Before I begin my vacation report, I want to give a HUGE shout out to Kacie and Dani, who completed the Heart of the South 500 Miler (and were the first across the finish line!) as part of their training for RAAM. To learn more about the awesome stuff they are doing, click the top right button on my blog (Power, Pedals & Ponytails).
Stay tuned for an interview with this amazing duo right here within the next week or two.
Now, onto the trip report!
John and I had a great time out west. We flew into Denver from Boston on Friday with a few of our friends. Let’s just say driving in Boston is nothing like driving in Caratunk, I think our little Maine pickup truck pissed off the entire city of Boston – but we made it to the airport.
After arriving in Denver, we went through the nightmare of car rental (why is that never easy?) and finally got on the road to our 2 day house rental in Breckenridge, which was awesome!
We got settled in and the rest of the crew showed up, which was awesome.
The next morning, we made plans for a resort skiing day before we headed into the backcountry. Most people went to Arapaho Basin to ski, but from Breckenridge, you could ski back to the house – I liked that option, so I skied Breckenridge.
Finally making it to the trailhead, we re-organized our gear for the 10th time and got ready to head out – it was a gorgeous day!
And we started skiing up. The trail is pretty flat for the first mile or so, and then it is a series of switchbacks that get increasingly steeper as you approach the hut. We climbed over 2000 feet in 4 miles.
The hut is at 11,660 ft – so the air is thinner than we are used to here in Maine.
It was tough going, but I made it up fairly quickly eating my Amrita Bars, some mixed nuts, and gummy bears (hey, I was on vacation so I ate some sugar) when I needed fuel.
Everyone was really happy to get to the hut. My favorite quote when I got to the hut was from my friend Ben who said “You have to go through THAT to be THIS happy.”
The next day we all did some avalanche training. Basically we located and rescued a buried backpack a few times. This was to make sure everyone knew how to use their beacons, probe poles, and shovels. Snow conditions were pretty dicey as far as avalanche risk goes, so no one wanted to mess with any open slope that was more than 30 degrees.
Ideally, we would stay away from risky terrain and wouldn’t need to use this equipment, but in the case we did, we wanted to be sure everyone knew what to do.
There was some great skiing near the hut that was safe, but I felt like going a little further from the hut, so a few of us headed for a little tour.
…and some of us got a little tired after a day full of skiing!
The next day we had to re-pack and get ready to ski down from Jackal and then up to Eiseman Hut. The ski down was pretty uneventful, it was early in the morning so the snow was bulletproof hard pack and it was pretty fast coming down.
This is where things got interesting. We all followed the established tracks and headed up the trail with our heads down.
I remember seeing the map, but I didn’t actually have one with me to refer to. I glanced at the route on the map, saw something that said “critical left turn” and then just put my head down and went.
This was a major mistake on my part (turns out, on all of our parts.) On these trips, I usually shut off my head and follow the group because I am not the fastest, I am not the slowest, the people in front of me always get there. In addition, the trail has always been pretty straight forward and well marked.
About 2 miles in, we realized we were off the trail, heading in the wrong direction, and on some random skin track. We HAD taken a left turn, but didn’t realize that there were two – the second one of them critical and below us.
Things kind of fell apart a little, people went in a few different directions to get back to the trail. In hindsight, I should have turned around and followed our (wrong) trail down and looked for the (correct) trail junction as soon as we all realized we were messed up – because at that point, we were not too far from that junction, a half mile at the most I think.
But I had my brain shut off, I didn’t want to lose elevation, and I also thought we were not that far off trail.
We were all kind of wrong. We wandered around in the woods/mountains for about 6 hours total, going almost 6 miles (by my Garmin) before making a giant loop and finding the trail again. At this point, it was after 5pm, we had gone over some tricky terrain with crappy snow, so John and I headed down to the vehicles. The others headed up, with 4+ miles of climbing ahead of them.
John, who isn’t a downhill/backcountry skier (he is an avid cross country skier/touring skier), did so awesome getting through some of the steep tree skiing and sketchy terrain we had to navigate through to eventually get back to the trail (I am not great at downhill/backcountry skiing either, but I have at least done it a few times.)
I am super proud of him for that, it was really tough going and he kept a positive attitude through the whole thing.
Some people came back down after we did, everyone else made it safely up to the hut by 8pm.
On the way down (on the trail), John and I talked, and we decided to not go back up to the hut.
This is where the desert (and part 2 of this post) comes in – we realized we were only 4 hours from Moab so decided to head there the next day for some desert hiking. Stay tuned!
Thanks for reading!