A (not so) Little Cabin in the Woods
By Scott Daniels
Scouts from Littleton, Colo., Troop 444 snowshoe to a plush Rocky Mountainbackcountry cabin. But after arriving, they don't stay cooped up insidethere's too much fun outdoors.
Step, crunch. Step, crunch. Dustin Flaum concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other as he trudged up the mountain trail.
This was Dustin's first time on snowshoes, and weighted beneath a full pack, he discovered that coordinating the strange forms strapped to his boots took as much patience as it did practice.
"It's easy to trip if you don't lift your feet high enough," he said.
Snowshoeing was new to many Troop 444 Scouts on this three-day holiday weekend in January. The troop, chartered to First Presbyterian Church of Littleton, Colo., was on its way to Shrine Mountain Inn, a group of three backcountry cabins located at 11,209 feet, above Vail Pass.
The 2.8-mile trail began in a snow-plowed parking lot close to Interstate 70, which runs west from Denver. From there it snaked steadily upward through the forest.
Although the temperature hovered in the upper 20's, a brilliant sun forced the Scouts to make an early stop to shed layers and apply more sunscreen. Assistant Scoutmaster Steve Terlecki reminded the boys to drink frequently from their water bottles.
"This started out as a trip for the older boys," Terlecki said, "but some of the 13-year-old Scouts stepped up and said they wanted to come. It's an excellent introduction to a short winter backpack without worrying about sleeping out in the cold."
As the trail became steeper and the air thinner, the Scouts made more stops to catch their breath.
"It's hard walking," admitted Brandon Surleta, another first-time snowshoer. "It's a weird feelinglike you have something stuck to your foot and you are trying to get it off."
When possible, the Scouts rested in the shadows of tall pines. There, they were shielded from the sun's rays, and faint breezes cooled their sweat-soaked brows. Refreshed, the boys continued.
After a lengthy stretch of open trail along Shrine Pass, the Scouts headed left into a piney grove. They passed by the first cabin, named Chuck's, and arrived at their destinationJay's Cabin, 630 feet above the trailhead.
The 10th Mountain Division Hut Association manages reservations for 30 huts in central Colorado. These are spaced an average of six to eight miles apart and are linked by 300 miles of U.S. Forest Service trails. The group's name is a tribute to the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division soldiers, who trained in winter alpine conditions at nearby Camp Hale (deactivated in 1965) and later fought in Italy during World War II.
Not your rustic cabin
There's no mistaking Jay's for "a little cabin in the woods." Constructed in 1987 with logs of Englemann spruce timbered in the region, the cabin has three levels. Stairs lead from the ground to a decked balcony and the front door. Inside, 16-inch-diameter beams span a vaulted ceiling.
The cabin sleeps 12. Upstairs are two bedrooms, one with a double bed, the other with two singles. Another bed sits in the hall. The main floor has a bedroom with a queen-size bed. Downstairs are five singles.
Add to that the cabin's luxuries: hot and cold running water, electricity, flush toilets, showers and bath, plus a kitchen equipped with a refrigerator and stove. Outside is a sauna.
"This is fantastic," said Dr. Cal Doner, Troop 444's committee chairman and chartered organization representative. "You don't normally hike to places with showers and baths. It's really awesome."
That evening the boys chowed down on spaghetti and meat sauce, then scrambled downstairs for a marathon card game. Terlecki and Dr. Doner stoked a wood-burning, potbellied stove and spoke about the troop's history.
A camping tradition
"This year marks our 70th anniversary, all with the same chartered organization," Dr. Doner said.
Drawing boys from 10 schools in four counties, Troop 444 has a strong tradition of camping. At least one outing is planned each month, sometimes two. This weekend, for example, another group of Troop 444 Scouts were skiing at Winter Park while staying at the YMCA of the Rockies Camp.
Memorial Day weekend is set aside for a major family outing. These trips have included visits to Yellowstone, Carlsbad Caverns, and Mesa Verde National Parks, and the Black Hills of South Dakota. Older Scouts have made treks to all three of the BSA's national high adventure bases.
"But we are most proud of our summer camp program," said Terlecki. "For 40 years we've run it ourselves at Wellington Lake, southwest of Denver."
The weeklong camp is staffed by troop alumni, volunteers, and parents. It has all the facilities of a regular Scout camp including kitchen, dining area, campsites, waterfront, rifle and archery ranges, first-aid station, and council ring.
"The boys literally build the camp every year, live in it for a week, and take it down before they go home," Terlecki said.
Sledding and trekking
The next morning, after a meal of breakfast burritos [flour tortillas, rolledand stuffed with scrambled eggs, sausage, cheese, and salsa], the boys scurried outside to play in the snow. There were the de rigueur snowball fights followed by a search for the perfect slope for sledding.
They found it about a quarter-mile away, in a draw below Walter's Cabin, the third of Shrine Mountain Inn's dwellings.Using a hand shovel, the Scouts carved a small jump ramp in the snow to provide the added thrills of "getting air" to their downhill runs.
Back at the cabin, the boys ate lunch and made plans for the afternoon. Brad Doner and Ted Terlecki, the group's senior Scouts, suggested a trek up Shrine Ridge Trail, a 500-foot climb above the cabin.
The boys strapped on their snowshoesand headed out. At first, there were lots of ups and downs and switchbacks through the trees. Fortunately, others had trekked this way, and the Scouts didn't have to break new trail through the deep snow. But that didn't mean the trail was foolproof. It was still possible to "posthole," that is, sink to your hips, with a misstep off the track.
"When you get into the trees," Steve Terlecki warned, "you get into that sugary snow, and it makes the going a little bit more work."
Breaking out above tree line, the Scouts hiked past a towering red rock outcropping before finally reaching the ridge. A brisk wind sent the temperature plummeting, but no one wanted to leave before taking in the full panoramic view.
"It's like being on top of the world," Dr. Doner said. "You can see forever up here."
Looking south down the valley the Scouts could see Copper Mountain Ski Resort, the Gore Range, and the Ten Mile Range in the distance.
'A primo weekend'
The Scouts returned to Jay's Cabin and cooked supper. Later, in the nearby sauna, a few boys sweated out sore muscles in the 180-degree dry heat. Others reorganized their packs for the hike out in the morning and thought about how they would plan differently next time.
"I'd have a much lighter pack," said William Hea. "I would also bring a smaller sleeping bag."
"Me, too," echoed Paul Churchill. "I packed too much stuff."
The hike down the mountain took half as long as it had taken to climb up. The boys demonstrated definite progress in their snowshoeing skills. Dustin Flaum noted his improvement.
"It was hard climbing up that hill the first day," he said. "But I've gotten used to the snowshoes, and now it's easy."
Steve Terlecki judged the weekend a success. "This is about as easy as it gets in and out of the huts," he said. "It has been a primo weekend. On a scale of 1 to 10 for weatherthis was a nine-plus."
Would the troop plan another winter trip to Shrine Mountain Inn?
"Definitely," said Terlecki. "We'll be back again next year."
Scott Daniels is the executive editor of Scouting magazine.
Copyright © 2004 by the Boy Scouts of America. All rights thereunder reserved; anything appearing in Scouting magazine or on its Web site may not be reprinted either wholly or in part without written permission. Because of freedom given authors, opinions may not reflect official concurrence.
Copyright 2012 by the Boy Scouts of America.
All rights thereunder reserved; anything appearing in Scouting magazine or on its Web site may not be reprinted either wholly or in part without written permission. Because of freedom given authors, opinions may not reflect official concurrence.