May 04, 2016 3 min read

Ski tourers on Star Pass
By: Ted Mahon


"I have a simple rule regarding hut trips, always go"

The text came in and was brief, “Friends Hut Friday evening?” My calendar was pretty full and I knew it would conflict with some other responsibilities. But I didn’t have to think too hard about it because I have simple rule regarding hut trips— always go. Like anything in life that’s worth doing, hut trips require some effort. The idea of spending the night out in a remote location can understandably feel like something you just don’t have time for. But the temporary break from the daily pace of things, the opportunity to get out in the mountains for the night with some friends is a guaranteed good time, and you should always try to make it happen. So when Pete Gaston asked if I was interested in joining him and Max Taam, I was in.

Ski tourer at Friends Hut
ski tourer in front of Castle Peak
Ski tourers at top of Pearl Pass
Powder turns at Friends Hut

The Friends Hut is located on the Crested Butte side of the Elk Mountains, and all of the approaches to it involve a good number of miles on the trail. Because we were getting an afternoon start and since the calendar said we were in the dark days of December, we determined Pearl Pass to be the best route to take. At least it would be the fastest. Normally we enjoy extra effort or miles on the trail, but in this case we just wanted to avoid wandering around lost in the dark.

From Ashcroft we skinned up in the direction of Castle Peak, past the Green-Wilson and Tagert huts, to the 12,705 foot Pearl Pass. We crested the high pass right at sunset, which was ideal because the hut was a short ski descent down the other side and that meant we would be able to get there in the daylight. We reached the hut at last light, and to our surprise there were no other ski tracks around and the deck was buried with snow. We were the first hut guests of the season.

We took to the normal tasks— the wood stove, shoveling the deck, melting snow— and it wasn’t long before we were settled in with dinner, a beer, and a roaring fire. We were psyched to be there, the Friends Hut is a classic. The backcountry skiing options around the hut are top-notch when in condition, and its location below Star Peak makes for a spectacular backdrop. But scenery and ski options aside, the history of the Friends Hut runs deeper. Back in the summer of 1980, a small, single-engine Cessna from Aspen collided with one from Crested Butte over East Maroon Pass. There were no survivors.

From that tragedy the idea for the Friends Hut was conceived, and a few years later it opened to the public, where it proudly serves to honor those who died. It’s a sad story but a beautiful and worthy memorial to those involved, who themselves loved the mountains and backcountry skiing.

Friends Hut at night
Friends Hut snacks

Bearing in mind that history and reason for the huts existence, it seemed fitting that soon after getting situated, a headlamp approached through the trees and a friend emerged out of the darkness to join us for the night. Before we left Aspen I texted an old buddy in Crested Butte, Allen Hadley, to ask if he was interested in getting together up there. A seasoned outdoors guy, Allen also agrees with the notion to “always go” so he made the trip up Brush Creek, breaking trail the whole way by himself. A huge effort for some, but as the only person to have completed every Elk Mountain Grand Traverse, all 18 of them, he just considered it training for this year’s race.

So after some introductions, the four of us, both new friends and old, caught up at the hut that was built to honor an earlier generation of friends from opposites sides of the Elk Mountains. The next morning, and after ample coffee and the related caffeinated conversations, we made our way up to Star Pass. Considered by many to be the halfway point between Aspen and Crested Butte, Star Pass was the end of the road for us as a group, and we split up and headed off on our respective ways home— Allen back to the Butte and Pete, Max, and I began the trip back to Ashcroft.

Ski tourer on Star Pass
Friends Hut powder

Our ski home took us down into Taylor Basin, towards Opa’s Hut, and over into Italian Basin. As we descended Express Creek Road back towards Ashcroft, I found myself thinking, rather predictably, about how glad I was I joined Pete and Max on this little adventure.

When the chance arises to get out for the night with friends at the Friends Hut, or any hut for that matter, always go.

More history of Friends Hut can be read here.