I'm taking two days off while it's raining to rest and rejuvenate
before my next onslaught on the AT in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
In this entry I'd like to give you more information about the hut system
here. The concept is new to me, although many warm- and cold-weather sports
enthusiasts around the world are already familiar with using huts in high
The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), maintaining club for much of the AT in
New England, also operates a string of eight back-country huts (like lodges)
under a special-use permit with the U.S. Forest Service.
The huts, plus large lodges at Pinkham and Crawford Notches, are spaced a
day's hike apart on the AT in the White Mountains.
Most of the huts are full-service facilities during the summer and early
autumn. They accommodate from thirty to ninety people each night. Some offer
caretaker self-service year-round, so folks who ski and snowshoe can use them
in the winter. All are centers for outdoor education and offer workshops to
The AMC also offers multi-day guided hikes and runs a hiker shuttle between
some of their facilities.
Hikers use the huts in a variety of ways. For some, it is a brief stop during
a hike to get water, use the bathroom, get some hot soup or supplies, ask about
the weather, talk to other hikers hanging around, or get warm on a cold or wet
Some use the huts as destinations, going out during the day to explore the
large system of trails in the Whites and spending the nights in one or more huts. Overnight guests must make reservations
ahead of time. The $85 fee (per person, per night) includes a bunk with mattress
and pillow, three wool blankets, a delicious dinner and full breakfast. AMC
members get a 10% discount, and children's fees are less, depending on their
Other people want to hike the Whites from end to end (or a section of the
Whites), hiking from one hut to another each day. The huts are spaced about
seven to eight miles apart, including the lodges in the gaps.
Thru-hikers have three options if they want to use a hut overnight. They can
reserve a space and pay full price, like I did this week. They can pay $8 to use the facility's
bathroom and sleep in their own sleeping bag on the floor or a bench (doesn't
include food). Or they can "work for stay" at up to three huts in one season.
Working for stay (i.e., free) is great if a thru-hiker gets to the hut early
enough to be one of only two hikers allowed to use this system each night. The
hiker usually helps for two hours with dinner and/or breakfast and dishes, then
gets to eat. Sometimes the food runs out, however, and the hiker ends up with
leftovers from previous meals. There are usually bunks available even if the
facility is "full," according to the crew at Galehead, where I stayed on Day
I thoroughly enjoyed my stay at the Galehead Hut last week. Staying there
allowed me to complete a long section of the Trail in two days instead of one
insanely-long one that would have required several hours of night hiking. This
hut is the most remote in the system, a 4.6-mile hike to the nearest road.
Hiking those bonus miles twice was my only other option to complete this long
This is a photo inside the sunny "great room" at Galehead as we were being
served our first dinner course, a yummy pumpkin-black bean soup (recipe
Meals are served family-style at long wooden tables. Guests sit
on benches and pass the food around the table. At Galehead we had a nice view
of the next two mountains I'd be hiking, South Twin and Guyot. All the huts are
located in scenic locations with expansive views or perhaps next to a lake
(e.g., Lakes of the Clouds near Mt. Washington) or waterfall (like Zealand Falls
I was curious about how the huts are run, so I asked the
Galehead staff (humorously spelled "croo," not "crew") for information. I don't know if each location
uses the same systems, so this may be specific to Galehead.
The hut is not heated. Propane is used for cooking and
refrigeration. Water used in the kitchen and bathroom sinks comes from a well.
(Others may use spring water, as their name includes "Spring.") Wind and solar
power are used for lighting in the huts. We were told the "Chewbaca" noise we
could hear was the wind turbine.
Food waste is composted; so is human waste from the toilets that
PACK IT IN, PACK IT OUT
Guests are asked to "pack it in, pack it out." In other words,
don't leave any trash there because the croo has to pack it out. For that
reason, napkins and paper towels are not used. They've got enough trouble
packing out food containers and other items without hikers adding to the burden
with their trash.
At Galehead a helicopter delivers all the staple goods at the
beginning of the summer season. Fresh food comes up via foot - croo members pack
it up on their backs, 50 to 100 pounds at a time! It's a 3,000-foot elevation
gain over 4.6 miles to this particular hut. Other huts have similar numbers;
some are above tree line.
The morning I left Galehead two summer croo members also left
to return to their "main" jobs (one is a teacher). Two new fall staff members
came in to replace them the day before. All five croo members at Galehead who
introduced themselves to us are college grads who have done this job before;
they appeared to be in their middle to late twenties.
Croo members are experts at multi-tasking. They are service
providers as well as entertainers. It appears they have a lot of work to do but
they must find it both fun and rewarding because they keep coming back, season
Hut rules were delivered in a comical manner after dinner and
breakfast - e.g., when lights go out at night (9:30), when guests are awakened
in the morning (6:30), when breakfast is served (7:00), packing trash out, how
to fold our blankets when we left. Galehead staff even delivered the day's
weather report in costume.
Outdoor education is an important focus for the AMC. I believe
each hut has a naturalist on staff; Galehead's did. Jess led an interesting
star-watch session with hikers on the clear night I was there. She's a science
teacher nine months of the year.
This is a photo of the Mizpah Spring Hut, located near Mt.
Pierce in the southern Presidential Range. I had soup here for lunch on Day 120:
At most or all of huts you can have hot soup at lunch that is
leftover from previous dinners. Only $2 for "bottomless bowls" of soup, it's a
deal. The potato soup I had was great, even on a warm day. (I was so focused on
getting down to the valley on Day 121 after I got into the ice storm that I
turned down the Madison Springs hut's offer for free soup!)
Speaking of Madison Springs, the modern hut there is built on
the site of AMC's first hut, which was built in 1888. This hut system has been
in operation for 117 years! Amazing.
Sleeping arrangements are interesting in the huts. Each hut has
several bunk rooms. At Galehead there were four rooms with bunks stacked three
high. At Madison Springs they are four high! The bunk rooms are coed but the
bathrooms are not.
Some of the hikers at Galehead slept in their sleeping bags on
the bunks. Others brought their own sheets and pillowcases to supplement the
blankets provided. I had to use just the blankets on my mattress. The mattresses
aren't real comfortable but I'm spoiled by the good one we have in our camper.
I was quite happy to have anything to sleep on so I didn't have to do
twenty-eight miles that day!
This is a photo of the Lakes of the Clouds Hut a mile and a half
south of Mt. Washington's summit. It is the largest and most popular of the huts
because of its location. At 5,050 feet in elevation, it's a good base for
exploring the alpine zone.
For further information about the huts, check out the AMC website:
I really enjoyed my hut experience and hope to return someday with Jim. I'm
sorry I'll be passing only one more hut this week. Sure could use more on some
of the long stretches I'm facing.
PUMPKIN-BLACK BEAN SOUP RECIPE
Jess, the science teacher, is also a great cook. She gave me the ingredient list
for the popular, spicy soup served at Galehead Hut the night I was there. There
are no quantities listed, since she makes about 100 servings. Make it like she
does - by what tastes good to you. Experiment!
Sauté some onion in olive oil until soft. Add vegetable or chicken broth, canned
pumpkin, milk or cream, canned (or cooked dry) black beans, brown sugar, salt,
pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cumin. Heat through. Puree in a blender and serve