I had a hard time finding a map of the 10th Mountain Division huts in a shareable form; this one came from an article about Robert McNamara, the former Secretary of Defense, who paid for the construction of the first two huts in the system (McNamara and Margy’s, named after his wife). I’m guessing it’s the version the huts system used before they got their fancy interactive map that won’t give me a single image of where the huts are located. Our route started in Breckenridge (off to the right of the map) and went to Francie’s Cabin and to Copper Mountain. From there we are on-map: Janet’s Cabin to Jackal (there is a trail, even though it looks like there isn’t) to Continental Divide and Uncle Bud’s; a night at the hostel in Leadville then Skinner Hut and a night at the Diamond J Ranch (which is approximately at the center of the triangle between Betty Bear, Harry Gates, and Margy’s. Next, up to Margy’s and down to the Lenado trailhead (where the dotted line coming from Margy’s randomly ends). Finally we shuttled around to Aspen and did a day hike to and above McNamara. Pretty epic!
Travel Day and Acclimation Hike
Finally, after months of almost-daily emails between Marian and I, we were ready to go! I was very excited but also very nervous about whether we might be able to make the trip work, although we felt as though we had planned for pretty much every possible failure we could imagine. We flew to Denver and then took a shuttle bus to a condo in Breckenridge. There were several other kids on the flight and unfortunately Carys was the loudest and most wiggly of them all. I had a window seat reserved and hoped to switch with the guy in the aisle seat but he declined. Luckily there were two seats free in the row in front of me so I was able to take them – I’m not sure how I would have done it if she had been confined to my lap. She managed to take a nap on the bus, though, and when we got to the condo she set about unpacking the suitcase with much glee.
Carys slept pretty well that night, actually waking up much later than I’d thought, so we had some confusion with our cab driver about what time we wanted picking up to go to the trailhead when I tried to postpone and he didn’t get the message. We finally got to the Spruce Creek Trailhead around 9:15am and hiked up to Lower Mohawk Lake. I’d planned to go all the way to the Upper lake (which is apparently much prettier than the
lower) but she was a little fussy even after a snack break and the mosquitoes were out, so I called it a day and we descended for a total of ~6 miles and ~1500’ elevation gain. Marian, Tom, and Marian’s sister Diane joined us for dinner (moose steaks, which Carys absolutely devoured) in the condo, and M&T tried to get a good night’s sleep on a very uncomfortable sofa bed while Carys refused any kind of sleep at all. She was clearly teething and in quite a bit of pain; it took 1 ½ doses of ibuprofen and many hours to get her to sleep. Four new teeth broke free over the next day or so – the second time she has celebrated the start of a big trip in this way.
Day 1: Breckenridge to Francie’s Cabin
Needless to say, none of us were feeling great on our first hike day. We dropped off a couple of duffel bags after breakfast at the condo’s property management office containing the stuff that we didn’t want to carry. We had considered hiking directly from the condo to Francie’s Cabin but we took Diane up on her offer to drive us back to the Spruce Creek Trailhead and hike the mile and a half with us up to the cabin, which was named for a local resident who was killed in a plane crash in Sioux City when a rear engine on the plane exploded. 184 of the 286 passengers survived – including Francie’s two sons, with whom she was flying.
After lunch Carys and I explored outside the cabin while M&T hiked to the Crystal Lakes above the cabin. Carys had only been walking for about a week by then and had great fun running stiff-legged along the gravel paths outside the hut, although she had more trouble on the tussocky grass.
I wanted to try to preserve bedtime routines as much as possible so we tried to give Carys a bath in one of the food storage bins before bed but she hated it; she wouldn’t bend her legs so there was no room for her to lie back, and the water kept running in her eyes. We were lucky to have the whole cabin to ourselves, so M&T slept downstairs while Carys and I had separate rooms upstairs. I put her tent (which has a thin ‘mattress’ underneath) on the floor and she slept fine with I think just one wake-up – much to our relief.
Day 2: Francie’s Cabin to Copper Mountain
We were very grateful to have had a good night’s sleep as this was our first pass crossing after our slow-pitch first day. M&T were up at 6am (as they were most mornings during the trip) and got breakfast organized while Carys and I slept in a bit. It took us a couple of hours to get packed up and out the door – not bad for our first real trip day – and we were on the trail by 8am. The weather looked changeable but generally improving so we felt good as we headed out, and the clouds were pretty as we headed up through the tundra. It started to get colder and wetter the closer we got to the pass, though, and we realized Carys was under-dressed in two layers of pants and three tops. We stopped and put on her fleece pants over her shell layer, as well as another long-sleeved layer which we pulled over her hands to warm them up. She was not very happy about the whole thing by then as she was also due for a nap, but eventually she got herself to sleep and continued to nap as we crossed the pass and descended below treeline again. She was in a much better mood when she woke up, and enjoyed some Ryvita, which she would take from us with a big “Haaa!” and an enormous grin.
It started to rain again just as we left the cover of the forest and worked our way through the Copper Mountain resort looking for our condo, but by then Carys was warm and happy enough. The condo management company dropped off one of our pre-placed boxes of supplies along with the keys, and Marian was kind enough to do our laundry while Carys and I napped. When she woke up we went to the playground at the base of the ski hill; it really was rather surreal to have the resort music piped in while there was no snow on the ground and virtually nobody around. She wasn’t actually that interested in the official play equipment; instead she found a portable barrier that she would stick her arms through and wait for me to clap her hand between mine on the other side. She was also fascinated by the puddles left by the recent rain, and very much wanted to keep walking through them in her not-waterproof shoes.
Marian cooked us some burgers and fries for dinner – a treat since most of the huts don’t have ovens – and Carys entertained herself by taking the dust jackets off all of the books on the bookshelves. I was hoping she would sleep in the closet as we tend to wake each other up when we’re in the same room, but it wasn’t big enough so she took the (carpeted) floor in the bedroom while I took the bed. She had trouble falling asleep and we walked around the resort for a while while I sang to her, which did the trick. I didn’t dare tell M&T that the bed had a memory foam topper until much later in the trip as they were out on the sofa bed again, but it turned out that that one wasn’t so uncomfortable anyway. Carys and I were both very unimpressed to be woken at 6:15am by an alarm that someone else had set in our bedroom, and this seemed to reset her body clock – she woke between 6 and 6:30 on most mornings for the rest of the trip.