The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 111: Reprise: Indoor Snow Camping

This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.

There's a whole different beauty to being out in the wilderness in the winter. But if you're not ready to camp out in it, you might try it inside first. This week on The WildeBeat, a reprise of Indoor Snow Camping.

[Intro Music & SFX; 0:07.6 and under]

News from the Wildebeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.

This is program number one eleven, a reprise of program sixty nine.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

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STEVE: Have you ever thought about spending a night in the backcountry, in the winter? In the snow? Maybe you have camped in the snow before. But if you haven't, there's a way to stick your big toe in it without diving in all at once.

[Backgound: Bradley Hut work party]

STEVE: The people in the background here are volunteers doing the annual maintenance work on the Sierra Club's Bradley Hut in the Tahoe National Forest.

KYLA: ...What I like about them is they're inexpensive, and that's definitely important for me and my set, which is -- you know I started coming here when I was in college.

STEVE: That's Kyla. She's a frequent hut visitor and lives in Berkeley, California.

KYLA: So coming up to Tahoe for a weekend is not something every a college kid can afford to do. So that's actually how I found this hut, I was looking for cabins in Tahoe that were cheap... And for me it's no drawback at all that they're short on amenities. It just makes it better for me. And the fact that you have to ski into it to get to it, the people that end up coming are neat people, and the whole experience is right up my alley.

DICK SIMPSON: ...The huts were actually the brainchild of some Sierra Club leaders as far back as the nineteen twenties they knew that there were huts in Europe, and that you could ski from one to the next and not necessarily have to carry a lot on your back.

STEVE: Dick Simpson is the volunteer coordinator in charge of maintaining the Sierra Club's Tahoe-area backcountry huts.

DICK SIMPSON: And so the idea was to put several huts into the Sierras, and since the Sierra Club already had a lodge at Donner Summit, it made sense to start from there... They're intended to provide overnight basic shelter, so there's a roof over your head, there's a wood stove.

STEVE: There are four huts in their system.

DICK SIMPSON: ...The oldest hut is Peter Grubb Hut, that's about three miles north of interstate eighty at Donner summit. ...It's ...a fairly easy three miles. It's about eight hundred feet up in the first couple of miles, and then you drop down to the cabin in Round Valley... So the general idea for most people is, on a weekend, is you'd park at the snow park on Saturday morning, and you can probably reach the hut for a late lunch, and then you can ski around Round Valley or maybe go on a bit more extended trip in the area. Get the fire going, enjoy dinner, go to sleep, wake up the next morning. You can do a little bit more skiing and then figure a couple of hours to get back out to your vehicle at the snow park, so it's a nice weekend trip. And I would guess these days somewhere between a thousand and fifteen hundred people do it during the winter season.

STEVE: The easier these huts are to get to, the more popular they seem to be.

DICK SIMPSON: The hardest one is Bensen Hut... It's about six miles. It generally takes all day, and you need more than beginner's equipment... From the hut itself you can look down toward Sacramento and Truckee.... It makes a nice ski-mountaineering trip... Lots of good views, but you have to be careful about the weather. The newest hut is Bradley... That's an A-frame, and it holds about fifteen people. ...Most people who've been there like Bradley Hut the best of the four that the Sierra Club has. Partly it's just forty years newer, but it's also got these features like the newer construction. It's also got stairs, which are uncommon in the other huts, they tend to have ladders. The solar lighting, and the location is nice too, it's a good intermediate trip and there's some bowls and steeper slopes above the hut for people who want to ski more adventurously can go.

STEVE: The Sierra Club's huts are open to anyone, but you do have to make a reservation, and pay a per-person, per-night fee. Dick recommends that you go with an experienced leader the first time you visit one of these huts. One way to do that is on an organized Sierra Club outing.

DICK SIMPSON: ...We have a reservation system, but we don't give out directions during the winter, and there's several reasons for that. But one of them is that it's just very dangerous heading off in the winter to a place that you may not be able to find... I recommend that you take a backpacking stove and a pot set, depending on how big your group is. You should also take your own food, you'll need a sleeping bag and some sort of a pad... And then of course, the usual rain-snow gear, lots of warm clothes, matches, flashlight, those sorts of things. It's basically an opportunity to do a backpacking trip in the winter, of course you have to take your skis, your snow shoes, your snow board, your special equipment for the winter.

STEVE: In the interest of disclosure, I lead some of these outings. The most popular ski hut in California is in Yosemite National Park, at Ostrander Lake. Howard Weamer has been the master of the hut for thirty two years.

HOWARD WEAMER: ... It was constructed in nineteen forty just before the war... The last C-C-C construction in Yosemite National Park. Two foot thick stone walls, two stories, twenty five bunks... Now it's all reservation, and it's the week before Christmas to the first week in April... We'll get a thousand people; the Yosemite Association takes reservations... You can sign up at Badger Pass or reserve through the Association... We've got solar lights now, and we've got propane for cooking, and wood as we always have had for heating... People bring their own sleeping bags, their own food, and have a warm place to come to at night. If you ever winter camped in January, you know it's already getting cold by 4:30, and uh, you don't want to get out of the sack until about 9:00. So the hut extends the day, and you still have largely conversation, and peple read and play board games and card games. Tell stories. It's a very verbal culture. No radios, no tv. It's a step back, but people find it charming for that reason.

STEVE: Howard says that most people find the trip into Ostrander Hut pretty challenging.

HOWARD WEAMER: ...It's longer than most people think it is. I mean ten miles... It's fifteen hundred feet, vertical feet going in. The first four and a half miles are along the Glacier Point Road, which has a set track. And that's deceptive becasuse it goes so fast... And then you take off the road and the climbing is at the end, and it taxes a lot of people who are in decent shape.... But it takes most people most of the day.

STEVE: The most extensive and famous ski hut system in the U.S. is the Tenth Mountain Division Hut system in Colorado.

BEN DODGE: ...We own and operate fourteen huts, and accept reservations for an additional fifteen huts that are owned by either other non-profits or privately.

STEVE: Ben Dodge is the executive director of the Tenth Mountain Division Hut Association.

BEN DODGE: The majority of the huts are fairly remote, in that it can take three to six hours of skiing or snowshoeing to get to the hut from the trailhead. Some of the huts are a little bit closer; it may take an hour to two hours. It all depends on a person's skiing ability or snowshoe ability. But all of our huts are linked together with connecting trails, anywhere from five to nine miles between huts, and each hut does have its own trailhead.

STEVE: I asked Ben to describe a typical hut in the Tenth Mountain system.

BEN DODGE: Vance's Cabin... Located off of the summit of Tennessee Pass in the Leadville area. And that is more similar to the other Tenth Mountain huts in the amenities that it offers, because it has an outdoor outhouse, it has no indoor running water. You have to melt snow for your drinking water and cooking. There is a fully-stocked kitchen. And this is true for all of the Tenth Mountain huts. All of the kitchens are very well stocked with all of the pots and pans you'd -- implements you'd ever want. There's a gas-burning stove. In addition there's also a wood-burning stove for those people that want to cook on a wood-burning stove. Other amenities, there are mattresses, there are pillows. There are no comforters and stuff like that; people are responsible to -- they're expected to bring in sleeping bags and food to all of the huts... that is similar to the rest of the Tenth Mountain huts in that it has the capacity of sixteen people. So these are multi-party huts. And what that means is that you might have two parties that have booked a hut... who don't know each other. They may have booked the same evening in the hut. And that has worked out, by and large, tremendously well. Because people seem to get along really well and enjoy each other's company.

STEVE: Ben says that local clubs as well as professional guides are available to get you into their huts the first time.

BEN DODGE: ...I think the huts provide an experience that I think is going to become increasingly important as time goes on... it's quiet up there at the huts.. You're away from the computer, you're away from the television, you're away from vehicles, and it's an opportunity to enjoy the company of the people that you're with... The huts are simple, they are rustic, but they're very comfortable and the opportunity to spend that kind of time with people, I think it's going to become more important and more valuable as technology increases and the areas of quiet become smaller and fewer.

STEVE: This story was originally presented on December fourteenth, two thousand six.

STEVE: Do you have experience staying in backcountry ski huts? We'd like you to share those stoires, or any other comments you have about our show. You can call our toll free comment line at 866-590-7373. You can download an extended version of this show, and find out more about these huts by following the links on our web site.

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Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. You can help us help more folks to appreciate our wild public lands, by clicking on our support link to become a member. The WildeBeat is produced by Steve Sergeant, with help from Jean Higham, as a nonprofit educational project of Earth Island Insitute.

This has been The WildeBeat, program number one eleven. Thank you for listening.

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Next time -- Ticket to Half Dome

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