Out of Bounds

Colorado escape: The backcountry hut trip.

November 2013

It had been years since I thought about my childhood days at summer camp, when I played games late into the night and laughed under the covers to avoid being shushed by counselors. At the Blue Lakes Hut, one of five small cabins operated by the San Juan Huts system in the winter, stretched along the northern flanks of the Sneffels Range, those memories came back to life. When we arrived, my four ski companions—all veteran 10th Mountain hut-goers—were underwhelmed by the 256-square-foot bedroom-in-the-kitchen quarters. There’s no fancy sauna here. “There’s not even a table!” one friend exclaimed as we opened the door after a gentle ski-and-skin approach following a broad snow-covered road up the East Fork of Dallas Creek. The vibe of the San Juan Huts system is more log cabin than luxury lodge, but over two nights, the small building’s charm grew on us. The wood stove quickly heated the intimate space, we had the hut to ourselves (highly recommended), and we reverted to that summers-away-from-home state of mind as we laughed uproariously at bad jokes, acted out charades, and played Dudo (a Latin American dice game) long into the night.

The relatively low elevation of the cabin—tucked into aspens at 9,430 feet—not only makes it easy to access and free from avalanche danger on the approach, but it also leads to comfortable nights in comparatively oxygen-rich air. That may not sound like a huge deal—until you wake up ready to play rather than wanting to take a nap due to elevation-induced sleep apnea.

In the morning, we skinned about 1,800 feet up gentle logging roads to a shoulder of a hill nicknamed Little Matterhorn and then raced each other back to the hut, swerving off the road to carve arcs through deeper drifts. The following day, we ski-toured toward the Blue Lakes for which the hut is named, crossing a broad meadow under the craggy west face of Mt. Sneffels. Here we found all the splendor the hut lacked: blue sky, black rock, white snow, green firs, and silvery aspen—the full Colorado color wheel. —DM



Blue Lakes Hut 

Setup: The one-room, eight-bunk cabin has a small kitchen and an outhouse.

Hut-Specific Pack List: Waterproof hut slippers, pajamas, star chart, earplugs (so you don’t hear your neighbors’ snoring).

To-Do List: Alpine touring; snowshoeing; sledding; cross-country skiing (create a three-day hut-jumping tour by skiing 7.2 miles west to the North Pole Hut, spending the night there, and then heading out via the West Fork of Dallas Creek—a short car shuttle is required)

Getting There: Take U.S. 285 south to U.S. 50 west to Montrose. Then take U.S. 550 south to Ridgway. Drive four miles west past town to CR 7. Turn left; you’ll see the trailhead at the end of the plowed road, which is where you’ll park.

Book It: $30/person/night ($240/night for the whole cabin); 970-626-3033, sanjuanhuts.com