Sunday, 8 January 2012

Last Dollar Hut Trip near Telluride, Colorado

For my surprise Christmas present, Nathan gave me a trip to the Last Dollar Hut, which is a backcountry hut that is part of the San Juan Hut system, located up the Last Dollar Road, just outside of Telluride. Before we left, Nathan had me sign a waiver without looking at it, and so I had developed a lot of ideas about what sort of crazy thing we were going to be doing. Turns out that you actually need to sign a waiver to stay in a backcountry hut. This was a fantastic surprise though, and wasn't going to involve skijouring or heliskiing!  

We parked the car at the trailhead after an initial foray up the road that resulted in temporarily sticking the car.  The path to the trail took us up the snowy road, 3 miles and 2000 vertical feet to the hut. As we hiked, we passed by two curious sights. The first was a modified golf cart bearing an older man and a younger lady in a big fur hat, and two English sheepdogs. Tellurideans! The second was a large Ford SUV with Kansas plates that made it quite far up the road, backed into a ditch, and somehow got out and made its way back down the road. Flatlanders!  

Beyond those curiosities, the hike up was very beautiful. Here's a view about 1/3 of the way up: 

I don't normally like carvings on aspens, but this one struck me as very beautiful.

When we got to the hut, this was the view from our front window. It was about four in the afternoon and the day was getting darker. 

The light was incredible, and would eventually give way to one of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen -- unfortunately I didn't get a picture, as I didn't think my little camera would handle it well! Nathan and I watched it together outside.

The next morning, Nathan and I went out for a snowshoe hike. There was a trail up through the trees that would take us to somewhere called the "Lunch spot", at about 12,000 ft, which is located directly below Han Shan Peak, which is about 12,300 ft. Here's Nathan getting ready to go!

As we moved up, the aspens disappeared entirely and gave way to pines...

... and then the trees started to shrink and thin. I love the small, sometimes gnarled pines that cling to treeline -- they're some of the most beautiful and interesting trees in the forest! The hike up was a bit too steep for my snowshoes to handle and at one point I found myself crawling up the path. There was lots of exhausting floundering in the snow. It was lots of fun though!

The views from the top were magnificent. We could see mountain ranges in Utah -- the Abajos, the La Sals, and even the distant Henrys, where we'd traveled in November 2010, to the west... 

And then towards Lizard Head Pass...

Towards the Wilson Group and the Wilson Plateau...

And to more mountains in Utah as well as the Grand Mesa in Colorado. Those two skiers in the foreground were two pilots from the Salt Lake City area who shared our hut with us the first night. Unfortunately for them, it's been a low snow year so far, and the ground cover was quite scarce. 

 Coming back through the trees was amazing.

Later that day, Nathan and I split some wood. 


Our snowshoes leaning against the hut.

And here's the front of the hut, with the propane tanks. The hut was small, with bunk beds, and could get incredibly warm with its wood-burning stove (as I discovered after giving Nathan unfettered access to the fuel). It was also interesting to observe all the ways that we were living our lives with as little impact as possible in the hut -- but how we still had to carry out our rubbish, because there was no way for it to create a little impact, so it just had to be taken elsewhere (to create an impact there). Staying in the hut made me think about sustainable lifestyles and the problem all human societies have had to deal with, i.e., what to do with the contents of the midden.

This was the path to the composting toilet.

And here's another view from the front of the hut.

Pine needles are so... well, I've said it a lot, but... beautiful!

On Friday, we hiked back down from the hut. The pine trees gave way to aspens as we descended.

After loading our stuff into the car, we drove into Telluride. Here's a view of the airport, which is full of fancy aircraft and had some limousines parked out front. Later we met some kids on the gondola who were from New Jersey but whose parents owned a place there and who flew in "three or four times a year". Just to give you an idea of the usual clientele of this airport.

We drove through Telluride and out its other side. Here it is!

Here's a close up of frozen Bridal Veil Falls.

The south-facing part of the canyon was basically snow-free.

We then parked in the main part of Telluride and went in search of food. Telluride is an interesting place, and they have little parking areas to park your doggie. I love places that are dog friendly! This adorable doggie was just hanging out on Telluride's main street, observing everything silently. Hooray for doggies!

Here's Telluride's incredibly picturesque main street.

And the San Miguel County Courthouse. I imagine they've seen some interesting crimes related in there, from the mining and labor union days to now, when all they probably hear about is how much blow the rich people in town are doing.

We ate some delicious pizza in town and then headed to the gondola. Much like there's always money in the banana stand, there's always beautiful views from the gondola, no matter the season.

We took a little detour on the way back to Denver and drove over Lizard Head Pass, seeing some beautiful mountains and lakes.

As the sun set, we went past Mt Sneffels. Here it is from Dallas Divide. As we drove north towards Grand Junction and I-70, there was another spectacular sunset, and we could see Mt Sneffels surrounded by the fiery sky for nearly an hour. Just as it faded, we crested over the Grand Mesa. We arrived back in Denver four hours later after a nighttime ride through the winding canyons and open valleys of the Colorado Rockies.

The trip was a fantastic Christmas present that let me play outside in the snow with my favorite person, in one of my favorite places in the whole world! 

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