Dandelion, Red Violet, or Yellow Green? Decisions, decisions; Dandelion wins out. It’s a color and a flower that gets little respect in life, so I might as well use it. This is what my day has been reduced to when on an unplugged vacation – coloring. And I’m pretty damn happy with it. After all, coloring takes you back to your childhood roots; a time when things were simple and days were full of fun, smiles, and laughs. It’s been so long that I’ve used crayons that I didn’t even know they had become worldly! Coloring is now multilingual. Next to Dandelion on the crayon was written diente de leon & pissen lit, Red Violet was violeta rojizo & violet-rouge, and Yellow Green was followed by verde amarillo & vert-jaune. I was pleasantly surprised and equally intrigued with this new international Crayola! I wondered to myself if I would have taken French more seriously in high school had I been exposed to it on crayons when a toddler.
In addition to pondering crayons and language, I had ample time to ponder life in general at 9,700 feet. I was staying at Harry Gates Hut in the Colorado Rockies just outside of Aspen. The hut was part of the 10th Mountain Division Hut to Hut system that runs from Aspen to Eagle or Aspen to Vail. It’s a series of 20 to 30 Colorado mountain cabins that are strategically placed approximately 6 miles apart so that it’s possible to traverse the area on foot or via backcountry skiing in the winter from hut to hut. The huts are quite basic facilities, there’s no plumbing (outhouse toilets only), they are heated by stoves, and most all of them are off the grid so leave the cell phones at home! Each hut has 15 to 20 beds that can be reserved for a night or multiple nights for $35 a night per bed. You share the kitchen facilities with others staying in the hut, but can cook your own meals. Clean up after yourself, and share in the responsibilities of mountain cabin living with the other people who have rented beds.
Just like ‘real people’ in the pages of a magazine, these basic and rustically beautiful huts can be made over into luxury stays quite easily. Instead of a makeup and hair artist, all you need are the Aspen Alpine Guides who will happily let you lux up your hut experience to your taste. I was traveling with a number of writers and we were treated to the deluxe makeover. Steve from Aspen Alpine guides organized everything and provided all gear including toasty warm sleeping bags. They rented the entire hut for two days, invited a local chef, a masseuse, a yoga teacher, and a number of hiking guides to accompany us…and SHAZAM…we had a luxury mountain cabin experience despite no running water and an outhouse!
Hiking, Huffing, Puffing, and Chanting
The landscape in Colorado beckons you – it didn’t take us long to get out hiking. Under the guidance of the Aspen Guides we took off for the waterfall through the green rolling valleys that surrounded us. It was super to not have to think about what trail to take or where to go, I could just turn my brain off and follow for a while. After the waterfall we broke into smaller groups to go different routes and I hiked with Avery, a Coloradan, and our guide Heidi, a professional climber.
I start to fall behind Heidi and Avery’s pace; breathing heavy trying to find oxygen at 9,000 to 10,000 ft. With every step and every breath I realize there’s not enough oxygen for me to keep up this pace with the two Colorado women, so I happily fall behind and go slower giving me a chance to take in the scenery and think. The valley is green and filled with yellow wildflowers. The sun continues to dance in and out of the clouds in a complex tango. I like being behind, going at a slower pace, being an observer.
Suddenly Heidi and Avery stop and wait for me to catch up. I greet their grins with heavy breathing. “We have an idea, “ Heidi says excitedly, “but we don’t know if you are going to like it.”
I’m a bit nervous, but intrigued as I love trying new things. “I’m game for anything,” I reply.
“Do you know about chanting?” she asks.
Soon I find myself sitting cross-legged in a meadow surrounded by daisies moving my hands in an upward prayer positions and then diving downwards chanting words/sounds that I knew nothing about.
“It’ll last 11 minutes and it’s supposed to help clear your mind, “ Avery explained when I asked the inevitable question of “why?”
As I’m chanting I’m thinking about the 11 minutes, I’m thinking about how the area between my shoulder blades hurt, my apple in my bag, I wonder what the words mean, I think about what I have to pack for my next trip; I’m clearly not clearing my mind. Yet for a short moment I got lost in it, sort of as if I was sleepy and nodding off. Yet the words were still coming out and my arms were still moving. Suddenly it was done and the sounds still rang through my head as we got up, put back on our packs and kept going. It was like a little half-time show in the middle of our hike. These Colorado women were intriguing; “I like people who push my boundaries” I think as I continue to fall behind them again on the trail.
You’ve heard of Shabby Chic decor, the mix of old shabby pieces made to look hip; we had our own version of Hut Chic going on with a chef cooking up gourmet food in a rustic hut environment. Chef Barclay Dodge doesn’t need running water or electricity to cook up an amazing feast for hungry hikers, all he needs are locally sourced ingredients from the Roaring Fork Valley and a little pre-planning. As we came back from our hike Chef Barclay (who looked like Dennis Quaid) was putting his final touches on a feast of Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwiches, deviled eggs, homemade potato chips, and fresh fruit salad. In a hut chic way it was a menu with the perfect mix of wilderness hut and ethnic gourmet. Before we dug into his masterpiece, he explained that all of the ingredients were locally grown or produced. Chef Barclay even made the pate for the Banh Mi sandwiches himself. Like any good camp menu, he had simply prepared a menu ahead that was 75% completed and all he had to do was put the items together once in the hut or cook them up.
The food orgy didn’t stop there, later that day we continued with the local theme; happy hour drinks with Colorado craft beer and distilled spirits from Woody Creek Distillery near Aspen. And Chef Barclay went complete chic gourmet with a dinner of grilled asparagus with lemon dressing & shallots, sugar snap pea risotto, and marinated & grilled pork loin. Then we all went out to gaze at the night sky with more after dinner drinks by the campfire before returning to our sleeping bags and bunks.
The hut to hut system in Colorado can provide any level of comfort you desire, and it will most definitely get you closer to nature and the opportunity to get to the backcountry of Colorado. And no matter what level of comfort you choose for your hut experience – independent, guided, or the lux hut makeover, you will get some much needed time off the grid to soak up nature, do a little yoga, try some chanting, and sit around the campfire doing nothing.
I love days when my biggest decision I have to make is what color should I use… Dandelion, Red Violet, or Yellow Green? After all, it is Color-ado.