North Pole Hut

OutAndBack • 16 mi • 0 ft

The San Juan mountain range is the largest in Colorado and is a favorite for summertime mountaineers, rock climbers, mountain bikers, and hikers. In the wintertime it’s a popular area for everyone from downhill and backcountry skiers to snowshoers and even ice climbers. The problem is that the San Juans are extremely steep and craggy, making them majestic in their beauty but difficult for backcountry skiers and snowshoers to access. The jagged ridges of the range tower far above treeline and offer very few skiable passes. Compounding this is the fact that the avalanche danger is often high. In the mid-1980s Joe Ryan solved the problem of backcountry access for skiers in the San Juan Mountains by establishing his own hut system. He linked the 30-plus-mile stretch from Telluride to Ridgway with five huts, placing the structures along old logging roads and trails. The routes to and from the trailheads to the huts are designed for intermediate skiers, while the routes from hut to hut are more taxing and should be undertaken by more experienced and advanced skiers. The North Pole Hut is remarkable for its remoteness, which may appeal to backcountry skiers who want to feel they’re in the wild and view the surrounding mountain range the way it has looked for millions of years. Since the North Pole Hut is located just outside the border of the Mount Sneffels Wilderness Area, skiers will not hear any mechanized vehicles, just their own skis moving on the snow. The North Pole Hut is located in a meadow on the East Fork of Leopard Creek. Generally there are no day skiers in the area. You have the trees and the mountains and the views of Hayden Peak and North Pole Peak to yourself. You can climb 12,987-foot Hayden Peak by its north ridge in almost any avalanche condition as long as you are careful to follow your tracks back down the north ridge. If fresh, deep powder is your love, and the avalanche danger is low, you can enjoy the ridges and slopes in the bowls around the hut. Or if you prefer an easier pace and mellow ski touring is what you love best, there are old roads and trails south of the hut. Surface quality: Ungroomed, but broken several times per week by skiers and snowshoers. Avalanche danger is low.
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Activity Type: Cross-Country Skiing
Nearby City: Ridgway
Length: 16 total miles
Elevation Gain: Minimal
Trail Type: Out-and-back
Skill Level: Intermediate; advanced navigation skills required
Duration: 5 to 7 hours in, 3 to 5 hours out
Trailhead Elevation: 8,300 feet
Top Elevation: 10,000 feet
Local Contacts: Uncompahgre National Forest
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