It was a little daunting to be packing the gear needed for my 6-year-old to spend a few nights at a backcountry hut in the winter. I have packed for myself for a trip like this many times and for myself, I can (relatively) easily make the decisions around where I’m willing to sacrifice comfort for weight. But it’s much harder, in fact impossible, to do that for someone else. Especially when I want so badly for this to be nothing but a positive experience for her. And the idea of her being uncomfortably cold because I forgot, or just didn’t bring something that would have kept her warm and comfortable weighed heavy on my mind as I continued to pack for us.
This was a fairly spontaneous trip for us, I think we only had a week, maybe 10 days, from being invited to being on the trail. And, I like that. Instead of watching the long clock countdown to get ready, it was go time from the start.
Fortunately, Rosie was no stranger to the cold. We took her on her first winter yurt trip when she turned one and she has been skiing since she was able to walk. But for the 3-mile, 1,500-foot approach to the hut it didn’t matter what I had or hadn’t packed for her to wear. Of course I wanted her to ski herself up to the hut, but that wasn’t really feasible. First, I had not yet acquired the proper adapter to convert her alpine (downhill) ski bindings to have a touring mode. And it didn’t really matter because I discovered later her ski boots were too small fit in that adapter anyway. Also, it was three miles of up! Of the 1,500 feet of climbing we had to do, two-thirds of it was done in the first half of the approach.
Nevertheless, she and some of the other kids on the trip her age started off with high energy and started hiking up the trail. I knew it wouldn’t last and I had arranged the gear on my sled so she could jump on when she got tired. While she was hiking she stayed comfortably warm but once she got tired and jumped on the sled she would cool down and start to get cold. So, this set our pattern for the approach. She would ride the sled until she got too cold from sitting still, then would get off and hike some to warm back up. Rosie readily shared if she was cold or tired and usually needed to be reminded of how to solve either of those problems. And, to be fair, it was quite cold. Once in the shade of the trees and especially when the sun was behind the ridgeline above us the temperature dropped from around freezing to well below. Fortunately, there wasn’t any wind.
Against my personal wishes for how the trip would go, I did offer her the option of turning back while we were on the first half of the journey. Rosie was determined to get to the cabin and once we crested the halfway mark I never had to tell her we were now closer to the hut than we were to the car.
Finally, after having the sled tip over a few times which dumped her into the snow we rounded a corner and I could see the hut in the distance through the trees. Rosie was on the sled at this point and when I told her what I saw, she was determined to walk the rest of the way. A proud Papa moment for sure. I wrote in my journal that night that this moment not only showed me Rosie had not given up on the trip, but I felt she had not given up on me.
Once at the hut we lit the wood stove, boiled up hot drinks for everybody and dinner followed shortly after. Darkness had settled around the cozy hut and we all found our spots to sleep.
The next morning was overcast and snowing lightly. The kids were perfectly content to stay in their jammies and just hang out, play games, and stay cozy. The adults however, at least some of us, were keen to ski. A few of us skinned up above the cabin while others stayed back to hang with the kids (and each other). The hut sits right at the treeline so we were soon in the great wide open. The slope started to taper just a 100 vertical feet or so above the cabin so we decided it was a good spot to strip our skins and start down. At least one of the guys in the party with us had never been backcountry skiing. He had plenty of in-bounds ski experience and is a solid skier. I was near the cabin where he stopped after his first backcountry run and the grin on his face said it all. “Oh, I get it now.” He said and thus we had another backcountry skier convert.
Our group continued to ski down into the ravine below the hut and after we transitioned on the snow piled above the frozen creekbed, we skinned up the other side of the valley for more incredible turns. The snow was soft and light, and still falling. Once at the bottom again, half of the group decided to head back to the cabin while the rest of us picked another slope to climb and did one more yo-yo before heading back to the hut ourselves.
Meals were organized to have us taking turns making breakfast and dinner while lunch was done by each of our family groups on our own. Rosie had already had a little something so I prepped the classic peanut butter and Nutella wraps for us and she joined me (briefly) before being pulled back into playing with her friends.
After lunch, the next wave of adults hit the slopes and I settled into my book. The kids decided it was time to get outside for a little bit and my book reading was interrupted by helping with getting snow gear on and off a few times as the kids came in and out.
Because Rosie and I were late additions to the group, we did not have a breakfast or dinner cooking obligation so we brought dessert for both of the dinners we were there. Jordan baked a batch of cookies and brownies which we hauled up to the hut and everyone was pretty excited about those.
The next morning was sunny and unfortunately, Rosie and I needed to head down while the rest of the group stayed for one more night. Without the food we hauled up (lunches and desserts) the sled was a little easier for Rosie to sit on. I had to be sure I didn’t go too fast down the hill, but the only section in question was really just the first stretch where we had to traverse the slope. The rest of the trail was pretty even and straightforward. At the bottom, Rosie had a huge grin on her face and we had some snacks while I packed our stuff into the car before hitting the road.
Hut trips with kids are a lot of work, especially when running it as a single parent. I’m looking forward to Rosie getting older to be able to ski up on her own and get to enjoy the thrill of backcountry skiing herself.