Monday, July 26, 2010

Appalachian Mountain Club Huts

This has been a chore day--housekeeping chores for me and truck service for Gene.  Since there is nothing of interest to report from these tasks, I thought today would be a good day to pass on a little information about the AMC huts in the White Mountains.

Galehead Hut
First, a note about AMC.  The Appalachian Mountain Club was founded in 1876, making it the oldest nonprofit organization of this type in America.  Their mission is to promote protection, appreciation, enjoyment, and wise use of the natural areas of the North East Appalachian Mountain region.

The AMC is comprised of 90,000 members in 12 chapters scattered from Maine to Washington, DC.  They have 20,000 volunteers and 450 full and part time staff.  The club sponsors some 8,000 outings each year from backcountry survival schools to river sports.  They operate lodges, campgrounds, cabins and shelters. And for us hikers, they maintain 1500 miles of trail, 350 of which are along the world famous Appalachian Trail.

Greenleaf Hut

They also operate 8 huts about a days hike apart along the Appalachian Trail in the White Mountains.  We visited 6 of these huts in 2006 when we were last here.  We spent the night at Zealand Hut. Last week we went to Carter Notch Hut.  The only hut we haven’t yet visited is Madison.

Lake of the Clouds Hut just below Mt Washington

Although the huts are located on the Appalachian Trail, there are other trails to each hut.  These other trails are generally not as strenuous a hike and are a shorter distance than hiking the AT.

The huts are not the typical 3-sided lean-tos we are so familiar with along the AT.  They are more like a rustic, backcountry bunkhouse.  The huts range in size and may accommodate 36-90 guests.  Breakfast, dinner, and some bedding are provided so hikers can experience an overnight adventure without having to carry all your supplies on your back.

Lonesome Lake Hut

Breakfast and dinner are served family style in a central dining hall.  The meals vary at the hut each night and are all hearty fare for the hungry hikers.  Our meal at Zealand Falls Hut consisted of soup, lasagna, salad, green beans, bread, and dessert. Most huts bake bread or cookies to serve during the day…all you can eat for a buck.  Some huts will prepare soup for hikers passing by during the day.

The sleeping area is dormitory style.  A pillow and blankets are furnished so you only have to bring your sheet and pillow case or a sleeping bag.  Of the 7 huts we have visited, Lonesome Lake and Carter Notch are composed of several buildings.  The other huts are contained in one structure.  There will be 2 or 3 large bunk rooms and 2 or 3 smaller “family rooms” located off of the central dining room.  At Lonesome Lake and Carter Notch the bunk houses are separate from the dining hall.

Mispah Springs Hut
The “bathroom” facilities are also contained within the hut structure with the exception of Lonesome Lake and Carter Notch.  I use the term “bathroom” very loosely.  These facilities are really composting pit toilets. However, except that the toilet doesn’t flush, the bathroom is very similar to any you would find in any public place.  Depending on the number the hut accommodates there are several stalls and sinks.  They even have mirrors and running water, although there is no hot water.  They also do not provide paper towels, so you need to either wipe you hands on your pants, drip dry or bring you own towel.

So what draws folks to the huts?  Most huts have some sort of “feature”.  Lonesome Lake, Carter Notch, and Lake of the Clouds have lakes.  There are, of course, the million dollar views.  From Lake of the Clouds you have a superb view of Mt. Washington just a mile and a half away. Mt. Lafayette is in clear view from Greenleaf hut just a little over a mile away.

Some folks may go for the sense of remoteness and the backcountry experience. You do have to walk, no hut is accessible by car.  The closest hut to a road is, surprisingly, Lake of the Clouds a mile and a half from the Mt Washington Auto road.  That’s how Gene and I got to Clouds Hut.  We drove up the Mt. Washington Road and walked down to the hut along the AT.  Of course, we had to walk back up again.

The young folks who are the hosts at the huts are the ones who bring the food up on their backs.  Think about food for 90 guests for dinner and breakfast.  Makes my back hurt.  There are 4-5 hosts at each hut and they make only 2 trips a week for food.  At the beginning of the season, staples are airlifted in, but that still leaves a whole lot of fresh veggies, fruit, and dairy products to be carried in weekly. The tradition is that boys resupplied the hut and these hut boys would compete with each other to see who could carry the most weight.  Today, the hut crews (or croos as they are actually called) are both men and women and the women help with resupply.  For safety reasons, there is also a limit to how much each is allowed to carry.  They still, however, use the traditional pack boards to carry the loads.

Resupplying the hut is a labor of love

The hut croos also provide the nightly entertainment with skits, talks, and/or live music.  The talks and skits are usually geared toward teaching good stewardship of the environment, especially wilderness places like the White Mountains.

Zealand Falls Hut

Our overnight visit was to Zealand Falls Hut.  This hut was built in 1932 and accommodates 36.  Zealand’s feature is the water falls.  Because of the short, easy walk to this hut, many, many hikers come just to spend the day.

 A typical bunk room

Tomorrow, the weather is supposed to be clear.  We may take in Madison Hut.  We’ll see.

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