Darkness descended on us as the snowfall got heavier and piled up on my fleece-covered shoulders. In the shadows of the surrounding pine trees, miles from civilization, the lonely wilderness should’ve been beautiful, but I’d been skinning for more than 10 hours and was too exhausted to notice it. As I crested yet another hill, I finally saw what had been hidden from view at the bottom: the wooden beams of Eiseman Hut, lit up inside by the rest of our group, who’d arrived earlier. My relief was palpable.
Perhaps Eiseman wasn’t the smartest choice for my first true backcountry excursion. Since it was built in 1996, powder junkies have sought out the steep terrain and snow-filled couloirs easily accessible from the front door. I’d always been more of a resort skier—a solid intermediate. But the eight guys I was with (one of whom has led group tours up Mt. Rainier) were all avalanche-trained, advanced skiers and snowboarders, and they convinced my best friend and me that we had the mettle to reach the hut.
The day started off easy enough. We geared up with our alpine touring skis and set off on a cat track–like snowmobile path before cutting right a mile or so in to start our ascent. After hours of endless switchbacking up-up-up, I lost focus on being blissfully lost in the Colorado backcountry—because I realized we actually were lost, having gone about a mile out of our way before finding the correct trail again. (Perhaps we should have taken the other, slightly shorter route up Spraddle Creek Trail.) By the time we reached the hut, I had just enough energy to eat the spaghetti we cooked and down some Advil with snowmelt water we’d boiled. I soon passed out on a window seat, warmed by the wood-burning stove.
The next day, with avalanche danger high because of the still-falling snow, some of us stayed in, relishing the solitude, reading novels, and playing cards. Others—armed with shovels, beacons, and probes—were rewarded with thigh-deep powder on a steep face a short hike from the cabin.
Our route home took us down a powder-filled slope (comparable to a black diamond run) followed by an easy downhill skinning section and a difficult tree portion before we reached the snowmobile track we’d started out on. I put down my pack and thought about what I’d learned over the previous 48 hours. First, I discovered that getting up after falling with a 20-pound pack on is no easy feat without a helping hand to pull you back up. Second, I realized I did in fact have the grit necessary to reach Eiseman. And finally, I learned that in the future I would opt for an easier (read: shorter)hut trip. But as I rested on the snow for a moment, pack on the ground, I also knew there would definitely be a next time—Colorado’s backcountry being too alluring to ignore. Sitting there, I let the contentedness wash over me and finally saw the beauty of my surroundings. —Daliah Singer
IF YOU GO
Setup: The cabin sleeps 16. There is a communal sleeping area with 12 single beds; two private bedrooms with double beds; a small loft; and a large living area, kitchen, dining room, mudroom, and outhouse.
Hut-Specific Pack List: Waterproof hut slippers, oil for cooking, hand sanitizer, and
To-Do List: Alpine touring; backcountry skiing and snowboarding; snowmobiling (the vehicles are not allowed within five miles of the hut).
Getting There: Take I-70 west to Exit 176 (Vail). At the roundabout, follow North Frontage Road (the sign also says “West Vail”). Continue on the road as it switchbacks up the hill until you reach Red Sandstone Creek trailhead. You can park one mile before the trailhead in a parking area.
Book It: $33/person/night; 970-925-5775, huts.org