Traditions are good. Some traditions are inevitably bound to family, like going over to grandma’s on Christmas eve and eating reindeer sugar cookies. Other traditions are more nationally uniting, like sneaking a plastic tarantula in your sister’s lunch box on April Fool’s Day. Some traditions are things you start with your own community; your chosen family. That’s what Friendsgiving is about.
Our version of Friendsgiving began six years ago amongst our group of “Colorado orphans.” We are not real orphans, just a bunch of kids who moved away from home long ago and consistently opted to go rock climbing, wear crazy outfits, sleep in the dirt and make food with friends instead of family for the four day holiday. After four years of trips to Moab to climb towers and rip singletrack we decided to mix it up. 2012 was our first Friendsgiving backcountry hut trip. Since it didn’t snow and we drove the whole way there, we decided to try it again this year… and this time we got what we were looking for in the winter department.
The skin into Vance’s Cabin is about 3.5 miles with a measly 500 feet elevation gain. With such reasonable approach conditions, our crew of 19 hauled in eight sleds worth of luxuries such as wine, beer, moonshine, BB guns, blow guns, one kite, Cards Against Humanity, a turkey, 12 pounds of stuffing, many pies, a few romance novels and enough sequins to blind anyone who came near us.
We sported a mixture of AT, tele, and nordic skiers. We had one split-boarder and several envious snowboarders on snowshoes. Four people on skis had never skied before. I had never shot a blow gun before. Some folks were on their first hut trip. Conditions were ripe for a true Friendsgiving.
Snow was thin but thick enough to tempt us to seek out some turns on our second day. Temperatures were warm enough to dance on the deck in mini-skirts and crazy hats. We roasted the turkey the night before we left (we’d end up with so much food we hauled out half what we brought).
Our pre-determined theme for dinner was sequins, glitter, stripes, polka dots and fuzz. Theme compliance was 110%, leading us into the craziest dance party the 14-foot dinner table had probably ever seen. By 10:15pm lights were out. Consensus: it was the biggest rave of our lives.
On our second day ten of us summitted Chicago Ridge, a worthy five mile ski tour that lead us to a height of 12,700 feet. The kite was flown, almost dragging its owner off the backside of the ridge. The ski down was over a thin snowpack that challenged our Ptex but still rewarded. Bacon and cheese sammies to the tune of an IPA was a highlight. Later that evening saw a mixture of Indian leg wrestling, card games, and another feast — this time burritos. (Author’s tip: for the sake of inter-hut air quality, don’t serve your friends burritos on a hut trip.)
Departure down the skin track was the most challenging aspect of our trip, particularly for sled pullers. Veteran sled haulers skied with wooden support beams to keep the sled in place behind you while going downhill. Virgin sled pullers lacked support beams and overflowing plastic bags of trash didn’t help the situation. Regardless, experience did not prove fruitful in the sled department with both veteran and virgins crashing and burning multiple times. The skin track was narrow with many curves and trees positioned in opposition to the sled’s natural flow path. One icy creek crossing and many fallen trees to climb over left our sled pullers tired.
Despite all, our Friendsgiving trip was a perfect dose of a tradition we were all looking for. It’s been fun to watch the evolution of our gatherings. New and old faces unite each year. Everyone leaves grateful for each other and a few days in the woods with nothing but a BB gun, some good food and drink, and knowing you can make your own traditions. Don’t forget your sequins!
Photographs by Carl Zoch. Check out his website for beautiful landscapes prints, including Holgas that are for sale.
(WildSnow.com Girl, Sarah Uhl, may not have been Rocky Mountain born but she has found her heart here. When she is not climbing mountains or foraging medicinal plants she welds words and mixes paint to tell stories of the beautywild.)
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