The Greatness of Going Off the Grid / by Jefferson Geiger

Whenever I turn on the news, open Twitter or log on to Facebook, I instantly feel nauseated. Each new story coming out of the District of Columbia makes me want to destroy every internet-connected device I own. It's not exactly revolutionary to tell someone to spend less time consuming media, and I know I wrote about video games to play when needing self-care in November, but a reminder to unplug is needed once and awhile. That's why it was such a relief for me to go off the grid.

On Friday I, along with my parents and 13 friends, went the Sangree Froelicher Hut just north of Leadville. Starting at about 10:30 in the morning we left the trailhead and began the 3.1-mile trek. Some people snowshoed, like myself, while others skied in cross-country or alpine touring gear. Roughly four hours and 1,470 feet in elevation gain later I arrived at the hut.

"Hut" is a bit of an odd descriptor. It's more like a small house. Except for food—which is carried in everyone's packs—the huts come equipped with the necessities: chopped wood, pots and pans, dishes and utensils, sleeping bunks and snow to melt for water.

The second hut I've been to, Francie's Cabin, had two indoor composting toilets—a luxury in single digit weather. Sangree, my third hut, instead had two outhouses located what seemed like a mile down a boardwalk that needed to be constantly cleared of piling snowdrifts.

From Aspen to Breckenridge, there are 34 huts managed by the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association. Many, like this one, are named in honor of those who served as skiing soldiers in the Army's 10th Mountain Division during World War II.

Because a brave soul didn't mind the extra weight in their pack, a few of us played the dice game farkle that night after dinner under the glow of solar powered lights and headlamps. Players roll six dice and hope for outcomes like three-of-a-kind or straight. As long as one keeps scoring, they can push their luck and keep rolling. All points accumulated that round are lost if no scoring dice are rolled.

On Saturday people had the option to venture outside for some runs or stay in and keep busy with hobbies they don't have time for during the workweek. I brought my Nook to read another installment in a fantasy series yet didn't even get past the prologue. I also carried a pre-charged iPod loaded with podcasts in my jacket but never plugged in my headphones. Others hoped to finish knitting a scarf or hat but failed to make good progress.

Instead we all just ended up talking to one another.

Though most of the people were from the Valley and I see them on a semi-regular basis, it was a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with friends who have moved to the Front Range or to other states. One person, who my family rarely sees because they live in Seattle, has been a friend of my parents for 30 years. They first met while serving in the Navy together in Italy.

There's usually a small library of books and games if one looks for them in the hut's common space. The variety and condition can vary wildly since they're donated. Books are almost always about local flora and fauna. Sets of dominos and playing cards have been incomplete and board games have lacked rules. No cell service means we can't look up how to play with a few taps on a touchscreen.

However, this hut had the best analog game collection I've seen. There were enough decks for simultaneous games of solitaire. I picked up Steve Jackson's "Munchkin" off the shelf and played it five times, relearning the rules myself while teaching newcomers. It's similar to a role-playing video game though it's with cards. Players fight monsters to gain levels and loot so they can fight stronger monsters. If a monster is too strong to tackle alone another player can lend a hand. Yet because there can only be one winner, players also interfere in encounters so they can gain the lead.

Even though it was Saturday, packing up that night felt like packing up on a Sunday night before school after summer break. I couldn't shake the anxious and bittersweet feelings that it would be time to say goodbye tomorrow.

The trip back down on Sunday morning was easier and shorter, but still a challenge. I couldn't ski down in half hour like my cohorts with downhill skis. I only stopped when I was left breathless, not because of the cardio, but because of the views.

Looking out to Mount Democrat, a 14,154-foot mountain in the Mosquito Range, filled me with awe. There was a mountain I've summited in the summer, appearing just as majestic in the winter.

As I unloaded my gear at the trailhead I was exhausted and aching from my ankles to my shoulders, but I felt the most rejuvenated and serene in weeks. I'm already planning my next hut adventure for 2018.

This column was originally published in the February 1, 2017 edition of the Valley Courier.