    As for punctuation:
    Plural = Boyleses
    Possesive, singular = Boyles’s OR Boyles’ (eg. Edgar Boyles’s new film is out.)
    Possesive, plural = Boyleses’

    (Disclaimer: I’m pretty sure on this, but not Strunk n’ White certain. That said, there are differing schools of style pub to pub, particularly for the singular possessive form ending in s.)

  12. Lou October 12th, 2007 5:16 pm

    Thanks Tim, I’ll see if I can make the thing correct. Pesky.

    I’d like to do the traverse yet again only this time document it on film. Some film makers I know of are interested, let’s talk about it some time.

    Email me any time.

  13. Craig October 12th, 2007 6:10 pm

    Lou, Beautiful piece and a nice contrast to all the gear blogs.
    Trooper Traverse? Count me in!!!!
    Thanks for the insights and bringing us all “down to earth” and to what really matters.

  14. Mark October 13th, 2007 9:03 am

    Thanks for the great reminder of sacrifice that the 10th Mountain guys gave. Alright, I’ll add this: Plurals never involve apostrophes, they are reserved for contractions and possessives. You’ll see incorrectly used apostrophes on billboards, in print, and nearly everywhere–they’re really the most commonly confused usage problem in the language.

  15. Ryan October 13th, 2007 11:52 pm

    It’s our emotions that make living worth its while. Regardless if it is tranquility felt at the top of a powder run looking out at an endless sea of peaks or digging deep and feeling the pain of another’s sacrifice.

    To not get emotional, to become numb is the thing to be ashamed and scared of.

    Keep smiling and keep crying Lou. I’m sure when your son graduates, you’ll have tears in your eyes again.

  16. Greg October 14th, 2007 12:19 am

    Nice comments. This summer I did some reading about the 10th Mountain, including the traverse you talked about. If you haven’t read, “Climb to Conquer” you would enjoy it.

  17. Ryan October 14th, 2007 10:11 am

    Actually, the reach of the 10th Mountain Division seems to be very long. I was doing a shoot and interview up at INSTAAR on Friday morning. Many of the climate stations up on Niwot Ridge were put up and maintained by veterans in the early 50s. They could draw on their unique expertise in getting through the terrain in the winter months.

    Even now it can be a challenge with modern gear. Scientists usually use skis because they are more reliable and quicker than the old snomobiles they have. It’s four miles in and back and usually in really cruddy weather (if you’ve been in the Indian Peaks during winter, you know what I’m talking about).

  18. Skinny D October 15th, 2007 3:51 am

    Hi guys, I’m not sure if you’ve heard of the “Heroes of Telemark”. Basically its a war time story of how some Norwegians returned to Nazi occupied Norway to destroy their stocks of Heavy water, essential for the fabrication of an atom bomb, which, if successful, would have changed the outcome of the 2nd world war. These Norwegians parachuted onto the Hardanger plateau in the midst of one of its harshes winters and survived up there for the winter before launching a successful raid. They then retreated to the mountain wilderness to hide from the germans.

    I can strongly recommend a read of if you want to stir up some emotions. I’ve ice climbed in the gorge below where the raid took place and skied hut to hut up on mountain plateau and after reading about this find it hard to imagine what these guys went through. or

  19. Lou October 15th, 2007 7:26 am

    Good tip Skinny, thanks

  20. Elizabeth Gallagher August 13th, 2009 12:50 pm

    Reading about people’s emotions who visited Uncle Bud’s Hut was very gratifying. When I was 16 years old and allowed to date, Bud was my first boyfriend. He was one of the finest yound men I have ever met. His equal is rarely seen. I not only lost a very dear friend, but this country lost a young man who had so much to contribute and would have made this world a better place. I am so glad that his brother, Fred Winter, chose to honor Bud in this way because he loved the Colorado mountains and would have loved the “hut”.
    Bud called me “Betsy”,
    Elizabeth “Betsy” Harvey Gallagher

  21. Lou August 13th, 2009 2:55 pm

    Thanks for dropping by Betsy! So sorry for your loss… good you’re getting some comfort from the hut etc. ‘best, Lou

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