It was the end of day four on our 160 kilometre ski tour from the resort town of Aspen to Vail, in central Colorado. We’d had a brutal day, with an early start at 11,300 feet, a long descent off the edge of the Continental Divide, endless touring through deep fresh snow, and a final punishing two hour climb to Jackal hut. But tomorrow was the big day.
Perched on the edge of a meadow with jaw dropping views to Mt Elbert, the highest of Colorado’s 14K peaks, Jackal is a solid log cabin with a big front deck that is owned by the 10th Mountain Division Huts Association. On day five we left the hut just after dawn, shuffling through a dark spruce forest onto a long ridge that climbed towards the 12,000 foot mark. The plan was to take a high route over the mountains to our next destination – Shrine Mountain – rather than a lower and more complex trail below the treeline. I’d been struggling with the downhill sections, and was dreading the descent off the other side.