Landscape: Night Skinning

There are consequences for staying out really, really late and feeling so alive that you don’t want to go to sleep. Namely, trying to wake up on time the next day. On the eve of Thanksgiving, I stayed up through the night and then messed up setting my alarm. So, I woke up at noon-thirty on Friday (instead of 8:15) and failed to meet up with a partner for our hike in to Janet’s Cabin, one of the 10th Mountain Division huts at 11,610 feet. Of course, when I finally did wake up by the light of the sun, I still had to go grocery shopping, pack for three days, drive over to Copper Mountain, take a shuttle bus to the trailhead, put skins on my skis, etc. Therefore, here I am (photo credit: self) just setting out, with the sun already behind the hills. By this time, my partner is already two hours ahead of me on the trail, and I’ve been told that I have at least a four-hour ski in. Nice. I know I’ll be cruising up to timberline by the light of my headlamp, so I’ve got it tucked in the top pouch of my pack.

As soon as I set off, I felt a great sense of relief. The (sunless) sky was clear, and I got to watch the evening colors spread over the snow. I crossed through a shrubby meadow before entering the Arapahoe National Forest, skinning along over tangled branches in the thin snow:

By the time I got into Guller Gulch, the snow was good in the trees, which allowed me to make pretty good time. My friends broke trail along the route the day before, and when I reached the hut (in the dark), they told me that it took them a brutal seven hours of stomping through snow that was knee-keep in some spots.

Midway up the gulch, the moon appeared in the sky, which was cool: skinning by moonlight. Of course, it finally got too dark for this, and I eventually had to get out my headlamp.

It’s surreal, being in a forest by yourself at night, with the snow looking like glitter from the light. I think I finally forgave myself for getting up so late by this point in the journey and just settled into a happy rhythm.

Janet’s Cabin sits at timberline, just at the edge of the forest. Without the track my friends had set down the previous day, I don’t know if I would have found it so easily at night. Luckily I arrived—3 hours and 40 minutes after setting out—just in time for dinner.

I didn’t really appreciate the coolness of this place until the next morning, when I was able to hike above it for some ski runs. Then I saw it for what it was: an old-school log cabin, outfitted with solar panels, and a big viewing deck. And inside? A sauna, a stove, some bunk-beds, and twenty amazing people gathered together to share life, food, and mountain fun.


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