A Gateway Into the Mountains

Employing parking lot camping skills was not a conscious act of toughness, rather an unforeseen reality stemming form poor planning and traffic. The initial plan had been to skin up to the Harvard Cabin that evening but time and fatigue squashed that goal. Fortunately, sleep is typically easy to find in a -20 sleeping bag, a proper pillow, and layering a few Thermarests and z-pads in the back of the car.

The following morning consisted of a tour up Hillman’s Highway, a lap in Left Gully, and scarily watching someone punch through the Little Headwall and inexplicably walk away with nothing more than soggy boot liners. In any ski day there is a “moment” when the mountains give you the nod and let you know its time to gather your belongings and head on home. Armpit arrests above open water seemed like a good time to call it on this particular day. I quickly gathered my stashed gear at HoJos and made my way towards the other ravine.

It would be borderline disrespectful to try and give a worthy history of the Harvard Cabin in this quick post, instead I advise readers to make the trek up the trail, head right at the fork, and see if they can pass the Harvard entrance exam (hint: cheat sheet is written on the door). Upon entering Harvard you will be greeted by either Rich or Marcia….probably both….and promptly given a tour of the campus. Pay attention.

The first time I arrived at the cabin I knew I had found the piece of the skiing puzzle that had been missing since leaving the Pacific Northwest. The previous winter I had good days at Jay and Mad River, mixed with some great trips up to Mt. Mansfield, but I had yet to find a community similar to the one I had become a part of in Washington and Idaho. Finding people to ski with at a resort is simply a matter of having a positive disposition and getting on a chairlift frequently enough to begin recognizing the same skis and Gore-Tex, however, finding good people to spend time in the backcountry with is a different vetting process entirely. The cabin (nestled between two glacier cirques that hold arguably the best backcountry skiing terrain between here and Jackson Hole) serves as one of the few central locations on the East Coast where backcountry skiers and climbers can gather, stay warm, eat a hot meal, and most importantly share stories of recent and distant adventures. For me it quickly became the epicenter of my skiing experiences.

Since my first trip to the Cutler River Drainage the cabin has provided full moon ski tours, limit pushing lines, and meals with world renowned athletes and first time adventurers alike. Moreover, the hut itself has provided just as many stories as the impressive landscape it allows access to. In apparent contradiction to some of the competitive zeal developing within backcountry skiing (the pre dawn patrol and Himalayan-esque starts are rapidly becoming a real thing), the cabin serves as a place to consciously interact with others, or ignore others and read, or take a nap, or settle into the pleather low rider and simply watch as people stumble in, shake of the snow and cold, and begin hanging clothes for the following day’s adventure. Here, huddled below smelly boot liners, socks, ice tools, ropes, and damp fleece, I find my inexplicably feral connection with the mountains becomes enriched by the presence of others.

I am confused as to why this small dwelling hasn’t become more popular within the rapidly increasing backcountry skiing population. Innumerable variables undoubtedly contribute to the infrequent use of the ski rack outside the entrance to the Harvard Cabin, many of which I selfishly choose not to discuss for fear that unpacking the problem would result in larger crowds and potentially loosing my preferred spot in the loft. However, I will conclude with some final thoughts for those seeking the depth of physical, intellectual, and interpersonal experience that time in the mountains often provides; go right at the fork, kick snow off your boots before you enter, don’t touch the fireplace until 4:00 pm, help out with the dishes, replace the beer you take, and give yourself enough time to fully enjoy the Harvard Cabin.

Scouting lines in Huntington with the master caretaker.
Scouting lines in Huntington with the master caretaker.

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