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Q&A with a Cool Coloradan: Don Shefchik of Paragon Guides

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Hut-to-hut expert, Don Shefchik of Edwards-based Paragon Guides, gives us insight into the value of using an experienced guide service and shares some tips for a successful hut trip along the 10th Mountain Division Hut System.

What makes the 10th Mountain Division Hut System between AspenLeadville and Vail so special?

The 10th Mountain Hut System is a system of huts through Colorado that’s more extensive than most other states. Just the opportunity to experience a large network of huts is unique in of itself. The idea that you can explore the Colorado backcountry with the convenience and near luxury of a hut is pretty nice.

Tell us about the advantages of working with an outfitter like Paragon instead of going it alone? 

A lot of times it's fairly straightforward to find the route to one hut but I think when you start going hut to hut the trails aren’t always marked that well so having some navigational skills would be important. 

But the luxury of the guide service is that most likely the guide has done the trip before and knows the area well. And whether it’s getting up to a hut or to another hut or just exploring the area around the hut, guides have been around the hut and know where a hike to a ridgeline or up to a lake or if people have interest in flora and fauna and a nature hike or they want to get to a hike and do some fishing. Again, I think the guide service that knows the area well can provide these services. 

New comers often ask questions like, how does the hut function? How do you deal with food prep and water? These are all different aspects that the guide service is going to have a pretty good handle on. Or how do I take care of the hut? How do I make it better than I found it? We see ourselves as stewards of the huts and try to show how best to be in the hut and operate in it. 

Do you have any tips for those who do decide to go it alone? 

Good footwear with good tread is obviously important. I find a lot of people really don’t have good footwear. And having good rain gear — I can’t stress that enough. 

Navigational skills are a very important thing and solid outdoor skills. Don’t take it so lightly that you get a late start. All of those common-sense things you would do for camping, you should do for this. Keep in mind those solid outdoor rules — having a plan B, figuring it will take more time than you think — all of those little things.

Tell us about the llamas Paragon uses for its popular llama treks.

As far as the uniqueness of the llamas, they can be wonderful travel companions. They have their issues just like people. A well-trained one is willing to do most anything you ask them to do. It’s different than just hiking on your own — all of the sudden a fallen tree on the trail becomes an obstacle that has to be negotiated, but a llama has to be trained to go under it or jump over it. So, the travel time is typically a little longer than if you were just hiking is alone. Learn more about the Take a Llama to Lunch program >>

Take care of these creatures who are assisting you get up the trail. Is it a steep trail on a hot day? They suffer from that like we do. We open up the possibility of people interacting with the llama as much as they want. For some people, it’s not that big of a deal, while others really enjoy being around a large animal. And for kids, it’s a reason to be on the trail. Sometimes kids will say, “Why are we doing this? Why are we walking for so long?” but having a llama in tow completely shifts their awareness. They can be out there longer with their llama.

What are your top tips for hut etiquette?

Mindfulness. It’s a real study in social setting. Here’s people you don’t know and often times they’re like you — wanting to share a unique place. Just have the mindfulness of understanding that there are other people there. And be organized — keep your stuff together. Respecting other people’s space and respecting their reasons for being there, which can be different than yours. 

No bacon — kidding . But people cook it up and it’s a mess and they don’t know how to clean the frying pan or dispose of the bacon grease. 

How do you think Leave No Trace applies to people doing hut trips in particular?

Look up the Wilderness Act and read the first few paragraphs where they talk about untrampled places and the opportunity for solitude and all those things. I think those are important ethics to carry with you, whether you’re at a hut or camping. Leave it better than you found and be aware of your impact on the trail. Be aware of dealing with your stuff, whether that’s human waste or a gum wrapper. How do we leave as little of a footprint as possible? And I think all of those things add to sustainability. Read more about how to care for Colorado >>

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