Opa's (Opa) Hut
ELEVATION: 11,850 feet (3,612 meters)
HUTSKI.COM FREE MAP: (see below)
latitude 39.000454 longitude 106.749496 (decimal degrees, WGS 84)
easting 348504 northing 4318283 (UTM, zone 13S, WGS 84)
TRAILHEADS: Ashcroft, Top of Aspen Mountain Gondola, Taylor Reservoir.
10TH MTN HUTS MAP: Star Peak
USGS MAPS: Hayden Peak, Aspen, Pearl Pass, Cement Mountain, Crested Butte, Gothic
Opa's Taylor Hut is named after the late Alfred Braun, principle founder of the Braun Hut System. Braun's nickname was Opa, a common German term for grandpa. (Spelling note: Due to the common style of eliminating apostrophes on map annotations, we spell Opas here both with and without the apostrophe, and favor spelling it without. More, for short we term it the "Opa Hut," which is the best way to spell it in our opinion.)
This hut is fairly remote and all access routes cross dangerous avalanche terrain.
Snowmobile assisted access is possible via the Taylor Pass Road from the Crested Butte side (long, about 20 miles to hut from Taylor Reservoir, expert riding in several sections), and from Richmond Ridge or Express Creek on the Aspen side. Express creek can be impassible for snowmobiles during mid to late winter due to the road filling in and becoming side hilled. Likewise, the Richmond Ridge route to the hut is complex and involves expert off-trail snowmobiling.
Warning: Use of snowmobiles is more likely to complicate this route and take more effort than keeping our trip as a 100% human powered effort. This is due to the propensity for all but expert riders to get lost or get their machine stuck. More, if you load a snowmobile with essential equipment, then get separated from your gear, you have introduced a danger factor that is stupid, and may extract dire consequences.
Thus, the easiest way to reach Opa hut is to probably forgo all mechanized assistance and simply skin up Express Creek, over either Little Italian Saddle or Taylor Pass, then down to the hut. GPS use mandatory, but know that at least one group has possessed and used a GPS and still not found the hut, probably due to their incompetent fumbling with their GPS. Before using GPS in the field, practice while taking walks in civilization. More, pre-program all locations into your GPS before leaving home, and verify by plotting on map since one typo in a GPS coordinate can kill you.
You'll find a few route tips below, we'll add more details as user testing commences.
Creative mountaineers and backcountry skiers can find a plethora of interesting projects in the Opas Hut area. Just cover your eyes, point in almost any direction, and go. Because of the hut’s elevation it’s the perfect base camp for spring skiing. Again, note that finding this hut can be challenging, especially in low visibility. GPS is mandatory.
Opa's Taylor Hut from Express Creek (shortest human powered route, from Aspen side of mountains)
HUTSKI.COM FREE MAP: (see Google map above)
HUTSKI.COM GPS TRACKS: GPX
(approximate route, refine per avalanche danger)
ELEVATION GAIN: 2,700 feet
ONE WAY DISTANCE: 6 miles
See our HutSki.com Markley Hut description for more information about this route. Drive to the ghost town and residential area known as Ashcroft, 10 miles up the Castle Creek Road from Highway 82 (see trailhead information by using our main menu at top of this page). Take the route to Markley Hut from Ashcroft.
Ski up the Express Creek drainage past Markley Hut, staying in the middle of the valley to avoid the runouts of slide paths to either side. If you've got lots of snow and some avalanche danger, at just shy of 11,000 feet elevation, swing south into Little Italian Basin. In the case of less snow continue a short distance then do the same swing into the basin in a way that doesn't involve dropping through a willow infested area.
Be aware that your route up Express creek needs to avoid the big southerly facing avalanche paths that cross the summer road. These are avoided by skiing up the valley bottom instead of on the summer road. Skiing the road across the avalanche paths has killed at least one unthinking person in a slide -- a person who could just of easily have been touring up the valley bottom for the day.
Little Italian Basin is home to the MnM chutes, where unless the snowpack is perfect you stand a good chance of dying. So avoid temptation. With the possibility of killer avalanches in mind, micro route find your way up Little Italian Basin for about 1.5 miles and 1,200 vertical feet to Little Italian Joe Saddle (12,184 feet), the highpoint of the route.
Little Italian Saddle may be one of the few places along the ridge not guarded by large cornices and may offer good passage in most conditions. Be willing to turn back if in doubt about egress from the saddle. The trick to navigating the vast flats you'll next encounter is to note the hut location out on the flat peninsula of land overlooking the Taylor River Basin. If you go to high or low, you'll miss it. GPS mandatory.
Head over Little Italian Joe saddle on a southeasterly dropping traverse into the Taylor drainage. At about 1/2 mile from the saddle, swing east and follow the aforementioned "peninsula" another 3/4 mile to the hut at 11,758 feet overlooking the Taylor drainage.
It would also be wise for first time Opa's travelers to review the landscape in Google Earth and note the granite crags near the hut which can be a good marker as well as a potential hazard. A snowmobile exclusion zone (about 500 yards out from Hut) has been staked around the hut and you may see small reflectors on the stakes which is another clue that the hut is near. Best, possess and know how to use a GPS unit with hut location pre-programmed.
Notes: First, this is perhaps the most advanced "standard" route to the Alfred Braun Huts. Avalanche danger is omnipresent. Navigation may be incredibly difficult or impossible in all but perfect weather. Do your homework. Carry and expertly use your map and compass. A GPS unit is mandatory, and must be programmed with numerous way points and perhaps a track for accurate travel on this circuitous and high altitude route. That said, be advised that any pre-set track in a GPS should be used only as a guideline on the ground -- vary such routes with micro navigation to avoid avalanche slopes both large and small. Furthermore, only travel this route in stable weather as it crosses a high ridge where even a moderate storm will shut you down quicker than an IED blowing up in your face. Please know that the use of this route description and associated GPS data and maps is at your own risk, and the provided information is possibly subject to human error, weather, or natural changes of the land.
Goodwin Greene Hut via Richmond Ridge (First part of super long route to Opa's Hut. )
HUTSKI.COM FREE MAP: (see above)
ELEVATION GAIN: 1,300 feet (varies with exact route)
ONE WAY DISTANCE: 11 miles (varies with exact route)
Most of this route is usually packed by snowmobiles and is reasonably easy to navigate if you pay attention to map and compass. Nonetheless, here at HutSki.com we believe a programmed GPS is mandatory for this route, as the latter section can be extremely difficult to find in all but perfect weather.
From downtown Aspen, take the gondola to the top of Aspen Mountain, then exit through a backcountry gate behind the gondola building and ski 8 miles to Barnard Hut. Please see our HutSki.com Barnard Hut route description for details.
Continue southerly past Barnard Hut. This is the slightly less traveled part of Richmond Ridge, though on certain days (especially weekends) it can see a lot of snowmobile traffic. Ski to the upper east side of the open area east of Barnard Hut. Identify McArthur Mountain to the south. Head S, slightly to the left of McArthur Mountain. Your goal is an obvious wide corridor in the timber. Head up this corridor to the east side of McArthur Mountain, then continue ½ mile SE to McArthur Saddle, 11,800 feet, at the head of Waterfall Gulch.
The next section of trail takes a low-angled climb SE for 1 mile to pass over the top of a nondescript hump (12,320 feet). This is a good place for intense map and compass work and a GPS check. Descend E from the hump down easy ground to a saddle (12,080 feet). Gold Hill (12,361 feet) is the little bump rising east and northeast from the saddle. The ski to the summit is trivial, the view terrific.
To reach Goodwin Greene Hut, contour at 12,000 feet around the south side of Gold Hill to a somewhat obvious pass on the east side of Gold Hill (Gold Pass, 12,020 feet). Drop N from the pass ½ mile to the hut, which is located at timberline and fairly easy to spot, though it can be obscured by a deep snowpack. Beware of avalanche slopes on all sides of Gold Hill.
Opa's Taylor Hut Regional Skiing and Mountaineering