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Backpacker Magazine – August 2010

The Trail to Neverland: Hut Keepers of the White Mountains

No one stays young forever, of course. Just don't tell the hut keepers in New Hampshire's White Mountains.

by: By Bill Donahue Photography by Anne Skidmore

AMC hut caretakers (from left) Elizabeth Waste, david kaplan, Chelsea Alsofrom, and Luke Teschner.
AMC hut caretakers (from left) Elizabeth Waste, david kaplan, Chelsea Alsofrom, and Luke Teschner.
hut staffers often serve dinner to more than 30 hikers a night.
hut staffers often serve dinner to more than 30 hikers a night.
Galehead hut was rebuilt in 2000.
Galehead hut was rebuilt in 2000.
Cooking duty rotates between hut workers.
Cooking duty rotates between hut workers.
The kitchen crew bakes fresh bread daily, from scratch
The kitchen crew bakes fresh bread daily, from scratch
Boots dry outside the hut.
Boots dry outside the hut.
taffers Alsofrom, Siner, teschner, and waste sing a dixie chicks tune to let guests know it’s time for the communal meal.
taffers Alsofrom, Siner, teschner, and waste sing a dixie chicks tune to let guests know it’s time for the communal meal.

photo icon  PHOTO GALLERY: White Mountains Hut Keepers
 Head to the White Mountains and meet the hut keepers in this photo gallery
When I go back to the Whites, it's a bright, warm day in early August, and I meet Teschner at the Gale River trailhead. He's on a mission. He's hiking up Galehead Mountain to retrieve the hidden oar. "I just ate a whole pint of Ben & Jerry's," he says, walking toward me. "Let's see how that goes."

We start walking. Teschner's hair is a little longer now, less bristly, and he has patches of duct tape stuck on his shoulders, covering an oozing yellow melange of friction sores. Two days earlier, he had packed his first century, laboring up the Gale River Trail bearing 110 pounds. "When I first came here," he says, "I thought carrying 50 pounds up the trail time after time was going to crush me. I didn't see how I could do it. But I broke the trail down mentally, into sections--this river crossing, that rocky pitch. During the last quarter-mile, I felt like I was going to collapse. I could hardly put one foot in front of the other, I was so tired. But I never questioned that I was going to make it. I've gained confidence this summer."

I ask what he means. "Well," he says, "I've definitely become a better cook. I've made peanut butter bars and apple spice cake; the other night, I cooked pasta primavera. I'm thinking about opening my own restaurant some day." The scheme is vague. He says something about a "tiki bar in the U.S. Virgin Islands" and then adds, "I still think the cookbook is awesome."

"Oh," I say. I guess I'd hoped for deep insights--for dispatches from a mind finding its way toward cool adult poise. But the process of growing up is subtle and incremental, and Teschner is still ensconced in the woods of it. He cannot offer up any sweeping perspectives.

We cut across the river. Teschner stoops low to a cold pool of water and says, "Usually when I get here, I dunk my head in. It's refreshing. The way you do it is you put your hands on these two rocks here, like you're doing a push-up, and then you kind of lower..." He goes underwater and then he pulls his head out and shakes it, so the water flies off the tips of his hair. Then he waits as I dunk my head into the icy river.

When we get up on Galehead Mountain, the sun shines brightly and the oar is fairly visible in a thicket of trees. The wood on it is a little chewed up, and its metal paddles are bent, but the grail is now solely in Luke Teschner's care. He isn't giddy about it, but he does seem quite pleased. "Here we are in the middle of the woods," he says, "and there's stealth treasure lying around." He shoulders the oar, which is surprisingly light, and starts down the tree-lined trail, carefully. The oar has a wide turning radius.

When Teschner reaches the hut, he fetches a long ladder and leans it against the dining-room wall. He climbs it and then pounds in some nails up near the ceiling, for the oar to sit on. Anderson stands at the base, holding the ladder and giving instructions: "Yeah, another nail there. Good, good." Teschner bends the nails tight around the oar handle. He balances a cache of butter knives on a thin ledge above, so that a cascade of cutlery will rain down on any would-be marauders. And then he sets a large sign--"Dog Walk," it reads--dangling below so it will fall like a guillotine if the oar ever is touched. "Ah yes," Anderson says, peering up. "This is evil!"

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Reader Rating: Star Star Star Star Star


Star Star
Mar 01, 2014

i was sooooo disappointed when i found out the price to stay at these huts. this one in the pic looks alot like the one i was at. dormitory style bunkbeds for over $100. i lost some respect for the trail association after that. this is more of a hostel and should be charging those kind of prices. $20-25 at most.

Star Star Star Star Star
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current croo
Oct 30, 2012

Thank you, Mike. Steve, as a current croo member, we do our best to personally interact with as many guests as possible not only because we enjoy it, but also because we want our guests to have the best possible experience. We love where we work, and want to share this passion with as many people as possible. You can imagine, though, that preparing meals, conducting search and rescues, packing food, and generally being "on duty" from 6 in the morning until 9:30 at night are collectively challenging for a croo of 4-5 college age students to perfectly execute. As hard as we do try to do the best job possible, and as much as we love doing so, we rely on the feedback of the guests to improve the hut experience. So, if you have feedback on the guest service, please please please leave comment cards or get in touch with the huts supervisor/manager! Many thanks to all who continue to support the mission of the AMC and huts.

Jan 06, 2011

I worked at the Joe Dodge Lodge, at the base of Mt. Washington a few years ago when I was 20, brings back some of the best memories! The hut folks are amazing...I wish I would have been chosen to be one of them!

Bill B.
Sep 14, 2010

I worked in the hut system in the 70's (Lakes of the Clouds, Greenleaf and Mizpah) and this article by Bill Donahue perfectly captures the feeling we had then. Great thoughtful piece of writing, especially the Peter Pan aspect which is exactly what it feels like.

Aug 22, 2010

Amazing place, amazing people. All croo members will risk their lives for you if you get in trouble. And what's wrong with tips. These kids work their butts off and basically make nothing...just see what happens if you don't tip your waiter or cab driver!

Aug 17, 2010

mek: go to
it's best to apply soon after nov. 1 because spots fill up quickly

Aug 05, 2010

It's a great system! I wish I'd have done something like this in my 20's

Aug 05, 2010

How would I go about applying for a job with these people? Any other jobs like this that anyone knows about? I am a 20 year old college kid and this sounds like heaven!

Aug 05, 2010

Some "croo" are good people.

Others just want you to make up your bunk, sweep out the place, and leave quickly -- after they've begged for a tip.


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