It’s June. I’m hiking a hut trail in the Colorado tundra at about 12,000 feet. I’ve explored this same path in the same season many times over decades. The dynamic, surrounding beauty hadn’t changed much … until now.
I would not expect to find butterflies here, especially in early summer. Customarily, temperatures stay low, winds whip around and delicate plants hug the ground. But for the first time ever, I spot tiny blue-gray butterflies everywhere. It’s already warmer than last year. I haven’t seen my marmot yet … perhaps he has moved up higher?
Down below, I pass barren acres of lodgepole devastated by pine beetle. Last summer, fire ripped apart these forests, sparing stands of aspen and spruce, but leaving vast charred remains. These familiar vistas aren’t as beautiful, but more powerful and silent. The snowmelt appears rapid. Climate change is no longer subtle.
Soon, this trail will reach my 10th Mountain Hut destination where I’ll meet our family group. I’m excited to share a few days and nights in the high country with my grandkids for the first time. I hope they will love it, like me. I hope they will continue to enjoy similar experiences throughout their lives. But, it’s worrisome. Our Rocky Mountains are warming at more than double the world location rate.
The 10th Mountain Hut Association has a mission to provide its visitors with a comfortable and enjoyable experience in a natural mountain environment. In return, caring stewardship and shared use are the expected practices of guests. This 501c3 organization, headquartered in Aspen since 1981, owns 14 huts and manages 36 other huts in the system — many located in or near the Vail Valley. The Association recently committed to its official 10th Mountain Climate Project, announcing a conscious decision to engage in responsible practices and procedures within the framework of its existing business and services.
“We’re hut-centric. We already know how to do huts,” shares executive director, Ben Dodge. “But, with this new ongoing focus, we will be learning as we go. We will rely on outside consultants and experts (who also value the hut experience) to gather strategic information and lead informed decisions. Initially, our actions will be based on what we’re able to do, not on what we should do. It makes sense to reexamine our practices and procedures given the reality of climate change.”
The Association’s first move was to contract for an expert analysis of their greenhouse gas production generated by current operations. The results shaped immediate renovations (solar, electric water-based heat, etc.) for their Aspen and Leadville buildings/offices.
Fire mitigation is another priority, as they work closely with the Forest Service to provide a safe environment, while maintaining hut goals: providing safe structures and defensible perimeter spaces, while honoring natural beauty.
Dodge emphasizes that “preserving the quality of hut experience” is paramount to their efforts. Future “innovations” introduced to huts should also enhance ambiance and visitor comfort. Does it make sense to lessen firewood consumption (directly linked to greenhouse gas reduction) with more efficient heating? Of course, but a tight and fuel-efficient woodstove should still add charm and warmth to a hut stay.
Other “new options” under evaluation include purchasing electric trucks, promoting employee and guest carpooling to sites, increasing solar lighting, revamping drinking water sources (instead of snow melt), designing hut improvements, creating media programs and publications and more.
Perhaps the most important focus of the project is to stimulate awareness among hut users (80% of which are Colorado residents) and to encourage discussion and dialogue about climate change. “We’re not about preaching,” Dodge emphasizes. But, he hopes our community will begin to reach out more for climate action.
“This Association, by nature, is expected to be environmentally aware,” notes Auden Schendler, senior VP of sustainability for Aspen Skiing Company. Schendler is an avid hut user, climate activist and author. He reflects on the significance of the 10th’s commitment:
“Where’s our power in this?” Schendler observes. “Climate change is a global systems problem, with solutions found at much higher levels that require more than just personal action. But, the 10th Mountain Hut Association serves an influential, often wealthy and certainly pro-environment, constituency. It makes sense to mobilize this group, foster discussion and awareness with hut users. Mostly we have been silent. Look around! If you love what you see, if you want to protect it, then start discussions. Engage politically. Let policy makers know that you care!”
On my hike to the hut, I look around and notice different vistas, weather patterns, wildlife habits and natural tempos. Yes, it’s worrisome. But, I still love what I see. Do you? Let’s be proactive and support 10th Mountain Huts in this valuable initiative.
Sandy Ferguson Fuller began her children’s book career over 40 years ago as a student of Maurice Sendak at Yale University. Once introduced, the picture book genre captivated her imagination with its unique blend of story and illustration. She is an international literary agent, editorial consultant, bookseller, author and illustrator. Her life’s work has exposed her to a wealth of ideas and wonder. She hopes that her own books, as well as those she has helped others to publish, will touch many souls, young and old.