High Hut Trail Guide Excerpts
Notes kindly compiled by Leyton Jump, Manager of High Hut, Mt. Tahoma Trails Association
The Mt. Tahoma Trails Association operates and manages for public use a year-round hut-to-hut trail system adjacent to the slopes of Mt. Rainier, offering trail users of differing skill levels and economic backgrounds a safe and inspirational backcountry experience. MTTA leadership maintains a functional working partnership with all stakeholders (MTTA members, trail users, volunteers, and our host land owners) based on mutual trust and honesty. Volunteers provide labor to achieve this mission.
- Respectful relationships
- Long-term vision
- Promote volunteerism
- Inclusive membership
- Societal benefit
April 1992 found Karol and Leyton Jump with Zachary, 8 years old and Heidi, 6 years old, hiking from the No. 2 Road toward High Hut. Through a friend, Leyton had heard about these huts situated outside of Ashford, and, although the season was late, a reservation was obtained. With his family, and carrying the skis, the weekend trip was started. By telling continuous stories to the children, we finally approached the last climb to High Hut, where we encountered a little bit of snow, which had been torn up by a four-wheel-drive vehicle, so on we hiked. The hike in was a wonderful family experience, as was the weekend that followed. The short ski along the High Hut Ridge allowed us to finally use the skis we had carried in. Soon after this first trip Leyton joined the ski patrol and continued to take his family to the huts several times each year. The hut logbooks are filled with stories of the Jump family and friends having great experiences.
Through the 10 years of volunteering on the ski patrol, Leyton has groomed trails, done hut repairs, found lost skiers, and helped with summer work projects. The Mt. Tahoma Trails Association has a lot to offer, and in hopes that more people can enjoy more of the system, Leyton started working on this trail guide. Hopefully it will help winter travelers to enjoy the MTTA system.
In the latter years Leyton has pioneered new routes within the system. The most substantial of these is the Lower Yurt Trail, which was officially completed for the 2002-2003 season. Within the system, this is the only major trail that has been constructed instead of relying on existing roads.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
It was at Mount Hood, on the Mazama Lodge rope tow slope, that a 6th grader was night skiing. The combination of age, fatigue, and the unusual night lighting brought this young man into the moguls at an accident-causing rate of descent. The crash was spectacular and provided his first, and hopefully last, first-aid toboggan ride to the lodge. The remainder of the ski season was spent on crutches and interest in skiing faded. This accident would bring about the shift from Alpine to cross-country and back country skiing.
Three years later his family again considered snow sports but the cost of all new Alpine gear was prohibitive. The REI cross-country ski package was the solution: 50 mm Norwegian Tronder wooden skis with lignostone edges (metal edges were yet to come), low top Norwegian leather boots with cable bindings, bamboo poles, and a Swix wax kit. Slowly the art of waxing in the difficult temperatures of the Cascades was mastered while enjoying the roads and trails of the Oregon Cascades. During graduate school, longer ski touring trips around Crater Lake, Diamond Lake, and Mount Hood tested the turning ability of the classic old wooden skis. The concept of Heel Loose and Fancy Free was born.
The 1980s found the author in Southern California, with access to the high Sierra Mountains. After the wooden skis disintegrated, a quantum upward step brought into the quiver Karhu Teton (the prototype of the Karhu XC-DT) wood over a foam core metal-edged 55 mm skis with Norona above-the-ankle leather boots. The ability to Telemark with greater control allowed many multi-day trips into the expansive high Sierras and lift skiing. Before moving to Washington, the Sierra High Route from Independence, California to Sequoia National Park produced memories of the ultimate backcountry ski trip.
With a move to Tenino, and the addition of young children, the prospect of spending family nights in a heated hut instead of a tent had obvious benefits. High Hut had just opened, and a family spring trip was a success and enjoyed by all. To support the system, and to enjoy many more family outings, the author joined the ski patrol in 1992.
Over the years, first my son Zach and then my daughter Heidi joined the ski patrol in their late high school years. Zach joined his dad for a return trip to the Sierra High Route in the spring of 2002. The difference in equipment with fiberglass skis, plastic T3 or high-top heavy leather Snowfield boots and adjustable lightweight aluminum poles made an unbelievable difference. Even though the equipment was different, the Route was as spectacular and difficult as remembered.
As new routes in the MTTA system were explored, and as more people wanted to enjoy the regular trails, it has become my goal to produce an MTTA trail guide to allow more people to enjoy the spectacular country in the foothills of Mt. Rainier. This guide was started in 2001 and will continue to develop until all the trails are described.
Mt. Tahoma Trails Association History
The idea of a cross-country trail system adjacent to Mt. Rainier National Park had been a dream of skiers for many years. In 1989 the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR), members of the local business community, and other major landowners in the Upper Nisqually Basin met to discuss the possibility of establishing a cross-country ski trail system on the western slopes of Mount Rainier. At that meeting four landowners, consisting of the National Park Service, US Forest Service, DNR, and Champion Pacific Timberlands Inc., discussed the feasibility of this proposed ski trail system with members of the local business association. This was the beginning of the Mt. Tahoma Ski Trails System. In early 1990, the Mt. Tahoma Scenic Ski Trails Association (MTSSTA), a Washington Nonprofit Corporation, was formed to promote the construction, maintenance, and operation of this trail system.
The agreement between the various landowners and the association was simple. The landowners would allow use of their lands for the ski trails and huts, while the MTSSTA would provide the labor and funding to maintain and operate the ski hut system. By the winter ski season of 1990, funding for building supplies for the first hut (High Hut) had been acquired. The DNR provided funding for the trail signs and donated two surplus snowmobiles for trail grooming. The MTSSTA provided the volunteer labor to build the hut and operate the ski trail system. Some additional state money allowed for Sno-Park snowplowing. The rest of the funding came from donations and member dues. Skiers used the trail system for the first time during the winter of 1990-1991. In 1993, the association changed its name to the present Mt. Tahoma Trails Association (MTTA).
Kurt Hummel, the first president of the MTTA board and one of the locals who was instrumental in starting this system, shared these thoughts:
TRAIL SCOUTING. In April of 1990 we skied The Western Circumference of Mt. Rainier to locate the best route for a ski trail system. Perhaps the most memorable for true Telemark backcountry was the Colonnade area above Golden Lakes cabin in Mount Rainier National Park. Large open bowls in a silver forest of sparsely spaced trees beckoned any Telemark skier with 2-3000 ft. of vertical paradise. Unfortunately, the Park Service would not allow any structures to be built within their boundaries so this area remains open only to the hearty.
HUT CONSTRUCTION. Caught in the state matching funds budget process, monies were delayed again and again as our ideal summer building season slipped away. But it was finally cut loose in mid-November, 1990, just in time for the snow! Our small group of dedicated volunteers immediately began work on High Hut in hopes to finish in time for the full snow season. Unfortunately, our one qualified carpenter became too busy to supervise, so construction was left in the hands of us backyard handyman. I distinctly remember day one at High Hut. With a set of plans in hand, we spent a good couple of hours drawing lines in the dirt trying to get a perfect square. Memories of geometry class were dug up as we tried to remember the mathematical formula for right triangles. We returned every weekend through December and January as snow stacked up and the weather became worse and worse. Finally the wood stove was installed which immediately filled the entire hut with thick smoke. We found the chimney placement didn’t match the wind dynamics of our roof. This led to the first of many retrofits and compromises. The next time you spend a stormy night at High Hut, you may get some idea of the conditions most of the construction was done under.
By the time we were ready to move on to the building of Snow Bowl, a real carpenter volunteered. My thanks will always go out to Gary Altman and Mica Construction who I’m sure (like myself) got himself into more than he bargained for. This was a guy who could take a dozen green volunteers and make sure everyone was busy on a meaningful task at all times. The quality of work at Snow Bowl Hut is apparent to this day.
Through the summer, trails and existing roads were cleared by hand. Work was at a constant pace until the end of the third year, by which time three huts and a Yurt had been constructed. The beginning of a truly great ski trail system had been formed. (Thanks, Kurt for sharing.)
Every year the DNR receives snowplow funding from the Washington State Parks Dept. for access road plowing to two Sno-Park areas. In addition, the DNR and other landowners provide approximately $5000 to MTTA for general operations. This money represents 5 to 10% of the overall funding required to operate this trail system on an ongoing basis. In return for these funds the MTTA must ensure the following:
- Operate and maintain the ski trail system and grooming equipment.
- Provide volunteers for hut managers, groomers, base operations and ski patrol.
- Increase public awareness and support for the ski trail system.
- Obtain the necessary additional funding to operate the trail system through various donations, grants, sponsorships, and membership fees.
- Keep the Sno-Park access roads plowed.
- Groom the ski trail system.
- Elect a Board of Directors and hold annual meetings.
The ski hut system is open to be public, free of charge, for skiing and snowshoeing from December to April. A confirmed reservation for overnight stays at the huts is required. For Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, a $25 per night, per person damage deposit is charged. The deposit for other nights is $10. This deposit is retained to cover damage to the huts and to limit no-shows. All funds retained from forfeited deposits are required by the state policy to be used exclusively for hut maintenance and are administered by the Trails Operation Committee. The trail users are encouraged to join and support the MTTA. In 2002 a $5 per person per night fee was levied to cover the expenses of operating the reservation system. Operating costs for the huts, such as propane, paper towels, toilet paper, and hut maintenance come out of the general budget. This budget is dependent on donations and the money earned during the annual Gala. Hut users who donate part or all of their deposit help maintain the organization and allow this wonderful system to thrive. While staying in the huts, consider that you are getting wonderful accommodations and a trail system for free. Your donation is a small token of thanks.
Built as the first hut in 1990, and partially rebuilt in 1991 with a grant from the Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation, state funds, and private donations, High Hut demonstrated that volunteer labor could build a backcountry ski hut. Because of concerns about high winds, cold weather, and safety, this hut was built with small windows, each of which had wooden shutters, and heavy steel cables to secure the structure to the mountaintop. A second-story deck was built soon after the hut was erected. With its good insulation, it became obvious that a hut could easily be kept warm with a single wood-burning stove. Future huts would benefit from what was learned in the early years of High Hut.
With a total floor space of 600 square feet, which includes a sleeping loft, the hut has the capacity to sleep 8 visitors plus bunk beds for 4 ski patrollers. The initial noisy gas lanterns were replaced with quiet low-pressure propane lamps in about 1996. Over the years improvements included more windows, a painted interior, comfortable wooden chairs, a drain system for the sink (which replaced the proverbial 5 gallon bucket) and in 2001 an island to expand the kitchen space. A new roof was installed in 2002. To reduce the risk of propane explosions, LED 12 volt lights were installed in 2003 and greatly improved with a solar charging system in 2005.
All huts have an outside, cistern style outhouse, which is pumped out in the summer. The outhouses are well ventilated, masterly built and spacious. The MTTA outhouses may be the nicest that many have visited. In 2014 the original High Hut Outhouse, with its unique charm, was replaced by a standard DNR Concrete wheel chair accessible outhouse
High Hut, at 4760 feet, is the highest and most exposed of all of the MTTA huts. Sitting on its ridge top, it has a commanding 360-degree view of the surrounding country and mountains. Mount Rainier appears to sit directly outside the hut and fills all of the windows with a spectacular view. Even when the outside wind howls at 40-60 mph, High Hut is quiet, cozy, and secure. Although it is the highest hut, the climb is quite steady, with no steep challenges. For skiers, the hard part of the trip to High Hut is the descent. Many X-Country skies are not comfortable with downhill travel. Because of its exposed position, visitors may experience strong, cold winds in the last quarter-mile before arriving at the hut. Even though it is the oldest and smallest hut, High Hut has a unique karma, and is enjoyed by the hardy souls who manage the climb.
There are many stories about High Hut. Floyd Richman was the High Hut manager, and drove to High Hut on October 30, the day before Halloween, to perform a few chores. No storms or bad weather were forecasted. He awoke the following morning to find 2 feet of snow, and a continuing blizzard. 4 feet of snow fell with that storm. His VW Thing was snowed in, and remained at High Hut until a very cold spell in February when the snow froze hard enough for him to drive his vehicle out. High Hut is full of surprises.
During the summer of 2009, High Hut went through a remodeling. The small windows on the northeast side were removed, and four large windows were installed. This significantly increased the view of the Nisqually Valley and Mt. Rainier, and gives High Hut an open spacious feel. New flooring, new paint, and more LED lights were part of the remodeling. The wooden bench on the east wall was built into a bunk. With extra bunk space, the sleeping loft will not be as crowded
2010 Found High Hut with a new manager, Leyton Jump, and a MTTTA desire to provide some improved quarters for ski patrol as a way to thank them for their many hours of volunteer time. A ski patrol sleeping room was proposed. Two locations were considered: improving the once wood room into a sleeping area, or building a room on the deck above the hut entrance. Each location had its benefits and problems. The old wood room would be less construction and would result in a low ceiling dark dungeon like room. The deck room would replace the deck where many had slept in the summer (and a few hardy souls during winter storms). Since there were no original plans of how High Hut was built, the hut was surveyed and plans drawn up for a 12×12 foot room added on to the tiny sloping ceiling hut manager sleeping loft.
In September, 2010, DNR, the then hut owner, approved this new construction stating that the new addition needed to be built to code and not weaken the existing hut. . Taking the “why wait” approach, Leyton Jump and Tom Mckeon, an engineer who had done the structural planning and drawings, decided the room could be built and weathered in before the snow closed the hill top to vehicle traffic. In four weekends (three stormy and one beautiful), using all volunteer labor, the deck was removed, the room constructed, a new Cold Room enclosed underneath and new east side stairs installed. Fantastic. A new ski patroller, Ziggy Zlakus, a contractor, was an integral part of the construction team and would go on to build the new Snow Bowl.
Ski patrollers were so thrilled by the new bright cheery room that many braved the now snow covered road to do the finishing touches. A beautiful wood floor was laid, the walls paneled and Ziggy framed in the windows. By late November, with many contributing, the room was not just weathered in but beautifully finished. Volunteers could get the job done.
The thought that heat from the main Hut room would travel up the stairs to heat the ski patrol room proved to be false. Before the December holidays, a beautiful Vermont Country Store soap stone heat stove was installed to finish the charm of this room
SNOW BOWL HUT
Originally built in 1991 with volunteer labor on Department of Natural Resources (DNR) land and at an elevation of 4250 feet, this hut is located 4.5 miles up from Sno-Park 1. Learning from the construction of High Hut, Snow Bowl is slightly larger, has a higher roof to allow better head clearance to the sleeping loft and a wood storage room. The windows are larger for better light. It too has a second story deck with an outside staircase to the ground. It also has a large first-floor deck with a stone barbecue, which is often used to cook meals after summertime MTTA work projects.
Snow Bowl Hut has room for eight visitors, and bunks for 4 ski patrollers. Heat was originally supplied by a cast-iron wood-burning stove. In 2003, a propane-fired heat stove was installed. The hut has been upgraded with quiet propane lamps, a 4-burner propane stove with oven, sink with gravity drain, comfortable couches, and a sleeping loft with 4 inch thick sleeping cushions. The hut managers have done a pleasing job of making this hut warm, friendly and less rustic. In 2003, LED 12 volt lights were installed to supplement the propane lamps. These were upgraded in 2005 with solar panels.
As in all of the huts, cooking utensils, plates, bowls, cups, silverware, and brooms for hut cleaning are provided. Water at all of the huts comes from melting snow. Gravity -powered water filtering systems were installed in 2000.
Although not as high as High Hut, the route to Snow Bowl Hut includes the steepest climb (on groomed routes) in the entire MTTA system. This climb occurs just after the junction with the High Hut Trail. Many skiers use climbing skins or tie parachute cord around their skis to improve traction. After this brief steep climb, visitors are rewarded with a level and then a gentle downhill ski before the final climb around the bowl to the hut. Snow Bowl Hut also has an impressive view, weather permitting, of Mt. Rainier.
When the Nisqually bridge washed out in November 2006, access to the south district was lost.
Snow Bowl was buried under heavy snow fall 2007 and burned down
The author be leaves there was structural failure crushing the cook stove and leading to an explosion when the propane leak reached the heat stove pilot light.
A new hut was constructed using Ziggy Zlakus as the contractor