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Playing a hut trip hunch

Family hut trip to Nokhu yields fun skiing and ... skating

Nokhu and Agnes Creek huts:

Named for the Nokhu Crags towering just above it to the east, the Nokhu (no' koo) and Agnes Creek huts each sleep six and are located at 10,000 feet in the southern end of the Colorado State Forest State Park on the south side of Colorado Highway 14 about two miles west of Cameron Pass (about a hour and a half drive from Steamboat). The 1.5-mile skin in has a kid-friendly elevation gain of just 540 feet and takes about 45 to 60 minutes (snowmobiles aren’t allowed). The two huts are separated by a stand of trees and share a common outhouse but are within easy walking distance. Each cabin can also be rented individually (weekends: $110/night; weekdays: $90/night). For more information, visit http://www.neversummerno...

Hut tripping with toddlers

So you’re going on a hut trip with your kids. Great. Their beauty is that, unlike backpacking, you don’t need to carry shelter, stoves, cooking gear or ground pads. It’s all at the cabin. Just bring clothes, food and a sleeping bag. Kids add dimensions, sure—like introducing a variable to a perfectly working math equation. But they’re worth their weight in the stuffed animals they bring. And once they settle in, finding cozy spots and playing games by the fire, they’ll forget all about the effort it took to get there while learning that sometimes you have to work hard for life’s rewards.

Following are a few pointers to make the process easier:

• In the early years you’ll have to load your kids into a sled (one per), along with piles of additional gear. Sleds let the ground shoulder the load and can carry more gear, but require more fuss, especially if traversing double fall lines. Sometimes, at least until your kids can carry some of the load, you might use pack and sled at the same time, a Herculean task but one well worth it once you arrive. If your kids ride in a sled, make sure they have warm gear (hint: unfurl a sleeping bag).

• Once your kids are old enough, they can ski in with skins or cross-country gear, depending on the hut’s elevation gain. Once you reach this milestone, have them carry their own pack as well, filled with their sleeping bag, snacks and water. It will make them feel part of the team and free up space in yours.

• Plan your trip for spring instead of mid-winter; it’s warmer and stays light later (especially after Daylight Saving Time).

• While weight is at a premium (make sure you’ll actually use everything you bring), bring along one little comfort item per child; it’ll make the hut feel more like home. Hint: one stuffed animal a piece, max.

• Bring friends for your kids. As much as they like hanging out with you, they’ll have even more fun with a friend along. This will also free up your time to relax or go out and explore.

• Don’t go overboard; to avoid risking a hernia or taking multiple trips like you would mountaineering, pick a hut that’s close. You and your kids will have more fun skiing in two miles than 10.

It was an odd couple of items to bring on a winter hut trip. My ice skates barely fit in the pack’s top and my hockey stick protruded above it like an antler.

“Dad, why are you bringing that?” asked my daughter, Casey, one of six kids who came along on the trip. “It’s a ski trip.”

Indeed, it was our annual family hut trip, one of the best things you can do with your kids. Pick an easy-to-get-to abode like we did – the Nohku and Agnes Creek huts off Cameron Pass – and fill it with like-minded families, and you have a winter get-away they’ll remember for life.



Nokhu and Agnes Creek huts:

Named for the Nokhu Crags towering just above it to the east, the Nokhu (no’ koo) and Agnes Creek huts each sleep six and are located at 10,000 feet in the southern end of the Colorado State Forest State Park on the south side of Colorado Highway 14 about two miles west of Cameron Pass (about a hour and a half drive from Steamboat). The 1.5-mile skin in has a kid-friendly elevation gain of just 540 feet and takes about 45 to 60 minutes (snowmobiles aren’t allowed). The two huts are separated by a stand of trees and share a common outhouse but are within easy walking distance. Each cabin can also be rented individually (weekends: $110/night; weekdays: $90/night). For more information, visit http://www.neversummerno…

They were already getting something to remember from my packing list. Like how big a dork Casey’s dad is.



But I had a hunch. I’d been to this hut before and I had seen the ice on a high Alpine lake above it Zamboni’d smooth by the wind. We’d just come off our bleakest January ever, and it had been windy for days.

So I played my gut. Even though you’re supposed to pack light on a hut trip, I splurged, bringing skates, a stick and a 5.8-ounce hockey puck.

No matter that the stick was a giant radar antennae on the skin in, catching branches that others easily skied under. My premonition overruled pride.

With the kids blazing ahead, we arrived at the hut by two-ish. While they quickly commandeered their six-person hut, the grown-ups did the same. After lunch, we headed up for the skate assault.

Hidden by a ridge the entire climb up, the lake rests in an oasis-like basin just north of Rocky Mountain National Park, surrounded by the jagged pinnacles of the Crags and such peaks as Mt. Richthofen and Mt. Mahler.

Ascending a gully, hockey stick rising above my pack like a flag, I began to have doubts. Maybe it was covered in snow? I guessed there was a 50-50 chance it would be clear.

My buddy Murph crested the ridge first, privy to its first look. I followed a few minutes behind. At first glance, I was disheartened. Its western end was blanketed in white. But then my eyes strayed eastward. Jackpot. Its entire left-hand side was mirror smooth.

Traversing over to the ice’s edge, I changed out of my ski boots and into my skates, ignoring the cold transition. Then I post-holed through the snow, my skates cutting deep trenches, and tentatively put blade to ice.

Testing its purchase like Bambi, I pushed off. While I wasn’t going to give Apolo Ohno a run for his money, the aesthetics trumped all. Above towered a serrated ridge line of peaks, below three feet of see-through ice. It was hard to imagine any material on earth being clearer. White air bubbles coalesced into groups like clouds on the bottom, gathering at random after being burped up from the depths.

Thin cracks crisscrossed here and there, but posed no threat to a blade. Neither did the slight undulations on the surface. The open stretch ran for 400 yards or so, the longest straight line I’ve ever skated.

It was our own Mystery, Alaska. After a few laps dribbling the puck around errant wisps of snow, I returned to our makeshift bench, awed by the high alpine activity.

One by one we traded off so everyone had the chance to skate, the big-footed among us squishing into my size 10s and the diminutive wadding up socks in the toes. It wasn’t the exact fit that was important, but the experience.

Mesmerized for longer than prudent, each participant unable to hold back a howl of jubilation, we returned to the hut just as the stars began to peer out of an ice-clear sky.

Hut tripping with toddlers

So you’re going on a hut trip with your kids. Great. Their beauty is that, unlike backpacking, you don’t need to carry shelter, stoves, cooking gear or ground pads. It’s all at the cabin. Just bring clothes, food and a sleeping bag. Kids add dimensions, sure—like introducing a variable to a perfectly working math equation. But they’re worth their weight in the stuffed animals they bring. And once they settle in, finding cozy spots and playing games by the fire, they’ll forget all about the effort it took to get there while learning that sometimes you have to work hard for life’s rewards.

Following are a few pointers to make the process easier:

• In the early years you’ll have to load your kids into a sled (one per), along with piles of additional gear. Sleds let the ground shoulder the load and can carry more gear, but require more fuss, especially if traversing double fall lines. Sometimes, at least until your kids can carry some of the load, you might use pack and sled at the same time, a Herculean task but one well worth it once you arrive. If your kids ride in a sled, make sure they have warm gear (hint: unfurl a sleeping bag).

• Once your kids are old enough, they can ski in with skins or cross-country gear, depending on the hut’s elevation gain. Once you reach this milestone, have them carry their own pack as well, filled with their sleeping bag, snacks and water. It will make them feel part of the team and free up space in yours.

• Plan your trip for spring instead of mid-winter; it’s warmer and stays light later (especially after Daylight Saving Time).

• While weight is at a premium (make sure you’ll actually use everything you bring), bring along one little comfort item per child; it’ll make the hut feel more like home. Hint: one stuffed animal a piece, max.

• Bring friends for your kids. As much as they like hanging out with you, they’ll have even more fun with a friend along. This will also free up your time to relax or go out and explore.

• Don’t go overboard; to avoid risking a hernia or taking multiple trips like you would mountaineering, pick a hut that’s close. You and your kids will have more fun skiing in two miles than 10.

Sidetrack mission accomplished, the normal hut trip routine resumed. When the kids came over from their hut for dinner, we fueled the day’s lost carbs with pre-made paella. For desert came coconut snow ice cream and a Russell Stover variety pack, which kept the kids busy matching the confections’ descriptions with their place in box.

Then it was game time, this time HeadBands, where you hold a person, place or thing card up to your forehead and ask questions as to what it is (not sure why the kids always guessed, “Am I a bathroom?). Before we knew it, the day caught up with us like stragglers on the trail and we turned in, the kids cozy in their confines — after learning how to work the wood stove — and us in ours.

In the morning, those who didn’t make the earlier foray to the lake borrowed the skates and took their turn, returning with smiles as wide as the carves their blades left on the ice.

We all then went skiing, of course, traipsing up a nearby ridge for turns. That was the main reason we came. But they paled in comparison to playing a hunch that paid off in blades.

To view a video of ice skating on Lake Agness, visit https://www.steamboatpilot.com/videos/2015/mar/10/3565/.


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