ELEVATION: 11,480 feet, 3,499 meters
HUTSKI.COM FREE MAP: (see below)
latitude 39.073190° longitude -106.770920° (decimal degrees, WGS 84)
easting 346806 northing 4326392 (UTM, zone 13S, WGS 84)
TRAILHEADS: Ashcroft, Aspen Mountain Summit
10TH MTN HUTS OFFICAL MAP: Star Peak
USGS MAPS: Hayden Peak, Aspen, Pearl Pass, Cement Mountain, Crested Butte, Gothic
Barnard Hut as viewed from McArthur Mountain
Completed in 1967 and renovated 2000, Barnard Hut is located on Richmond Ridge behind Aspen Mountain ski resort in a location with good views and a small amount of downhill play area.
Because of population pressure, easy access, and lack of planning, the location of Barnard Hut has become excessivly crowded with conflicting uses. The hut is sited just a few hundred yard from a popular snowmobile route, a snowcat skiing operation uses nearby terrain, and scores of day tourers ski the area near the hut. Several wealthy Aspenites have even bought personal snowcats to use in the area! Thus, our advice here at HutSki.com is to use Barnard Hut more as a stopover for connecting a ski tour between the huts, rather than a destination in of itself.
In other words, considering the fact that in more than half the White River National Forest you'll never hear or see mechanized use (because of federally designated Wilderness as well as access issues), why go to a hut where you'll be sharing the soundscape and trails with snowmobiles and snowcats?
But if you wish...
Bear in mind that skiing to Barnard from the top of Aspen Mountain, while fairly flat, is an 8 mile trip that's quite exposed to weather as you're on the upper reaches of a ridge the whole distance. What's more, while you'll be tempted to depend on the trail being broken by mechanized use, this may not always be the case.
Few people are strong enough to break trail on skis for 8 miles, so keep that in mind if you start the trip and discover yourself wading through deep snow -- with miles still ahead.
Also, while the "over snow" roads you'll be following can make navigation easier, they may also confuse. Bring a GPS with pre-entered waypoints and route, and know how to use it.
Barnard Hut via Richmond Ridge
DIFFICULTY: Intermediate, possibly difficult navigation
HUTSKI.COM FREE MAP: (see above)
ELEVATION GAIN: about 700 feet (depending on exact route)
ONE WAY DISTANCE: 8 miles from Aspen Mountain gondola summit
In our opinion here at HutSki.com, the easiest way to Barnard Hut is via Richmond Ridge, accessed via the Aspen Mountain Gondola From downtown Aspen, take the gondola to the top (one-ride tickets are available), then exit through a backcountry gate behind the gondola building. You can also reach the top of the ski area from Castle Creek by skiing up Little Annie Road or Midnight Mine Road. Once on the ridge you’ll find good novice travel S for about 4 miles on a snowcovered road. The route finding becomes tougher after that, and in the experience of HutSki.com may even be difficult if multiple trails have been cut by mechanized use, or a storm limits your visibility. GPS recommended.
Ski 3 miles S along the upper reaches of the ridge, following the well-used snowmobile and snowcat “over snow” road as it winds through and around a series of small bumps. Continue another mile or so to an open meadow at the head of McFarlane Creek. The big tempting bowl you see below may yield good skiing during stable avalanche conditions, but keep in mind that several people have died in slides here.
From the head of McFarlane Creek the trail is harder to find and may require expert orienteering skill. It's here where we at HutSki.com feel a GPS could truly be handy. Ski to the southeast along the westerly edge of the meadow at the head of McFarlane Creek, then follow a roadcut through trees that leads down into the head of the West Difficult Creek drain.
Once you’re at the head of the West Difficult drain, do not drop too low. Follow the trail as it parallels the creek then climbs easterly up a hill. At the top of the hill you’ll break into another flat area (there is a swamp here, 11,280 feet). You are now at the headwater of Difficult Creek.
From this flat area mentioned above, follow a confusing route that wanders southerly through sparse timber, then passes through a nondescript saddle (11,480 feet). You are now at the head of Fall Creek, but whatever you do, don’t descend Fall Creek (the name says it all). After the saddle, the trail drops a bit into an open area, then passes west of Barnard Hut (11,480 feet), which is on a timbered knob about 200 yards west of the trail. The hut is not easy to see from the trail. Route markers and signs may be in place, but don’t count on them.
To return to Aspen Mountain from Barnard Hut, reverse the route above. Take care to climb back up to Richmond Ridge after you drop into the West Fork of Difficult Creek.
It should be emphasized that this route is confusing. Many experienced mountaineers have wandered around Richmond Ridge looking for Barnard Hut, those who have succumbed to this include some of us here at HutSki.com -- though we did eventually find the hut.
Most terrain on the crest of Richmond Ridge is free of avalanche danger, but a number of dangerous avalanche gullies and bowls drop from the ridge. Much of this terrain is used by a commercial snowcat ski operation, and it’s also heavily used by private parties. In view of how cramped this terrain is, compared to the vast reaches of Colorado’s mountains, the amount of crowding appears ludicrous. Perhaps this book will help spread out the crowds. But if you’d rather ski the backcountry with hundreds of people, now you know where to go. With creativity, it’s possible to find a lesser traveled route to Barnard Hut, in the future such a route may be marked as a recommended non-mechanized way to the hut.
Barnard Hut via Ashcroft and Express Creek
DIFFICULTY: Intermediate skiing, possibly advanced route finding
HUTSKI.COM FREE MAP: (see above)
TIME: full day, start early
ELEVATION GAIN: 2,863 feet
ONE WAY DISTANCE: 7 ½ miles
This is the more advanced route to Barnard Hut and should only be attempted by experienced groups with good navigation skills. GPS recommended. If you suspect any avalanche danger, the Richmond Ridge route (see above) is a better alternative, though somewhat longer. Those of us here at hutski.com prefer this route if we deem it safe enough, but at least one person has died in an avalanche while ski touring in the Express Creek drainage, so beware.
Drive to the ghost town and residential area known as Ashcroft, 10 miles up the Castle Creek Road from Highway 82 (see trailhead links at top of page). From parking in Ashcroft (probably across the street from the Toklat buildings, obey parking signs), follow a public access trail that leads NE a short distance across flats to the Express Creek Road, where you cross a bridge over Castle Creek. If in doubt about parking or where the route is from parking to the bridge, inquire at the commercial ski touring operations office near the snow plow turn at the end of the Castle Creek Road.
Once you’re past the bridge and on the east side of Castle Creek Valley, ski up obvious Express Creek Road as it makes a long southerly climbing traverse. In about a mile the road crosses the lower portion of an avalanche path dropping from the west side of Ashcroft Mountain, and less than ½ mile past this slope the road takes you across another avy path. The traditional—and still best—way to deal with these slopes is simply cross them quickly one at a time. They are relatively inactive and only slide to the trail several times a year. If conditions are extremely dangerous you can avoid these slopes by dropping lower into the drainage, but this entails difficult bushwhacking and route finding. Indeed, during high avalanche danger the more prudent course is simply to turn back.
After you cross the avalanche paths mentioned above, you’ll pass through sparse aspen forests, and about 2 miles from Ashcroft you’ll come to a trail that forks right. This is the spur to Markley Hut (there may be a sign here). Do not continue up the main road, but rather take the trail to the hut. Ski up the valley past the hut, staying in the middle of the valley to avoid the runouts of slide paths to either side. (Do not follow the summer road route, as it passes below numerous avalanche paths!)
At the head of the valley (11,300 feet), swing N and continue up the drainage (do not use the road that climbs S across many avalanche paths). You can climb this last part of the drainage N then E to a broad saddle-like area that’s technically on Richmond Ridge (though it doesn’t look much like a ridge). Swing NW and continue about 100 vertical feet to the top of a bump located at the head of the drainage you just climbed.
In the experience of HutSki.com field checkers, navigation from the bump can be tricky, especially for first timers. Pull out your map and compass, and make a careful fix on McArthur Mountain to the north. Next, ski down northerly for 1 mile to McArthur saddle (11,800 feet). Continue northerly to pass a few hundred yards right of McArthur Mountain’s summit. Stay on your northern tack, and head down an obvious wide corridor through the timber. At the base of the corridor you’ll enter a large open area, which you ski across about ½ mile to Barnard Hut. The building is hidden by trees on a small knoll at the head of Fall Creek.
Avalanche terrain is a concern in Express Creek, but once you’re on Richmond Ridge navigation is job one. Landmarks in this vast alpine area are few, similar and vague. Storms can drop a white-out on you in moments, and high winds can make a simple map check into a gymnastic contortion. A GPS unit is useful for this route, though HutSki.com would like to remind you to have it pre-filled with waypoints and route, and to know how to use it! Practice at home.
Mind that some of the most famous lost people in recent Colorado history started their ignominious journey in this area. Click here to read their story. If you’re traveling from Barnard Hut to Ashcroft, reverse the route described above.
Barnard Hut Regional Skiing
During times of higher avalanche hazard, you’ll find safer glade skiing in the upper reaches of Fall Creek below the hut. Stay in the upper few hundred feet of Fall Creek; lower down it gets narrow, cliffy and dangerous.
McArthur Mountain from Barnard Hut
HUTSKI.COM FREE MAP: (see above)
ELEVATION GAIN: 659 feet
ROUND TRIP DISTANCE: 3 miles
During times of lower avalanche danger, you can get good skiing on the north bowl and shoulders of McArthur Mountain, which rises directly south of Barnard Hut a short distance across Fall Creek. The routes are clear leading up to McArthur’s lower northwest summit (11,980 feet). You can ski back from there or continue to the main summit.