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While the Sierra Nevada has a handful of backcountry huts, many may agree the current hut system within the Sierra Nevada pales in comparison to those in Europe and other areas within the US. If the Sierra Club is able to clear the various government and environmental hurdles, backcountry travelers could be well on their way to having a new place to stay. With approval, this would mark the first addition to Sierra Club’s backcountry hut system in the Tahoe area since 1957.

The proposed hut is in memory of Paul F. Ward (1942-2013). Ward passed away from Lou Gehrig’s Disease/ALS, the same disease that has received much attention from the recent “Ice Water Challenge” that has gone viral on many social media websites. Paul Ward was an active outdoorsman with accomplishments such as hiking the Tahoe-Yosemite Trail, the John Muir Trail and much of the Pacific Crest Trail. Also, at the age of 68, Ward successfully summitted Mt. Kilimanjaro.

This proposed hut is the perfect tribute to Ward’s life, and his passions that fulfilled it. Donations received through Ward’s friends and family will fund the costs associated with the various studies, in addition to the construction costs for the hut.

Heading up the Paul Ward Sierra Club Hut project is Dick Simpson. Simpson won a National Special Achievement Award from the Sierra Club for his efforts in relocating and reconstructing the Bradley Hut in 1998.

The Sierra Club began entertaining possible locations for the proposed Ward Hut. Prior to doing so, they created a list of criteria that would best commemorate Paul Ward while maintaining the best interests of the Sierra Club, and backcountry enthusiasts.

[toggler title=”The proposed location would preferably meet the following criteria:” ]
– Be in an area that would have been familiar to Paul Ward —that is, within approximately 25 miles of Truckee
– Be outside statutory Wilderness areas or areas likely to be candidates for future Wilderness
– Not adversely affect natural elements such as threatened flora and fauna
– Be safe and have ingress/egress routes that will also be safe during construction, maintenance, and use
– Be chosen to facilitate construction and maintenance (plausible road access but no swamps, hard rock formations, etc.) but not on a heavily traveled route
– Be on land that is either public (e.g., USFS) or in stable private ownership for the foreseeable future
– Have good non-motorized recreation potential with minimal snowmobile conflict
– Be within a day’s over-snow travel from a public trailhead (with suitable parking) and have good prospects for being used
– Have water and firewood nearby
– Be convenient for management from the Club’s Clair Tappaan Lodge (in Norden)
– Be within a day’s over-snow travel from another, similar hut

During the weekend of August 9-10, approximately a dozen people gathered to access possible site locations. Possible locations included: White Rock Lake, Cold Stream Meadow (NE of Mt. Lola), Independence Lake, Barker Pass, the saddle between Tom’s Valley and Bear Valley (assumed to be unavailable due to being private property), and a saddle to the east of Martis Peak.

The sites above all have attributes that make for a great hut location, however they also have their shortcomings. At this point, the donor family and the Sierra Club are continuing to hash out the pros and cons of the proposed locations. More observations will be made throughout winter including snowmobile use, quality of terrain for BC enthusiasts, ease of access, and parking.

The Sierra Club and the donor family will narrow the possibilities down to one site prior to moving forward with environmental studies and permitting. It is anticipated that this process could take 2-3 years. At the conclusion of the studies and permitting process, both the donor family and the Sierra Club retain veto rights if they do not approve of the results.

Once a location has been selected, the donor family and the Sierra Club will review options for the design of the Ward Hut. According to Simpson, options include replicating the current Bradley Hut, in addition to reviewing a pre-fabricated hut design. The final decision will be based on features as well as potential cost.

Bradley Hut Layout


bradley_floorplan If you are familiar with these potential site areas, and can provide information based on experience, feel free to contact Richard Simpson at



Colin Balke is a content editor for who lives in Northern California. When not plucking away on a keyboard, he can be found splitboarding, camping, backpacking, or hanging out with family and friends.