Adam Wells and Greg Balkin are no strangers to the outdoor lifestyle. More often than not, they will be found adventuring to far off places around the globe. From weekend excursions in their backyard of the Pacific Northwest to month long road trips across New Zealand, Adam and Greg are true advocates of living life to the fullest and having fun in the outdoors.
What isn’t so familiar to these two, however, are backcountry hut trips – especially those that are only accessible on first come, first serve basis. With less than a handful of these trips under their belts, they are learning just what it takes to pull off a successful hut trip.
Their most recent trip boasted 360 degree views of multiple mountain ranges, alpine meadows filled with wildflowers and roaring waterfalls! Park Butte, located in the North Cascades of Washington State hosts one of the very few remaining and maintained fire look outs. It is a first come first serve hut, which presents its challenges.
Both Adam and Greg learned a lot on this trip and wanted to share their experiences. Whether you’re a first timer, seasoned pro or somewhere in-between, these tips can be applied to any backcountry hut adventure.
1. Not all huts are created equal
There are a few key components to keep in mind when choosing your backcountry hut destination. Some trails will lead you to secluded huts in the middle of dense forests and some will lead you to the top of mountains. Both are solid choices, but know what you are getting yourself into. If you spend all morning hiking up treacherous terrain, you’ll want that reward of awe inspiring views at the top!
Fire look-outs are a great place to start, they guarantee epic views from a little lodge on top of big mountains. Ask most backcountry hikers and they will agree that the challenge of hiking up steep trails with loads of gear strapped to your back feels all the more worth it when you arrive to 360 degree views.
If you decide a fire lookout is for you, make sure you can actually sleep in the hut. Often times the huts are locked or you are not allowed to sleep in them. Not all huts that are open during the summer are also open in the winter. Be sure to check with the forest service before you go.
Bonus tip: For first come first serve huts, there is a chance you are going to have to share it. It’s lame to be grumpy – everyone worked hard to get there, share it with others. You’ll have a great experience and might even end up with new adventure partners for the next trip.
2. Early bird gets the worm
This one is easy: leave early. Especially if your destination hut is first come first serve. Yes, this means you have to get up before sunrise and hit the trail. Sure, you will have time to kill at the hut but it’s fun to spend a day in a new place, nestle in and pretend it is your own home. Down time allows for a richer experience. After all, you (most likely) worked hard to make it to the destination, so take time to walk around and explore the area. Explore the area with your camera, find a secluded spot to read a book or journal, or hang out in the hut with a deck of cards. The more time you have, the more you are able to experience!
Bonus tip: Leave early, arrive early and you won’t regret it.
3. Layer up
Speaking of starting early, layers are absolutely essential to all day comfort! They are the tried and true method of maximizing comfort in the outdoors. Hut trips require the utmost preparation of clothing, as your body will experience varying temperatures throughout the day. From starting the day with a resting heart rate and early morning cool temperatures, to your body pumping up as you hike and the outside temperature rising throughout the day, chances are your body is going to go through extreme temperature changes. Why not make it easy by layering up? Plus, nobody wants to repack their bag multiple times during the day, so dressing in layers can help keep you on the trail longer. The same goes for once you reach the hut and the sun starts to set, back on go your layers and keep your feet warm with hiking specific socks!
4. Games & gifts
You should pack the essentials – and that’s another list for another time. But have you ever thought about bringing a little something extra, something that doesn’t quite make the essential list but is nice to have? Perhaps a xylophone or a tasty treat to enjoy and share after finally reaching your destination? Try bringing the unexpected and it will bring strangers and friends alike closer together.
Bonus tip: Don’t play the xylophone? That’s ok, most people don’t. Sweet treats like peach-O’s or peanut M&M’s are a great and easy go-to surprise.
5. Leave it better than you found it
The majority of backcountry huts are maintained and run by volunteers. Often times volunteers aren’t able to reach the huts in between every single trip. It’s important to leave these huts better than you found them. By practicing leave no trace principles, we can enhance each hut trip for ourselves and others. Some huts even run into issues with food being left out...and nobody wants a mouse running over them in the middle of the night.
Bonus tip: Show your appreciation by leaving the hut clean and tidy. Go the extra mile and consider leaving a friendly note for the next group of hikers.
Thanks to Adam and Greg for sharing these amazing tips and photos. Follow along on their adventures by checking out Yeehaw Donkey on Instagram.