When we bought our property in Colorado, we found a mine pit, twenty feet around and twenty feet deep about 100 yards from our cabin. The site looked right at the Continental Divide, the Indian Peaks Wilderness and Rocky Mountain National Park.
For several years, I wondered what we would do with the site. We dumped tree stumps that had been cleared for in the pit while we built the cabin. A few years later, I had my caretaker bring up his backhoe, and we filled the pit with rocks that were strewn around the slope from the earlier digging. Next, we dug a fire pit and put seating around the pit. Since then, we have enjoyed many fires out there. Still, with no shade, we did not use the place much during the day.
The fire mitigation work we are doing left us with a number of logs, and I started thinking about building a log camping structure. We have incredible views from our cabin, but the best views are over at our fire pit. The bank behind the pit had been excavated. Because there was no top soil, noting had grown here for a couple of decades. See how we have turned this spot into our favorite place on the property by filling in the mine, creating a fire pit, and building a camping shelter.
We named it our Mountain Hytte in honor of our Norwegian friends, who took us to their Mountain Hytte skiing a few years ago. Here is the story of building our Mountain Hytte.
From this photo, you can see our cabin sits on a ridge looking down on our lower meadow. It has great views, but is looking over the Front Range towards Boulder. We can see the sun rising over the horizon, and watch planes landing at the Denver Airport in the distance. But, the best views are on the back side of the property, looking at Rocky Mountain National Park, the Continental Divide and the Indian Peaks Wilderness.
Here Genie sits at the edge of the Mine Pit on the first piece of furniture we bought, a rustic bench. We didn't build over here because you are looking into the teeth of the wind coming over the divide. We have recorded 80+MPH winds at the house. And, we are in the leeward side of a small peak we call Eagle Peak.
Looking at the Indian Peaks and the Continental Divide
You can see Longs Peak in the distance
You can also see Twin Sisters and Mummy Mountain from here.
Old mining cabin just off our property. We are surrounded by gold mine pits. This cabin is one of the better preserved of the era. This cabin was an inspiration for our camping cabin.
Another inspiration was the mining structures that dot our landscape. The gold rush of 1859 brought settlement to the Colorado Front Range mountains.
Our final inspiration was the Mountain Hytte of our friends Morten and Marit. We visited them in 2012, and went for a weekend of backcountry skiing at their Hytte. The simple mountain hyttes of an earlier time have been replaced with these homes with indoor plumbing and sod roofs. Our friend, Marit, says,"If the snow will still hold a horse in June, it's going to be a late spring."
We have been thinning the forests around the cabin since we bought the property as part of a Public/Private partnership with the Colorado State Forest Service. This results in a plethora of logs available for firewood and other uses.
Friends from Atlanta come out on retreat, and thought a contest to see who could throw logs furthest was in order.
After filling in the Mine Pit, and leveling the area, we began to build our Hytte. Our hytte is eight feet across the back, ten feet across the front and eight feet deep. The open side faces the best views on our property, the Continental Divide, Indian Peaks Wilderness, and Rocky Mountain National Park
Once we got the frame and walls built, we hung a hammock os we could begin using the hytte.
Before we even had a floor or roof on the Hytte, the family was gathering to enjoy the spot.
We installed a level floor, then began on the roof.
With a hammock and a sky chair, we are ready to kick back and have some fun. At 9000 feet, the sun is quite hot in the afternoon. Until now, we had no shade at our picnic area, making it hard to spend much time out there in the afternoon sun. Now, we have a shady spot to literally 'hang out.'
After studying sod roofs on the internet, I went and bought a pond liner to keep the roof from leaking. We just tacked it down around the edges to keep from putting holes in it. But, a big wind came along and we risked losing the pond liner. So, I stacked the scrap lumber on the roof until we could bring in the sod.
We brought up rich topsoil and sod from our lower meadow to create our sod roof.
Lounging by the campfire over at the Hytte
Our first desire in building the Mountain Hytte was to create some shade so we could sit out on sunny afternoons and enjoy the views. But, we also want to enjoy this spot in the winter, and it helps cut the wind as well.
We started going over even in winter, because we now had a dry place to sit, with some protection from the wind.
The first spring, I was happy to see the sod came back to life and bloomed with flowers and grasses.
Our granddaughters visit us about every week in the summer. Here, we are preparing to camp out in the Hytte on the night of the Perseid Meteor Shower. We made the biggest fire ever in our fire pit as the evening cooled. A three sided hut let us sleep with a picture window on the stars. The downside is that bears, mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats and foxes all come out at night looking for food. So, we ate all the food, burned the scraps and food trash so there would be no smells to attract unwanted advances. I put my pitchfork outside the hytte, and kept a sword in the hytte with us. We encountered nothing more than a cold wind that blew up during the night. We huddled down in our sleeping bags and enjoyed our first night out at the mountain hytte.
Our hopes dimmed as we were bedding down around 10 PM, when a rain storm hit. We could barely keep dry with the wind blowing rain in the open side of the Hytte. We also learned how hard the wind blows at night, and the lack of a front on the Hytte became an issue.
The rain stopped during the night, and when I woke up at 4 AM, the meteors were going off. I woke up the girls, and we watched them until nearly dawn. What an incredible experience.
The second spring shows the sod roof is still alive
We started spreading topsoil over the barren area excavated for the mine, and it's now thriving as well.
This summer, as I sit and watch the sunset, I'm trying to envision a way to turn the Hytte into a four-season structure. We have bears, bobcats, coyotes and mountain lions hunting our property. So, another reason to enclose the Hytte was to make a safe place to camp out with our grandkids.
I got to work with my caretaker framing in a wall out of rough sawn cedar.
We found some Ponderosa pine planks in Estes Park that we bought. One three inch thick plank of beetle kill pine serves as a bench and sleeping platform.
Then, we installed plank siding, backed by 3/4" plywood to keep out the wind and the critters.
After putting up the siding, we trimmed around the windows and door with rough sawn cedar.
The UV rays at 9000 feet will quickly damage any untreated wood, so we stained the front.
We bought two Adirondack chairs celebrating Rocky Mountain National Park's 100th Anniversary to add to our Fire Pit seating.
We found a new glass door trimmed in oak at a salvage yard for $100, and it fit perfectly.
Our last step was to have 3/4" Plexiglas windows fabricated at a local supplier in Denver and installing them. Now, a solid front on the Hytte preserves our views while protecting us from weather, bears, mountain lions and coyotes. When the girls get older, and want to camp out alone, now, we have a place where they can safely do that.
Looking from the Hytte around the road towards the cabin.
In our early fire mitigation efforts, we took almost all pine and fir trees off our side of Eagle Peak. Now the understory has grown up, attracting elk and moose. Makes a beautiful fall when it all turns red and yellow.
This fall, my caretaker was back at work, bringing up more topsoil to spread over the mining scar, and sod for the bank. He also leveled it so a big tent will fit next to the Hytte when it's party time.
Perseid Meteor Shower