Observations: In the field with Tenth Mountain Division Hut Association veteran Scott Messina
If you’ve followed a trail to a 10th Mountain hut, burned wood in one of the hut’s woodstoves, or appreciated a hut’s cleanliness, you most likely have Scott Messina or his proteges to thank. No other Coloradan knows the huts better than Messina, a 36-year 10th Mountain Division Hut Association hut caretaker, former field supervisor and more. That field experience has put Messina in prime position to observe climate change on the ground.
“Climate scientists speak of trends, and Scott is one of the best connections we have for identifying hut-centric trends over the long term,” says 10th Mountain Division Hut Association Executive Director Ben Dodge.
A 10th Mountain hut caretaker position brought Messina from Denver to Aspen in 1986. He spent that winter skiing from hut to hut, performing maintenance, living rent-free and making $30 a week. “I just loved being in the mountains and seeing god’s country,” says Messina. “I thrived in the harsh environment and felt that it was good for my soul.”
Messina is an observer—listening and noticing everything from the snowpack to the pine needles—and he’s noticed changes. Some small, like fewer pine martens scampering about, and some large, like shorter winters, milder temps and more dramatic storms.
“I can remember what early season used to look like,” says Messina. “Often, we were skinning up to the huts in October—now we can drive there then. We had to scramble in September to get the huts ready to beat the storms. Sometimes, we were powder skiing in September. I have photos of huts from December trips with 10 feet of snow on the deck. Now, on some early December trips, I don’t even take skis.”
A report from The Washington Post shows that some Western Slope counties have already warmed more than 2 degrees Celsius — double the global average. It’s the largest hot spot in the contiguous United States.
“I really believe climate change is happening quickly now,” says Messina. “Our shallow snowpack is melting sooner, without saturating the ground. Our Junes are blistering, and the dry ground and brittle trees pose a huge fire risk.”
Last summer, wildland fires threatened two 10th Mountain huts, and Messina imagines those threats are only going to increase. Colorado climate scientists agree, saying we should expect more summers like these, and worse if carbon emissions aren’t reduced.
Messina says that in order to preserve the hut experience - something he believes is meaningful and valuable enough to dedicate his life to - we all have to pitch in. Messina is doing his part in many ways including working to upgrade the 10th Mountain vehicle fleet to electric, using his electric bike more, driving less, and generally consuming less.
“I love being self-sustaining,” says Messina. “…living off solar power, the simplicity of chopping wood and carrying water. Hut life teaches people we can live with so much less.”
Messina hopes the hut experience can last for generations, because, he says, “at a hut, people are at their best.”
Through sharing perspectives like these, we hope to inspire 10th Mountain Hut users to ramp up the conversation on climate change. Where better to have these conversations than at a 10th Mountain hut, surrounded by friends and wilderness? To learn more about the steps the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association is taking to help mitigate climate change please visit the 10th Mountain Division Hut Association Climate Project page.