Most sane people would rather spend the cold wintery days looking outward with a hot cup of tea. To my crazy group of friends, though, the mountains call us, even in the dead of winter. This post explores a “secret” excursion to High Hut, a cabin on top of a ridge overlooking the majestic Mt. Rainier. Let’s go!

Getting the permit

The first step in this journey required no snowshoes or fancy winter hats. To have a chance at booking an ideal time for a winter hike, we needed to attend a gala held by REI in downtown Seattle to fundraise for the MTTA (Mt. Tahoma Trails Association).

We thought this was a “secret” event only a select few knew about. It was packed. The drawing for a chance to book a spot on one of several cabins around Mt. Rainier first required a donation. Even with $200 into the pot, we were called once!

We booked Copper Creek, the first cabin on our list. By the end of the night, High Hut’s ideal time (Fridays and Saturdays) disappeared from the choices.

Typically, MTTA will open online registration after the gala. Jumping on the opportunity, I booked High Hut for a Sunday night stay – not ideal, as we would have to take a Monday off from work.

Thus, the date was set.

Getting the gear

This trek marked the first time Lina and I would be doing an overnight snowshoe trip. We did not know what to expect. And when faced with the unknown, we over-prepared, over-packed, and over-spent on a host of new winter gear. Well, it was money well spent – we needed it.

The gears included a new pack, hiking poles, dried food, thermal under layers, thermal socks, fancy hats, sleek winter gloves, winter-specific sleeping bags, micro spikes for shoes, snowshoes, gaiters to keep water out, and new outerwear. Winter sports gears lack sympathy for the wallets. We spent on high-end equipment to make them last.

In the end, the gears we bought were worth every penny. They kept us warm, dry, and made the difficult hike much easier.

I will include the full gear list in my next post on Copper Creek.

Hiking to High Hut

We lucked out with the weather. The warmer winter allowed us to park in the upper parking lot, saving us a mile from the trek. Instead of the 4.3 miles jaunt, we only needed to do 3.

The drive to the parking lot took us through potholes-ridden dirt roads and enchanted landscapes. We made a sudden stop on the bridge to watch a herd of elk cross the river.

At the parking lot, it took us half an hour to get our gears just perfect, layering like the experts recommended. I had never been so warm. 10 minutes into the hike, the overwhelming heat crippled our team. We took a long break to shed everything we spent so long putting on.

The rest of the trek went smoothly. We were the only ones on the trail. Beside from the lively conversations, the only other sounds came from the crunching of the ice from our micro spikes. For some reason, I found this constant crunch weirdly enjoyable and soothing.

Except for the occasional stops to take pictures, we pushed on relentlessly and made it to our cabin within 2.5 hours. The weather took a turn for the worst and covered most of the views.

We settled into our home for the night.

elk crossing from the bridge
one step at a time
streams were plentiful along the hike
snow plow equipment, i think
to be or not to be
half way there
it’s christmas up here
he wanted to know what it felt like to be a deer
the crew at a crossroad
the typical gear
the last stretch…
no fire outside tonight
home sweet home
welcome to the grand hotel

Exploring the well-oiled High Hut cabin

The High Hut cabin had everything you could dream of for an overnight stay in the mountains. In the back, a sizable tank provides guests with heat and gas for the stove. Solar panels provide charge to the main battery and can supply enough power for a few days.

Over the years, guests of the cabin have brought up all sorts of goodies including a big collection of board games, enough utensils for a big party, and all the kitchen accessories to cook a good meal.

To farm fresh water, you simply collected snow from outside and slowly defrosted it above the heater. An outhouse provides guests with the required toiletries. However, making it out to the outhouse in the middle of the frozen night was an experience, to say the least.

With all the sleeping pads and pillows, it could easily sleep 12. The cabin has a special room for the ski patrol when they need to spend the night.

High Hut cabin was beautifully organized. Everything had a place, including an ingenious pulley system to hang hats, jackets, and other things.

the mud room
a full kitchen… epic
those windows would offer the best view of Mt. Rainier
i took the top bunk
hangers on a pulley system, and behind it the upstairs loft
fresh water and warmth for the cabin

Warming up with the sublime sunrise over Mt. Rainier

I reminded the crew to turn off their alarm. We needed the sleep. Unfortunately, an alarm went off at 5 am. Luckily, I dozed off again soon after. Then a second alarm woke me for good at 7:30 am.

This alarm was deliberate.

I rushed outside hoping the fog from the previous night had dissipated. A bright red peeking through the eastern peak mesmerized me. Looking straight ahead, the imposing and majestic Mt. Rainier was in full view. Streaking shades of purple, reds, yellows, and oranges danced in the sky.

I had not seen anything that magical in the sky since my trip to Iceland earlier in the year.

Naturally, I raced inside and woke the rest of the team. We quickly dressed and came outside to admire the most amazing sunrise I had ever seen.

Below is a video converted to gif (for size consideration) of the sunrise set to 40 minutes on time-lapse.

Enjoy the rest of the pictures.

no words necessary
20 minutes after sunrise
golden hour is strong with this one
the sky was lit
let there be cheeseburgers

Racing down the mountain

After absorbing the beauty of the sunrise, we leisurely cooked breakfast. The view of Mt. Rainier from our dining room reminded us of how lucky we were to be there.

Then, like a veteran crew, we packed our stuff and cleaned the cabin in record time.

Admiring the view for the last time, we said our good-byes. As we headed down the mountain, the clouds rolled in. Towards the end, I became impatient and ran down to the car; hence, the shot of me in a shirt and shorts. It was unbearably warm at that point.

admiring the mountain for the last time
beautiful day for a hike
almost there
who said it was cold

No pain, no gain, people would often say. After this trip, I am a firm believer in that. Onward to the next trek!

Interested in doing this trip? Find more information and book your night by going to the Mt. Tahoma Trails Association‘s website.