Welcome back. We just returned from a pre-Christmas trip to a yurt in the Colorado backcountry. There are many huts and yurts throughout the mountain west that can be booked for overnight stays, and this one, high in the Never Summer mountains, was inaccessible in winter except by ski and snowshoe.
We got off to a slow start on our departure day. Not only did packing take longer than anticipated, but one of our chickens had died in the night, and so we conducted a little burial ceremony before heading to the mountains. Three hours later we stopped at the visitor's center to get a daily car pass and use the restroom, and I put my contacts in so I could wear my ski goggles (which I have only previously used for chopping onions). Then we headed into the park.
While we'd originally meant to be here by 11, it was already 3pm. But once we'd gotten a couple of miles into the park, I realized I didn't have my glasses with me. We searched the car, but they must have been left at the visitor's center, 3 miles back down the slow, snowy road.
After retrieving them, we returned to the park and found the trailhead. I set up the camera on timer for a setting-off shot and jogged into the picture as A. said, "It's going off... wait... I thought I saw a light. Okay, I see a light! Get ready. Wait, it went off. Did it go off? I don't see anything." And again. Eventually I realized I'd set the timer for 3 seconds instead of 10. So I have about 6 shots that look like this:
The great thing about getting there late was that the light was really beautiful.
A.'s bag was very heavy and she soon tired of carrying it. Thankfully, we had brought a sled.
Rest break. It felt like we were in utter wilderness, but toward the end, I felt a familiar vibration -- my phone was getting a text. (I declined to check it.) The yurt was 3 miles from the parking lot, which doesn't sound like much but is exhausting in snow. The final third, steeply uphill, was a real challenge and we encouraged each other onward, taking turns pulling the sled, until we were totally depleted. Finally we made it to the yurt around 5:30, with the last light fading from the sky.
Melting snow for water
The yurts come with firewood, a propane stove and kitchen necessities. We lit a fire and began to unpack. I wanted to check that text I'd gotten earlier, but couldn't find my phone anywhere. We searched my pack and the bunk it was on. Uh oh. Had it been in my pocket, had it come out when I'd pulled my camera out to take a picture? It was supposed to start snowing during the night. Our only interval in which to search the trail was right now.
We looked around in the snow outside the yurt, then a bit farther. I'd received the text in the final section somewhere, but couldn't remember exactly where, so we went a little farther down the steep hill that had nearly killed us on way up. And then a little farther. A. said, "It was definitely somewhere after the turnoff; we should just go all the way down there and back." So we continued down through the frigid darkness, the trees motionless on either side of us. We held hands and told stories to take the edge off the spookiness. We stopped to investigate every spot of black on the trail, but they were only pine cones. After half an hour we saw the reflective paint on the gate glowing in our headlamps, and turned to climb back up. There was no phone (though we did see a mouse, which tunneled under the snow when we approached).
We made dinner and snuggled into bed. By morning the fire was long dead and it was freezing.
It snowed all day on Saturday, perhaps a foot. We had quiet time reading or napping in our bunks, the only sound the snapping of the fire. It's impossible to properly describe the sense of peace and quiet up there.
After lunch, we went exploring.
We went sledding on the steep final 1/2 mile of path up to the yurt. It was definitely the longest sled ride of my life. A. had a turn:
And we SHREDDED it! Literally -- the $10 Target sled was not made for 15 degree temps.
One full pot of packed snow yielded about 1/4 pot of water.
While firewood was provided, it had to be split in order to make kindling, or even just to fit into the stove. This was a struggle for us but we managed to stay warm.
Taking a few minutes to enjoy the peaceful snowfall
That night A. got up a couple times in order to try to keep the fire going, but each time it was gone out and she had to start it anew. In the morning it was still freezing. However, the sun had come out and it was very beautiful.
We didn't have time for much the final morning besides breakfast, cleaning the yurt and replenishing the firewood. While A. was outside splitting wood, I heard a vibration. I was getting another text. When A. came in we searched the pack and bunk again and finally found my phone, in the hydration bladder sleeve of my pack. Yeah, right where it belongs. It still had 3/4 of its battery charge. Go little dumb-phone. I turned it off.
I had taped the sled up enough that it was functional to carry a light load, and we headed downhill through the glittering forest.
Even downhill, snowshoeing is hard work
Unfortunately, the cracks in the sled acted like a cheese grater on the snow, and it kept filling all on its own from the bottom and I kept having to empty it
We had a final scare at the parking lot when A. pulled out her keys... and the car key wasn't on them. A little digging produced it, though. It had come off the ring. Glasses, phone, car key... hopefully that'll be the last of our lost objects for some time.
We made a final stop at the visitor's center, which has a lovely barbed-wire sculpture outside, and headed home to a warm and cozy Christmas Eve night.