Day trips and dawn patrols are a blast, but sometimes you need an extended dose of mountain air. I was feeling that exact craving when Penn Newhard emailed an invitation for 3 nights at the Braun Huts and Friends Hut south of Aspen, in the incredibly aesthetic Elk Mountains. The plan: five strong skiers make a four day circle through the Elks, starting and ending in Ashcroft, staying in three classic huts along the way. It worked.
|Starting in the Castle Creek valley is always beautiful, but I dread the flat road slog up from Ashcroft. True to form it was hot and painful, but we made it. The worst part is when the horse drawn sleigh full of over dressed Aspen folks slides past you. "Mommy, why are those guys walking?"|
|Tagert hut, Slate Mountain and Montezuma basin in background. New snow had recently fallen, and most slopes were covered with breakable crust. Over the next few days we’d get a few corn turns and even bust a few powder piles, but it was obvious this was a tour for distance and scenics.|
|Penn tosses salad at Tagert Hut. That’s a bit of elk steak next to the greens. I prefer simple meals at huts, as I’d rather be relaxing or skiing than cooking and doing dishes. After all, even basic meals taste like a king’s feast after a day of ski touring. The meals Penn planned were a perfect mix of quality and simplicity.|
|In Pearl Basin above Tagert, Castle Peak in background. The visible summit ski descent route is the East Face, which I did the first descent of back in my agro years.|
|The crew at Mace Pass in Pearl Basin. From left,
Slinger, Penn, me, Mike, Scott.
|Slinger’s boot liners were molded too short and his toes blew up the first day. We did major surgery at Friends Hut, sacrificing his liners for the good of the trip. My take: "The only thing more fun than spending other people’s money is hacking on other people’s gear."
The trip was not without other amusing gear moments. As one can surmise, we were on somewhat of a “media” trip. Mike Lanza is the northwest editor for Backpacker Magazine and Penn’s company Backbone Media does PR for Black Diamond and many other companies. I got a laugh one morning when Mike started packing Penn’s pack (they were both carrying nearly identical ones), but the biggest laugh was on myself. I was testing a Granite Gear Alpine Vapor (it worked great), but forgot that I’d stuffed my hard shell in a somewhat hidden compartment. After I couldn’t find my shell on the stormy morning of day 3 (I figured I’d left it in the car or at Tagert Hut), I gutted it out in my Cloudveil Serendipity soft shell. Forced to really test a soft shell — who would have thought! (It worked).
|Starting the long slog from Friends Hut to Goodwin Green via Star Pass and Taylor Pass. We skied through a whiteout for a while, then high pressure moved in for the rest of this big (8 hour) day. Lanza said that when he made our hut reservations 10th Mountain had tried to dissuade him from this long, desperate and dangerous route, but we sought adventure instead of blue diamonds, so chose the road less traveled.|
|Heading northerly near Taylor Pass. We’ll gain the ridge and follow it north to Goodwin Green hut.|
|Goodwin Green is one of the best Braun Huts. It’s been recently renovated. What was once a dark (but still special) hovel is now roomy, warm and flooded with light — super nice. And yes, Virginia, we did find the hot springs.|
|Penn skiing out from Goodwin Green hut. We exited
down Express Creek and snagged a bunch of firm corn turns on the way down.
|Crew celebrating life at Goodwin Green.|
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.