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Rendezvous Huts – XC Skiing Dream

By Gordy Skoog - December 9th, 2009

"The thing to remember when traveling is that the trail is the thing. Travel too fast and you miss all you are traveling for."  Louis L'Amour.

Rolling up to the Cub Creek Trailhead, our Fab-Five of mixed ability XC skiers are locked into finding the meaning of life by removing all the clutter. As Phil loads the hauling sled with up to 300lbs of everything imaginable, we throw in our stripped down packs (like three quarters of those who have gone before) in order to move free and feel the flow. For Jessi and Matt, who are XC skiing newbie's, it's hoped that keeping the weight off their back will minimize the "Agony of Defeat" as we skate the 10km and 2000' vertical to our destination, the Rendezvous Hut.  An original from the '80s, upgrades and improvements in recent years make it the perfect Refugio for our relaxed pace, and for filling our lungs with the crystal clean air of our mountain crossing.  One of five evenly spaced huts, the Rendezvous with its pinnacle perspective is located 8 kilometers (5 miles) apart from the others along a 37 kilometers (21 miles) matrix of groomed trails.

Lying on the outer reaches of the little known world class MVSTA (Methow Valley Ski Trail Association) Trail System, the Rendezvous Huts in the North Cascades are attached in a unique permit relationship that separates them from typical backcountry perception.

Silver Star keeps watch over the Rendezvous photo - Gordy Skoog
Fab-Five making a break for Rendezvous Pass photo - Gordy Skoog
Blissful skating on way to Rendezvous Hut photo - Gordy Skoog
The only wilderness Hut system in the country accessible by combo skate/classic trails, that are Piston-Bully groomed on a regularly basis, these are not the backcountry experiences of the Tenth Mountain or Selkirks. Simple and cozy frame buildings that sleep 8-10 people, each is equipped with a full Kitchen (propane cook stove, pots, pans, utensils), a wood stove for heat, wall to wall padded sleeping loft, and a moon gazing outhouse. Like deluxe snow camping in the lap of luxury, the Rendezvous is a sanctuary that tugs at the heart strings, so much that some groups have made the sojourn for 20 plus years. On a really good snow year 1 out of 10 users might head for the Casal or Heffer Huts to access 400 – 800 ft. runs in the area of Grizzly Mtn. or the back side of Fawn Peak. Even though perceived as a backcountry experience in the early years, due to the lack of maintained trails, the Rendezvous Huts are not the a-typical backcountry experience today. Out there and wilderness for the uninitiated, the majority of users making their way are families with parents who grew up backcountry skiing that want their kids (typically 6 months – to teens) to taste the romanticism of a Hut away from the madding crowd. Striding close in their tracks are women (20%), Boy Scouts who camp in tents and use the Huts as kitchens and meeting areas, Parks and Recreation groups, The Mountaineers, and regional Ski Clubs. With dogs welcomed from Rendezvous Pass - East, the supporting MVSTA provides more open trails to dogs than anywhere else in country; thus accounting for the rapidly increasing 15% of visitors journeying with their pets. Relishing a dry base camp, most users choose to stay for 2-3 days in one location, then typically ski out and back to the other huts over the myriad of groomed trails in multi-hour circuits with casual wood stove stoked breaks.

By-passing the Little Cub Creek short cut, which is more of a hair raising down-trail than lung-busting up-route, Aaron and Hailey lead out as we get into the meat of our ascent.  It's not that the route pitches up; it's more about the relentless grind of the grade.  As they pull away stretching their skate tuned legs, Matt and Jessi search for technique and balance that will take them to the crest at Rendezvous Pass. Overcoming the standard Cub Creek approach in sections, it's a relief when the break-over finally comes into view.  Here a short out trail to the north takes Jessi and Matt to the Hut where Aaron and Hailey have stoked the fire and settled in.  With packs already delivered, we break out the food and hot liquids for a well deserved re-fueling.

Finally in its embrace, the Rendezvous Hut begins to work its magic. Engaged by a lofty view and philosophical conversation, dinner morphs into an evening long affair.

Jess and Matt making a run for the crest photo - Gordy Skoog
The break-over at Rendezvous Pass photo - Gordy Skoog
Sanctuary - the Rendezvous Hut photo - Gordy Skoog
The magic of Hut living fills up the soul photo - Gordy Skoog
Team Altrec skating upper Fawn Creek photo - Gordy Skoog
Taking in the down Valley vista near Fawn Hut photo - Gordy Skoog
Backcountry abounds within reach of the Rendezvous photo - Gordy Skoog
Aaron and Hailey skating the Tawika-Foster Bridge photo – Gordy Skoog
Mazama - parking them for lunch photo - Gordy Skoog
Valley Trail solitude heading for Winthrop  photo - Gordy Skoog
Skate - traditional track leads to Valhalla near Brown's Farm photo - Gordy Skoog
Rendezvous Hut Trail System photo - Gordy Skoog
Like the glow of its warming fire the spirit of the Hut surrounds the inner core, and captures our hearts.

Eventually the itch to stretch the legs takes over and I don the skis for a headlamp skate of the Cougar Mountain Loop. Leaving the cabin glow behind, I press forward on a freshly groomed track that the night Cat has laid down for tomorrows adventurers.  Rounding a corner I delight on the corduroy as I blaze solo by the Gardner Hut to reach the southern high point of the route. From here comes the rush!  With long swooping downhill's it’s a challenge to maintain control as speed outruns headlamp illumination. Then in an instant a quick turn and limited visibility launches me off the track in my reckless abandon.  Landing in a powder heap I howl at the moon in hilarious fits…what a hoot!  Regaining the Cougar Loop I stride out for more, reaching Cow Creek, regaining Rendezvous Pass, and the Hut in good order. After the spirited night ski it's time to hunker down and dream about surprises revealed after a dawning light.

Reluctant to leave the Hut sanctuary, morning drifts a long as breakfast, cleaning, and organizing readies us for slinging our ultra-light packs that are now our burden to bare. Breaking out the door onto a dusting of new snow, gravity replaces yesterday's uphill resistance as the mature forest flashes by like a crystal picket fence. In short order we are on descent, gliding down the west side Rendezvous Basin trail that still offers up virgin corduroy. With frozen foreheads and ears pinned back we scream passed the junctions for the Grizzle Mtn and Cassel Huts via a couple of exhilarating two mile hills separated by idyllic rolling terrain - allowing us to catch our breath. Sweeping around to the Fawn Creek trail, we arrive at "Too Sic Hill", the bane of our exit route. As "Too Sic" lulls us onto its gradual grade, around the first corner it puts the hammer down.  Those with skills and lungs continue to skate, others herringbone step their way up, and still more take the skis off and walk.  With Yoda ringing in the ears, "Do or do not, there is not try" our Fab-Five embraces all techniques with varying success. Regrouping at the hilltop, Aaron and Haley once again go on point as we are now half way to the Mazama trail head, yet 10km away. As I run sweep behind a fading Jessi and Matt we remain on the good side of the fun meter, while valley and mountain vistas abound on the mostly lateral trending down track. Shortly after passing the Fawn Creek Hut the lower Fawn Creek Hill comes up to greet us with another three mile luge run; bringing us to the Methow Valley floor and the Mazama Community trail.  Moderating effort on the now expansive meadow terrain, we've reach the main MVSTA trail system that sports an additional 150km of inspiration. Upon arrival at the one store town of Mazama we join the XC ski masses and take refuge with a life restoring hot lunch.  A logical end to our Hut tour, it's indeed the final resting place for Matt and Jessi (who we retrieve later during our shuttle car collection). Echoing Yoda's words, Aaron, Hailey and I top off the tank by skiing another 10km down Valley to the door of our house base camp; completing our own unique hut-to-hut variation.

In step with the ebbs and flows of baby boomers, visitor growth of the Rendezvous Huts has accelerated in the last three years to where prudent visitors reserve a year in advance for precious weekends. Arguably the finest Nordic skiing area in the country, which after 20 plus years is still largely unknown to the Nordic Community, interest is beginning to grow beyond the regional users that come mostly from the Seattle, Spokane, and Portland markets.

With a vast and varied 120 mile complex of trails, that receive meticulous daily grooming by the non-profit MVSTA, Olympians and National Teams are making their way to V-stroke signatures over the undulating landscape in tune-up for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Highlighted by a Methow Valley SuperTour Event, January 16-17th, top level athletes will be pressing their competitive limits one month before needing to lay it down on the line at the Olympic Nordic Venue in Callaghan Valley near Whistler Mountain, BC.

In Fab-Five like fashion, it's a good time to wave that international flag and ring a cow bell as Olympians blow by on one-day training ski-through's of the Rendezvous. Then punctuate a casual trail pace with a Hut interlude as your thing, regardless the end of the trail. Twenty years from now you'll be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did.


Rendezvous Huts Inc.
P.O. Box 728
Winthrop, WA 98862
(509) 996-8100



© 2011