A Winter Camping Tribute to the 10th Mountain Division

A mile and a half from the cabin, my leg broke through the snow. It was a surprising, knee-buckling jolt, straight down and sudden with the force of a post driver. It was not something I felt coming; with 30 pounds on my back, my legs were forced into a right angle, one straight out behind me and the other pole-planted into the snow. I surrendered there and then. After relying on traction pads for the first three miles, I switched into my snowshoes. This immediately corrected the problem, and, with my weight now properly distributed on the snow, I hiked comfortably the rest of the way and arrived at my destination, the 10th Mountain Division Hut.

The 10th Mountain Division Hut Association’s flagship shelter, one of the 34 inhabitable memorials built in honor of the 10th Mountain Division of the Army, the mountain warfare unit of the United States military, sits in the shadow of Homestake Peak at the end of a 4.5-mile hike that begins just a few miles from Leadville, Colorado. The hut, deck and all, was impressive in size, even when tempered by the looming 13,209 feet of Homestake Peak overhead. Inside, I was greeted by a German couple and two college roommates; we exchanged pleasantries and stared out the hut’s large windows at the winter wonderland of sunlit snow and tall green pines against the backdrop of the tall peaks and baby-blue sky.

It’s always nice to meet fellow mountain-goers and connect over a love of outdoor adventure, but the hut itself — and the story it tells — was about to steal the show. The idea for the United States military to create a horse-and-mule-aided mountain regiment came about in the first place because members of the National Ski Association, recognizing that Germany was far more advanced in mountain combat, proposed it to the government in 1940 during World War II. The Association wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and even offered the assistance of the National Ski Patrol in training such a group of “skiing soldiers.” The concept was resisted at first. A year and a half later, after watching how small, well-trained groups of Greek alpine soldiers were able to defeat larger numbers of unprepared Italian troops in the mountains of Southern Europe during the Greco-Italian War, the government reconsidered their position, and the 10th Mountain Division was born.

With the National Ski Patrol in charge of recruitment, the first group of over 8,000 volunteers to enlist was primarily made up of alpine guides, lumberjacks, forest rangers, blacksmiths, trappers, cowboys and skiers. They trained on 14,408-foot Mt. Rainer in Washington until a permanent base, Camp Hale, was constructed for them in an alpine valley near Leadville, Colorado. In addition to ski training, the 10th was showered with an encompassing amount of mountaineering skills, including rock climbing, mule packing, trail breaking, fighting forest fires and building snow caves. Their packs, at times weighing a back-breaking and mind-boggling 122 pounds, held basic survival gear stuffed in alongside pitons, skis, axes, machetes, lip balm, rifles, helmets, goggles, mittens and muzzles — to name a few.

Inside the hut, there’s a plaque hung on the wall with a rock from the summit of Mt. Belvedere in Italy, where the unit won a decisive four-day battle in 1945. This is probably the only thing the hut has in common with the troubles of the men of the 10th Division. In reality, the hut provides all the luxuries those men never had while at war: One wood-burning stove, one wood-burning oven and one of the most expansive wilderness kitchens I’ve ever seen, with four propane burners, three indoor picnic tables, two flashlights, dozens of plates, dishes, cups, pots and pans, and just about every piece of silverware you could imagine, including a half dozen pizza cutters, a cheese grater and a potato masher (just in case you want to whip up some shepherd’s pie).

From the start, it was important to me to not let the coddled nature of the cabin overshadow the toughness of the men it represented. I already had to deal with that on a personal level — my “struggle” to get there, carrying a pathetic-by-comparison 30 pounds and having the luxury of modern snowshoes to bail me out of trouble. And if none of my physical efforts were going to pay homage, then I figured my mind ought to carry the load. Settled in front of the wood-burning stove, I perused the old photo collections from the bookshelf. One book in particular, Soldiers on Skis: A Pictorial Memoir of the 10th Mountain Division, shared stories of the men sleeping in the snow in the woods on the Italian frontline during World War II. It was a strong contrast to the German couple, who slept comfortably on the padded bed across the way, and to me and the college buddies, who sat reading by the fire. The hut, built for 16, felt spacious and uncharacteristically quiet. Each time I turned a page, I felt like I was eating a potato chip in a movie theater. But it was better that way. Sure, we could break out the whiskey and start telling stories, but it seemed appropriate to sit there and learn something.

Because, yes, this luxurious cabin was here for us to enjoy, yet I would imagine its first purpose was and still is to educate. While we sat here warm under this roof, tossing pre-supplied wood into the two stoves, thumbing through the kitchen thinking that we should have carried up some pizza dough, the men of the 10th Mountain Division — which still exists today at Fort Drum, New York, and is currently deployed in the Middle East — spent their nights outside huddled together on the battlefield, maybe wondering if their foxholes would fill with snow, or if they’d survive scouting the next boulder field in the morning.

I wouldn’t brag about my jump shot at Michael Jordan’s house, and so here, under the roof of the 10th Mountain Division Hut, I found no reason to share stories about the climb I did last week. None of my current-day adventures, with my fancy gear and itty-bitty pack, could hold a candle to what these men went through down the road at Camp Hale or across the Atlantic in Europe. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll return home and tell my friends about the “epic” hut trip I did, about how beautiful the sunset was and how easy it was to cook. But for now, I’ll keep my mouth shut by the fire, quiet with my nose in the photo albums. I’ll take an extra-long look at the men sleeping in snow and scouring the rocky minefields, and I’ll think about how tomorrow morning I too would have a “minefield” in front of me as I descended down the mountain. It’s only theoretical for me, of course — just a little soft snow and the risk of a face-plant.

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Dispatch: The Four Main Cultures of Curacao

Curacao is surrounded by those iconic blue Caribbean waters

The amazingly blue waters of Grote Knip in Curacao. 

Located at the very bottom of the Caribbean as part of the A-B-C Island Chain along with Aruba and Bonaire, Curaçao has changed hands quite a bit since it was first discovered by Europeans in the 15th century. Although the Spanish, French, and British have all had a say in the island’s history, it is the Dutch who have maintained the majority of control over the past 500 years. But don’t be fooled: Culturally, the island is far from a European stronghold. With four regularly spoken languages—Dutch, Papiamento, English, and Spanish—Curaçao is one of the Caribbean’s most diverse islands, a melting pot of European bureaucracy, African slave trade history, Latin American dance parties, and kick-back Caribbean vibes. 

Below, we dig into each of these four major cultures and show you how to best experience them while on island.

Read the rest of this article on AFAR. 

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ATF 2016: Meeting of the Minds Set to Take Place in Manila

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The Chocolate Hills of Bohol, Philippines.

The annual meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Asian Tourism Forum (ATF), is set to take place later this month in Manila, where diplomats, tourism delegates, and media from the ten member nations – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam – will meet to discuss the future of travel within the region.

Started in 1981, this will be the 35th year of the conference. This year’s theme is “One Community for Sustainability,” highlighting ASEAN’s desire to work together as a region to responsibly develop and foster tourism.

“With the theme, One Community for Sustainability, the 35th edition of this forum will launch the new ASEAN Tourism Strategic Plan (ATSP) 2016 – 2020, which will work towards not only the development and growth of the region’s tourism, but also in ensuring that this growth is grounded on responsible, sustainable, and inclusive tourism,” said Ramon R. Jimenez JR., Secretary of Tourism for the Philippines. “Our region is characterized by coopetition —a cooperative, collaborative decision by all players to compete with each other so that the world will choose the region before choosing the country.”

Past ATFs have been a platform for both reflection and forward thinking in terms of Southeast Asian tourism. Through small, personal meetings and briefings, each country analyzes its past tourism performance, projects future growth, and relays the new, innovative ways in which goals can be met. Recent years have seen big announcements such as new direct flights (Manila-JFK), airport renovations, new infrastructure that makes travel within the country easier (proposition for a road from Phnom Penh to Angkor Wat), and land bridges and trains to connect countries (Malaysia/Singapore high speed rail), among others. Each country also discusses travel and tourism opportunities for the coming year, including new hotels, projects, and up-and-coming points of interest.

Top destinations in the Philippines to be featured at this year’s ATF include the Chocolate Hills of Bohol, Cebu, Davao, Palawan, Banaue, Vigan, Boracay, and Manila.

Here’s a look at some of the news from last year’s ATF, hosted by Myanmar. Stay tuned for all the news from ATF 2016 later this month.

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Southern Italy: The Ancient Olive-Oil Producers of Puglia

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The region of Puglia begins on the eastern shores of southern Italy, at the bottom of “the boot,” and runs north, extending more than 200 miles up the Adriatic coast. But its location is not the only reason one might call it the Achilles heel of the country. At the heart of the Italian spirit is Puglia’s affinity and commitment to traditional farming methods, family-focused communities, and food that’s gathered within walking distance of where it’s consumed. Nowhere is this more exemplified than in the little-known, 5-mile long Dune Costiere Park in Brindisi, where olive orchards date back two thousand years to the height of the Roman Empire.

Throughout this coastal park, you can find a collection of fortified farmhouses—known as masserias—where the Puglians once produced olive oil underground. The masserias are still operational today as functional farms, and also double as small inns. Run like bed and breakfasts with gardens, fertile fields, and a focus on culinary and cultural experiences, these farmhouse-castle combos have turned to tourism as a way of supplementing income and spreading the word about their traditional lifestyles. The real goal, however, is to bridge the gap to the next generation. Dune Costiere is currently applying for UNESCO World Heritage certification, hoping to increase the price of the region’s olive oil. Maybe then, local guide Daniele Pomes says, the modern, younger generation can be convinced that our world still sees value in old-world farming.

Read the rest of this article and see photos on AFAR.

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The Iron Road: Climbing Austria’s First Via Ferrata in St. Anton

It took three gondolas to get to base camp. Then we walked a half hour above the treeline, over and through the snow-covered rocks. At the junction of two trails stood an aluminum signpost, its arrow directing hikers over the side of a cliff. I asked my guide about it. “Oh,” he said. Then he grabbed the metal pole at its base and spun it around, toward the ridge. He picked up a rock and wedged it between the pole and the ground. “The wind always blows it around.” I looked up the ridge. Clouds were once again covering the tops of the peaks. It had been a complete whiteout earlier, and then it had cleared, and then it got cloudy again. Down below it was clear, and I could see the small village in the valley from which I set out that morning.

Read the rest of this post on Gear Patrol.

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