‘Heli day:’ restocking Janet’s Cabin | SummitDaily.com

‘Heli day:’ restocking Janet’s Cabin

Summit Daily/Reid Williams Mike Zobbe, operations manager for the Summit Huts Association, signals to Geoseis pilot Paul Bennett after hooking up a load of deep cell batteries for transport to Janet's Cabin Saturday from Climax Mine property below Searle Pass. The association conducted a volunteer day to re-stock the hut.

SUMMIT COUNTY – Earl Melin, a four-year Summit Huts volunteer who loves quiet, nonmotorized travel, spent Saturday morning under the rotors of a noisy helicopter during Summit Huts’ annual “heli day,” when more than six tons of supplies were flown into Janet’s Cabin in preparation for the winter season.Melin and seven other volunteers worked at a staging area on the Climax Mine property, scrambling like ants on the ground to fill orange cargo nets with piles of chopped wood and boxes of supplies as the SA-315B Lama helicopter made repeated trips over Searle Pass to the cabin. More than a dozen trips of up to 900 pounds each were flown in the course of about four hours. As the machine lifted the heavy nets, volunteers watched them twirl and sway in the wind hundreds of feet above the pines. A second volunteer crew that hiked over the pass in the early morning hours received the equipment at the cabin, nestled near treeline in Guller Gulch about seven miles west of Copper Mountain. There is no road into Janet’s, so the organization hired the commercial helicopter out of Fort Collins at a rate of $1,400 an hour to deliver necessities for guests like Melin that will relax in the cabin’s cozy warmth this winter. Melin spent 11 nights in the organization’s four cabins last year.

“It’s an opportunity to get down to the basics, get rid of all the trappings. What you need you have to carry on your back,” Melin said of the trips. Everything, that is, except the supplies flown in. Four 650-pound tanks of propane, eight photovoltaic batteries, 120 flannel sheets, pillow cases numbering the same, eight cords of wood, four cases of paper towels, 96 rolls of toilet paper, two coffee pots and three rolls of duct tape were hoisted, along with various other supplies like brooms, shovels and rubber gloves, over the 12,000-foot pass. Saturday marked the thirteenth time the cabin was stocked by air. Helicopters were also used in the early 1990s to build the three-story log structure that sleeps more than 20. The four-hour operation cost the non-profit organization about $9,000. “The helicopter is a convenience,” Melin said. “If we had to we’d find another way.”

While other hut locations are stocked in the dry months by vehicle passage on four-wheel-drive roads, it is hard to imagine another way to stock Janet’s Cabin. This year, for example, eight photovoltaic batteries weighing 120 pounds each were delivered to replace the aged ones that run the cabin’s lights. The batteries cost $3,200 and will last about seven years, said Summit Huts’ operations manager Mike Zobbe.A moment of excitement occurred Saturday after Zobbe hitched the batteries in a truck bed to the long cable reaching out of the hovering helicopter’s belly. He saluted the “go” signal to the pilot but the load – weighing nearly 1,000 pounds – tilted to the side and clipped the tailgate, nearly knocking Zobbe down. Zobbe righted the crate as the pilot pulled up on the collective and the load lifted away over the trees. “He said that was heavy,” Zobbe relayed from the pilot over a hand-held radio. Five minutes later, the bird was back to snatch a cargo net filled with wood. Zobbe currently runs a one-man show at Summit Huts as the only paid staff. He spent two weeks preparing for Saturday’s flight. Involved with the huts for more than 12 years, he doesn’t need to make lists of the broken ceramic mugs, dirty laundry and empty toilet paper rolls at the organization’s four cabins. His head filled with needed supplies, he made a trip to Denver last week to shop at a big-box like Sam’s Club, then brought a truck load back to be packaged and organized.

The firewood – more than 22 cords of beetle kill for all four huts – was donated this year by Grand River Ranch in Kremmling. Last week Zobbe staged the wood at the Breckenridge Nordic Center, where he cut the 20-foot logs into pieces for the huts’ wood stoves and saunas. The organization relies on volunteers like Melin to pull off Saturday’s production. Each volunteer receives one free night in the hut – a special reward for those who want to circumnavigate the organization’s busy reservations system. “The huts are so full,” Melin said. “If you have that access it’s easier.”Janet’s Cabin is expected to open for the season in late November. Kim Marquis can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 249, or at kmarquis@summitdaily.com.

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