Helicopter taxi service unavailable at local huts | SummitDaily.com

Helicopter taxi service unavailable at local huts

You don’t know real panic until you’re swimming through a snow drift five miles from civilization, and the wind is blowing so hard, you don’t know which way is down.

A trip to Janet’s Cabin a few weeks ago was my second hut experience, and I certainly wasn’t as equipped or prepared as most of our group, some of which were ski patrollers and self-proclaimed “snow geeks.”

Four of us arrived at the hut just as the previous night’s group, which included a 22-year-old guy who had just moved to Summit County a month earlier, was leaving. He was with three other people, none of whom had ever been on a hut trip.

We arrived in a whiteout and had to break trail almost the whole way.

So, it wasn’t any surprise that the trip down for the departing group would be slow going, especially for the 22-year-old, who was on a snowboard and who gave his snowshoes to one of the girls in his group. There were a couple areas on the way up where I sank to my waist with my snowshoes on, so I imagined this guy would probably end up using his snowboard as a raft the whole way.

But he didn’t make it very far.

About an hour after we arrived, the four of us were relaxing in the hut, watching the snow blow sideways, when the guy came clattering back and threw his things on the floor, exhausted.

“Did you forget something?” we asked.

“No,” he said. “I need a taxi.”

“Well,” we said, “you’re not going to find many of those around here.”

The guy had made it to the bottom of the last hill going up to Janet’s (the steepest part of the journey), where he lost the trail and got stuck. His friends were ahead of him, but instead of trying to catch up, he decided to turn around and return to the hut.

He told us he’d call for a helicopter, that he’d pay $5,000 for one if he had to. He said he just couldn’t make it down the trail. He had smoker’s lungs, he was out of shape, he couldn’t even see the trail and he had no business up there in the first place.

Needless to say, there was no way a helicopter was going to come fetch him in such treacherous conditions, under such non-emergency circumstances. We told him he could stay. We also offered to head down with him part of the way until he could make out the trail, but he refused.

Late in the afternoon, while we were attempting to backcountry ski (at which time, I got stuck myself when I wasn’t able to discern the sky from the ground until I did a header into it), he ended up making another attempt down the trail. As it was beginning to get dark, the members of our group coming up the trail managed to talk him into turning around and joining us back at the hut. If he hadn’t, there’s no doubt in my mind that he would have died. He was exhausted. He had no snowshoes. He was out of shape. He hadn’t eaten anything all day. He was wearing jeans. The only food he appeared to have was canned.

The next morning, he started out on the trail early with some of our group, and when the rest of us came down hours later, we saw his trudging tracks, in waist-deep snow. Who knows how long it actually took him to make it down, but I’m guessing he won’t embark on another hut trip any time soon.

If nothing else, it was a great lesson for him, and for others embarking on a hut trip for the first time. Research is key. Know what you’re getting yourself into.

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