A trip to a remote 10th mountain hut included great powder skiing and brotherhood.
The Goodwin Greene Hut near Aspen holds the reputation for being one of the most remote and difficult huts to find.
I quickly understood why as my friends and I struggled to find it as darkness descended on a cold evening this past February.
In total, the route ascends 2,800 vertical feet over 6.5 miles, which can be challenging with a loaded pack and hauling sleds.
For this trip—now my third in a 10th Mountain Division Hut (technically part of the Alfred Braun Hut System)—it seemed fitting that I went there with a crew of mostly veterans: Airforce. Living in Colorado Springs, eventually you will meet some good people from the stars and stripes.
This trip served up excellent powder turns, brotherhood and also some thoughts about legacy.
Dusk and desperation
Our group of eight left the trailhead at about 11 a.m., which seemed a reasonable start.
But after six hours of slogging with two sleds, which were proving more of a hindrance than a help, the hut was no where in sight. Soon the temperatures plummeted and the winds swirled forebodingly.
One of the guys, an accomplished combat medic, seemed to sense the urgency.
“We gotta find this hut,” he said. “Now!”
His words jolted us awake like a cup of stiff cappuccino. Indeed, we needed to find our shelter. Temps already dropping into the single digits!
A buddy, nicknamed “Q,” and I cruised ahead to scout, while the other six wrestled the cumbersome sleds.
After skirting a large peak, we followed some trail marker wands that started descending, which didn’t seem right—especially when you know you may have to ascend the same vertical again.
We continued down the drainage toward a clump of trees.
I wasn’t sure if were on route, but then we saw it: a small blinking light near the trees.
Someone had installed a solar light on a wand, which signaled the hut was nearby.
Past the trees, we found it.
About 30 minutes later, we were all sitting inside with the stove blazing and hot tea flowing.
More about our group
Like a lot of trips, our group was a hodgepodge of friends, and friends of friends. But in this case, most were Airforce. Something unique about this trip was that this core of friends sought to honor a fellow cadet who passed away unexpectedly in 2009 named Luc Gruenther.
I did not meet Luc, but from hearing about him, I saw a good picture. As a young husband and father, he served as an F-16 pilot and was a standout in nearly everything he did. As an outdoor athlete he quickly mastered rock climbing, pushing grades of 5-13. One of his sayings that his friends still quote is: “Whatever you do, don’t suck at it.”
And from what they tell me, he lived those words. I’m thankful for his service and sacrifice for our country, along with my other friends who serve.
Speaking of remembering people, the Goodwin Greene hut is named after two Colorado skiiers who died in a climbing accident: Peter Goodwin and Carl Greene.
Today, the hut that bears their names serves as an amazing launching point for powder seekers.
The next morning, we set out around 9:30 or 10 a.m. and quickly found some.
We skied several north facing shots that led down to the Bruin Creek drainage. Although somewhat short, the powder proved in excellent condition, with a fresh six inches from a few days ago.
In total, we skied roughly four laps over five miles and at least 2,000 feet of elevation gain, which was a great first day.
The second day was even better.
“The goods” at Goodwin Greene Hut
This time, we explored some north/northeast shots just north of Gold Hill.
One clarification, Gold Hill is much more than just a “hill.” With a summit of 12,359 feet, this craggy peak (see above) sports an incredibly steep north and northeast face that is quite avalanche prone. In the spring, I’m sure it skies phenomenally. But this time of year, it would be what surfers call, “death on a stick.”
After a long tour up to a small lake, we hit a short line, and then farmed, or skied repeatedly, one particular area with sub 30-degree terrain.
That was a good start, but soon Travis, who has a six sense for finding good snow and lines, discovered some even better shots east of us that we named Couloir A, B and C.
These proved the best runs by far. Each hovered around 30 degrees, with much more consistent steepness.
Our woops and shouts echoed in the drainage as we skied a few laps on these couloirs.
On one lap, the guys paid homage to Luc by spreading a few of his ashes—a fitting tribute, and something they have done on other trips, too.
Which got me thinking.
I was inspired by how my companions continued to honor and remember their friend, even 14 years later.
This brings up a question of legacy: if I were to pass away suddenly, beyond my family, how would my friends—my brothers—remember me? I think those in the military often do this better than the average person, but still there are lessons to be learned.
Legacy isn’t always just theoretical. We all will leave one—some sooner than others. Everyone’s life is fragile—far more than we ever would like to admit.
Seven years ago I could have died young when I faced stage IV cancer. However, through prayer and God’s intervention, I miraculously recovered and lived to ski another day. For more about my story, read The Fear of Losing It All.
We would like to think that our tomorrows are guaranteed, but even the best of us don’t always live as long as we hope.
For those still here, all we can do is try to live these days the best we can. Sometimes that might involve some course corrections in marriage, parenting, friendships and our spiritual life.
For me, I seek to live a life that honors God first and foremost, and let the good of that relationship trickle into every other relationship. As Matthew 6:33 says, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all of these things will be added unto you.”
Following these words is the best way I know how to be the kind of friend, husband, father, coworker, and brother worth remembering.
On the fourth day, we packed up and left the Goodwin Greene hut—tired but rewarded.
This year’s 10th mountain division hut trip were once again epic. The skiing and camaraderie proved top notch, as were some of the lessons beyond skiing.
I can’t wait for the next hut trip, even if includes a tedious approach.