Colorado’s 10th Mountain Huts — New Route and More

Post by blogger | November 5, 2007      
Scott Messina, 10th Mountain Division Huts.
This past Friday, on the Sangree High Route. I got the feeling that Scott Messina (pictured here) likes marking trails. Yep, those are the ubiquitous blue diamonds that Colorado backcountry skiers have become fond of over the years. I used to dislike the things, now I say the more the merrier.

I’ve always had a special place in my heart for Colorado’s 10th Mountain Division Hut System. Sure, the 10th Huts are for the most part not located in rowdy terrain, and they can get expensive. But it is is just plain sweet having 10th’s amazing system of trails and cabins laying claim to great swaths of Colorado backcountry that would otherwise just be sitting there ending up as snowmobile havens (at best).

My relationship with the 10th Huts goes back. Way back. Myself and a group of friends were the system’s first paying guests in 1982, and I went on to decades of helping them with their website, doing tons of related photography along with plenty of volunteer work, and even had a guidebook out for a time. So it was extra fun this past Friday to join long-time 10th Mountain staff Scott Messina while he marked a new trail. Scott has made an amazing contribution to the 10th Huts. He’s been marking trails and doing maintenance for years, as well as being former owner of Aspen Alpine Guides and spending thousands of days introducing skiers to the hut system. If you see him, just say thanks.

The “Sangree High Route” goes from Ski Cooper ski area (near Leadville, Colorado) over a high ridge and lands at the Sangree M. Froelicher hut. Previously, the only marked trail to the Sangree was a rather picayune three mile march. Still, Sangree hut is in a sublime location; perched up on a mountainside overlooking the 14,000 foot peaks of the Mosquito Range. So having a more adult way of getting there is an excellent offering from 10th Mountain. Hats off to Scott and all other 10th staff involved in this. A picture can be worth a lot of words, so instead of wearing out my keyboard, check out this orthophoto mashup I piled together over the weekend (warning, large file download, broadband as well as Flash viewer required). While the trail 10th Mountain is marking will be the most efficient route, the area may provide for creativity such as skiing a downhill run, then climbing back up to the marked route. That’s the type of ski touring I enjoy, so I’m looking forward to exploring the new route this winter. The Sangree Hut and new route are detailed here, and here.


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17 Responses to “Colorado’s 10th Mountain Huts — New Route and More”

  1. Tom G November 5th, 2007 12:22 pm

    It’s cool to see 10th Mtn marking a new route to this hut, although there is something sinfully enjoyable about the 3 mile Buckeye Gulch route. I had spent some time looking over maps to see if one coud easily connect the Jackal Hut to Sangrees via a similar route. I had concluded that you could do an interesting more euro style trip by using the lifts at Ski Cooper to gain elevation. Not sure what Coopers BC access policy is, but traveling through the ski area might allow for more downhill skiing on a similar route. Once the proposed Jones Gulch hut gets constructed there will be the potential for a fantastic alpine route from Vail Pass to near Leadville that utilizes 4+ huts – can’t wait.

  2. Tom G November 5th, 2007 12:24 pm

    Lou, I was a little surprise to see so much snow in the photo from your trip last Friday. Anything skiable up there yet, and what was your hike to ski ratio like? Thanks.

  3. Matt Kinney November 5th, 2007 12:28 pm

    Checked out your ortho photo mashup. Lots of detail. Be nice to have photos taken with snow cover versus grass and green trees, but not sure if that is available. Interesting program. Loaded fine with Windows, but my iMac OS9 rejected it. Looks like a very nice tour. I’ve skied Cooper! That hut is bigger than my house!

  4. Lou November 5th, 2007 12:36 pm

    Tom, we were hiking though could have used skins for the climb, skiing back down would have been marginal at best. And yeah, I think there is some potential for better up/down/point-to-point ski tours back there, but one BIG problem. Forest Service doesn’t exactly make it easy to get these trails established and marked. For example, 10th can’t even put any permanent markers on the high route, so they have to do the whole thing with bamboo poles then remove them in the spring! So getting something worked out to connect via the back side of Ski Cooper will have to be informal. Probably best that way anyhow. Part of the problem is Lynx worship, and that’s not going away any time soon. Amazing they got another hut approved…

  5. Lou November 5th, 2007 12:39 pm

    Matt, your Mac might not have the right viewer. When you link directly to a Flash file, there is no code that tells the OS where to get the viewer. Try going to some of the hut pages at and see if you can view the Flashpaper maps with your Mac, as those have the embed code that shows the browser where the viewer is.

  6. Tom G November 5th, 2007 12:47 pm

    Lou, I agree that approval of the kind of route I’m describing would be difficult with FS. I get the sense that the triangle area between I-70, US 24, and CO 91 is sort of a sacrifice zone with all the snowmobiling, skiing, roads, military, and mining, so maybe there is some hope. Nevertheless, there certainly seems to be possibilities for some creative routes that would require higher level skills than the standard hand-held blue diamond routes, and that would be fun for many of us too.

  7. Lou November 5th, 2007 1:03 pm

    Tom, if you do anything up there this winter, send a map and a few GPS numbers and we’ll put it up on HutSki as an alternate route! I’m planning on heading over there if the snowpack is decent (sometimes rare in Leadville area).

  8. Tom G November 5th, 2007 2:12 pm

    Lou, will do. I’ll also check back to see if I have any GPS points from previous trips, although I’ve not done the route in question. Did a nice day tour to Buckeye Peak last winter although we had to hike the last 300 vertical feet due to wind scour. That was in November, I imagine that skiing in the area later in the winter could be quite good. I did some snowcat skiing on Chicago Ridge about 15 years ago that was excellent, so the snowpack in this area can certainly be good.

  9. scott November 5th, 2007 5:25 pm

    I am sure you know but it is possible to head north staying high on the ridge going over Buckeye peak and along Chicago ridge. Once the new hut is in you would drop off point 12,162 and right down to the new hut.

    Or you could just continue on down Jones Gulch and head on over to Jackal–great tour!

    As far as needing approval, you’ve got it! Now to mark it is another thing-diamonds? we dont need no stikin diamonds!



  10. Lou November 5th, 2007 5:40 pm

    Yeah Scott! That sounds like a great tour. Didn’t you do the whole Chicago ridge once? I’ve always wanted to do that. What a nice “walk in the sky” that would be…

  11. Tom G November 5th, 2007 6:06 pm

    I have been eyeing this sort of tour since I learned where the Jones Gulch hut is going to be located. This does sound like a great tour. And I agree, we don’t need no stinkin diamonds on this one (although there have been times when I would have given my left arm to see a blue diamond). I’m doing Fowler to Jackal via the ridge this year which will hopefully be a nice prelude to Jones to Sangrees next year, or maybe even a combination of all four. I’ve never toured to any of the Friends Huts, but this looks to create more of that type of expierience over here, at least in terms of traveling through alpine terrain. I say the more the better.

  12. Scott November 5th, 2007 6:45 pm

    The high route between Jackal/Fowler (via machine gun ridge), is similar to this one.

    Just hope you get good weather! as it is not a fun place to be if nasty


  13. Lou November 5th, 2007 10:05 pm

    Thanks for the comments Scott!

    Tom, The thing about blue diamonds is that they’ll eventually be made obsolete by GPS. It may not be this year or next when that happens, but my prediction is that it’ll happen. Right now I can put a route track in my Delorme Earthmate, and have topo maps on the GPS screen along with my exact location and a route. Sure, it’s too easy and I’d rather do it the old fashioned way, but the writing is on the wall with this one, in my humble? opinion.

  14. Bdc November 6th, 2007 8:44 am

    Hey Lou: In your opinion, if you had 5-7 days available for touring the 10th mountain hut system what route would you choose? After doing the Haute Route a couple of years ago I was surprised to see how many variations there were, so I would expect the same with the 10th. The Canadian dollar makes travelling to the States more attractive right now. Also, how long in advance should you look at reserving space, or is it too late. Thanks in advance.

  15. Lou November 6th, 2007 9:02 am

    Hi BDC, yeah, the crux isn’t finding the route but rather finding the hut nights. Also, are you aware that much of the hut-to-hut skiing with the 10th huts is low angled touring through forests?

    One way to hit some highground would be to hook up various high route variations using Shrine Mountain Inn, Janet’s Cabin, Jackal and Fowler/Hilliard. Those routes are all detailed at, and you can see system maps here: and here:

    With 5/7 days you could lay over at several of the huts and enjoy skiing in the area. Janet’s is good for that.

    The reservationists at 10th Mountain ( can help you hook up some nights at the various huts.

    It’s actually somewhat of a disappointment that the 10th huts don’t have a better way of accommodating reservations for ski throughs. The huts were founded with that sort of skiing in mind.

  16. Tom G November 6th, 2007 9:28 am

    Lou, I fully agree on the GPS, and am now doing the same thing you are but with a Garmin unit. GPS is a great tool, but battery life is still an issue and hopefully that improves with newer units. And I agree with you on the hut reservations for ski throughs, although you can request consecutive huts in the lottery and the 10th staff seems to be good about trying to accomodate. Still, it would be tough to get reservations for 4 or 5 huts in a row for a party larger than about 6. I’ve often thought that given the growing demand for hut space that perhaps it’s time to consider not letting one individual reserve an entire hut. I love having the hut for just my group, but I rarely take a group of 16 so this isn’t a very effcient way to maximize hut usage. On the other hand the huts can be crowded with 16 people. Perhaps the best answer is build more huts!

  17. Lou November 6th, 2007 10:33 am

    I might have been exagerating about my love of blue diamonds, but more huts is indeed something I’m a fan of!

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