"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.
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.
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