“The journey is the destination,” “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do,” “The mountains are calling and I must go,” “Of all the paths you take in life make sure a few of them are dirt,” … or snow. The quotes of adventure from greats like John Muir inspire us to go deeper into the solitude of wilderness and higher up the mountain. Every weekend Instagram feeds are filled with adventure-laden photos of friends out there in search of ultimate fun. When Gretchen Bleiler invited me up to Aspen for a classic Colorado hut trip with a great crew to celebrate her birthday I of course said yes. I hadn’t splitboarded in two years, but thought, “Why not?,” and tossed caution to the wind. Well, I brought the necessary safety items: transceiver, probe, shovel… but that didn’t mean I was prepared.
Here are some of the important lessons I learned on my first overnight splitboard hut trip:
I arrived at 7,890-foot Aspen, Colorado, from 5,430-foot Boulder the night before our skin to Margy’s Hut elevation 11,300 feet. This was a bad move.
2. Set up your splitboard in advance & get a good night’s sleep.
I arrived at Gretchen’s abode in Aspen well past dark and still needed to set my splitboard up. Excited about the next day’s trip, I got about 4 hours sleep before the 4:50 am wakeup call.
3. Practice with said splitboard.
If you haven’t skied since you were in elementary school or skinned up a mountain in two years it might be a good idea to practice both before diving into an adventure of this caliber. Unless you want to feel like an exhausted fawn on ice – limbs, skis, poles, flailing in all directions and favoring tree wells. Also, bring extra screws & Allen wrench for said spiltboard. My right binding came loose a few times and I awkwardly carried my setup, boots sinking in snow, before meeting up with the rest of the crew. Thankfully Tyler, our fearless leader, was prepared and had this essential tool.
4. Trust your instinct and don’t blindly follow pink trailblazers.
These friendly little flags led us in a circle. A trek that should have taken 5½ hours max took 7+ hours.
5. Shortcuts are a bad idea.
Even if they are made with good intentions make sure you know the “shortcut” is in fact shorter. Also, be sure to bring a map and compass and know how to use both well as cell reception is minimal to non-existent and the iPhone doesn’t always know best.
6. Do not bite into a firm Shot Blok
You could lose a tooth or crown. Ben can testify to this one.
7. The birds will eat out of your hand, but they will bite the hand that feeds.
It’s fun to have birds land on you and makes for a great photo, but these little bastards will not hesitate to chomp your finger.
8. Altitude sickness is no joke.
Though days later visions of yourself violently projectile puking can make you laugh, in the thick of severe altitude sickness you feel like you’re having the worst hangover of your life. Symptoms include a pounding headache, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, weakness, wanting to curl up in fetal position in the corner, and dizziness to name a few. See lesson number one on acclimation to prevent this and drink a ton of water.
9. Never let someone leave alone at 3:30 in the afternoon (or ever for that matter) to descend to town.
Splitboarding solo in the backcountry, sans headlamp, in pitch darkness is a bad idea… the mind can play evil tricks as you picture your body being dragged off by a ravenous mountain lion to feed her hungry cubs. This is not safe and was a bad call for us to let Ben go. He had friends arriving in town that night for a bachelor party weekend and was determined to make it back, but the hut door flew open at 8:30 pm and a dehydrated, exhausted, Ben stumbled in looking like an ax murderer. I’m pretty sure Meg & Kirsten screamed.
10. Cards Against Humanity is a very good game to bring.
If you have a sick, twisted sense of humor and aren’t offended easy this game is for you.
11. Whatever doesn’t break you makes you stronger.
Cliché but true. When you push yourself to exhaustion, well past your brink of comfort and are challenged mentally, physically, emotionally and persevere you always have that place to draw from.
In the end there is much to be said for the peace and solitude of the mountains, away from the insta-gratification of chairlifts and resorts, puking your brains out in the snow outside a beautiful hut. A huge thanks to Gretchen Bleiler, Meg Olenick, Tyler Lindsay, Kerstin Bendl and Ben Pritzker for an unforgettable experience.