Remote Summit County huts beckon to the backcountry crowd
May 19, 2013
Miles into the forest, away from towns and roads, cabins are waiting to house hikers.
"It's a place to base yourself out of during backcountry skiing or hiking," said Summit Huts Association director Mike Zobbe. "You can also look at it as a refuge — a place to get out of the rat race — and get back to the basics."
Summit Huts Association is a nonprofit that operates four cabins. Janet's Cabin is located in Guller Gulch, a roadless area between Copper Mountain and Vail Pass. Francie's Cabin is about 4 miles south of Breckenridge, in the Crystal Lakes Drainage. Section House and Ken's cabin are historic buildings near Boreas Pass.
The Section House is operated by the Forest Service as a historic interpretive site. The other three can be rented out through the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association.
“It’s a place to base yourself out of during backcountry skiing or hiking,” said Summit Huts Association director Mike Zobbe. “You can also look at it as a refuge – a place to get out of the rat race – and get back to the basics.”
The winter season is wrapping up but the huts will reopen in July.
People interested in staying at the huts should start planning now, according to Zobbe. They book up fast and are so popular the organization has to initiate a lottery-style booking system on weekends and holidays.
Since 1995, more than 55,000 people have stayed at Francie's Cabin, and 46,000 at Janet's Cabin,
In an effort to keep up with their popularity, Summit Huts Association is planning to build a new cabin.
They looked at more than 20 possible sites, whittled it down to three or four, and finally decided on a site near Weber Creek.
Summit Huts Association has to obtain a permit from the Forest Service to operate their huts on federal land.
The proposed site for the new hut is also on Forest Service land, and requires a lengthy analysis before it can move forward.
"We don't rush through these decisions because there is so much at stake and there is so much to consider," said Forest Service ranger Shelly Grail.
The project was first scoped out in October, 2011 and the groups hope to have the hut approved by June.
"Every resource is important, so we do have to look at everything thoroughly and work through the process," Grail said.
Zobbe said construction of the hut probably won't kick off until summer of 2014. He said because there are no roads going in to the site, he expects a helicopter to fly building supplies in.
The nonprofit director said he takes stewardship seriously.
"We acknowledge that anytime you have any activity in the woods it will have an impact, but the benefit to people greatly outweighs that impact," he said.
The shelter includes beds with pillows and sheets, pots, pans, utensils and a cook top. Firewood is also provided for heat.
"It's not a primitive experience, but it's not a pampered experience either," Zobbe said.
Guests are expected to leave the hut in as good – or better – condition as when they arrived.
Janet's and Francie's cabins both sleep 20 people. Janet's cabin is about a 7-mile hike into the wilderness. Francie's cabin is just over 2 miles from the trailhead and is popular with families and beginners, Zobbe said.
The experience of hiking in and staying at a hut cab turn into a lifelong memory.
" For a lot of people it's the hardest thing they've done in their lives," Zobbe said. "They are exhausted when they get there but they're also very excited and satisfied," he said.
Staying at a hut can also bring one closer to nature.
"Other than the footprints of the buildings themselves, the areas around the huts are actually relatively pristine," Zobbe said. "People can sit out on the deck and look and listen, and if they sit quietly, they can see a lot of wildlife passing by."
The huts have been around for about 20 years, and the nonprofit director said some second generation hut-goers are starting to emerge.
"Kids whose parents hauled them in when they were small children are now doing their own hut trips, some with their own kids," Zobbe said.
"Children are hard on the huts, but it's great to see them out there," he said. "They carry their own little packs and run around outside, and it exposes them to something that is genuine."