Hut Run Hut: Running adventures through the 10th mountain huts

Sunset at Jackal Hut on the fourth night of the trip.
Ted Mahon

From the top of Resolution Mountain we could see the Fowler-Hilliard Hut below. We took photos as we watched the sun slowly go down, and conversations followed about the surrounding mountains, future race plans, and the adventure we were on. Beers were handed out and the group of friends – all foreigners barely a week ago – cracked them open and toasted the moment.

There was cause for rejoicing: it was Hut Run Hut’s last night. Five days earlier, the group gathered in downtown Aspen and began the trek north toward Vail. For nearly a week, the group raced and covered 100 miles of singletrack, jeep roads and alpine ridges, staying in five different 10th Mountain Division cabins along the way.

Run the Colorado Trail after leaving Uncle Bud’s Hut.
Ted Mahon

Coloradans are familiar with huts as winter gear. They can offer a fun night out in the mountains with friends or a backcountry base camp for skiing. But many of these remote cabins are also open during the summer months, and with a little planning can provide the setting for amazing summer adventures.

Aspen native and trail runner extraordinaire Rickey Gates has always recognized their potential. As a child growing up in Aspen, he had had his share of hut adventures. Later, as an employee of the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association, he got to know the network of isolated mountain huts even better.

He realized that a multi-day hut trail adventure would be an amazing way to explore our mountains and local trails. So he designed an adventurous route that used the huts connecting Aspen and the small town of Red Cliff near Vail, and in 2013 Hut Run Hut was born. Since then, he has led multiple trips each summer, guiding up to 12 people of all ages and backgrounds along the route.

Leading a group of this size through the mountains for several days cannot be done alone. A typical Hut Run Hut trip has two trail guides to keep everyone on the course and two other staff members to help with vehicles, gear shuttle and all food preparation. Over the past six years I have been fortunate enough to be able to join, assisting Rickey as a trail guide on over 10 Hut Run Hut trips.

Hut Run Hut is the ultimate in Colorado summer hut adventures. While admittedly biased, I am continually impressed by the meaningful experiences, new friendships, and challenges encountered on the road, year after year.

The adventure begins at Wagner Park in downtown Aspen. After loading the vehicles with our overnight gear and duffel bags, we head into the Hunter Creek Valley and down to Lenado via the Hobbit Trail, Four Corners and the Tinpot Trail. We meet the vehicles for lunch and to refill the water bottles, after which we head to Margy’s Hut via Spruce Creek.

We will usually arrive at Margy’s Hut by mid-afternoon. At that time, the vehicles are there and the equipment is unpacked. The spreadable aperitif is on the table, not far from the cooler of beers and other drinks. After 18 miles on the trail, it’s nice to have a few hours to relax on the sun deck before dinner.

The next morning, after coffee and breakfast, we pack up, hit the trail and spend the day heading to the next cabin. And that’s the essence of the Hut Run Hut program.

From Margy’s Hut the group climbs up Mount Yeckel before descending into the Fryingpan Valley. We stop at Lake Chapman for a quick swim before continuing to Lake Nast and lunch. Once back on the trail, we head to Betty Bear’s remote cabin. Now the group has settled into routine, including adjusting to life without cell service.

After a night at Betty Bear, the group follows a winter road across the Continental Divide via Hagerman Pass. We make a quick stop to check out the Skinner Hut before descending for lunch near Turquoise Lake.

We continue north on the Colorado Trail towards Uncle Bud’s Hut, where we spend the third night of the trip. For group members who enjoy swimming in alpine lakes, we can stop at Bear Lake for a quick swim along the way.

The next day represents the longest leg of the trip, covering 23 miles, much of it on the slick Colorado Trail. From Uncle Bud’s, the group heads to Tennessee Pass and continues north to Camp Hale, where we stop for food and liquids. The day ends with a strenuous ascent to Jackal Hut for the night.

There is always a festive atmosphere at the Jackal Hut. It is the highest hut of the 10th mountain system, and we arrive there after the longest day of the route. The band members – all good friends at this point – have covered many miles since leaving Aspen, and there is a real sense of accomplishment.

The next day offers some respite. After the high mileage drive to Jackal Hut, we take a break with a day of hiking in the alpine tundra. We climb to Elk Ridge and cross several 12,000 foot peaks en route to Fowler Hilliard Hut, where we spend our fifth and final night of the trip.

Arriving at Fowler Hilliard Hut is different from others. Even though the group still has a day on the trail – we’ll cover 11 miles to Red Cliff the next morning – it feels like the adventure is coming to an end.

The short climb from the hut to Resolution Mountain to watch the sunset is a fitting denouement. After five days of new trails and new refuges, the summit of Resolution offers one last long view, one last mountain panorama to burn in everyone’s head.

Time spent at the top allows for reflection on the defining moments of the journey – in particular, the feeling of being in the present, away from the constant connectivity and distraction of life and work. Of course, everyone would soon return to this world, but on Resolution, surrounded by mountains, we could enjoy a last moment of absence.

Looking south, we could see Mount Massive and Hagerman Pass, which we hiked four days and countless miles ago. Even though we didn’t want it to end, it was time to go downstairs for one last dinner together. Like all good things, Hut Run Hut was coming to an end. What a fantastic trip.

All smiles from the group members as we cross the Continental Divide at Hagerman Pass.
Ted Mahon

Ted Mahon moved to Aspen to ski for a season 25 years ago and has been stuck in the Rockies ever since. Contact him at [email protected] or on Instagram @tedmahon.

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