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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
By my reckoning, Galehead is toast: It's only a matter of time, it seems, before invaders will come along to deliver the Galeheaders a large serving of humble pie. Indeed, one day over lunch, Johannes Griesshammer, aka Jack Black, pronounces ominously that he will blitz for the oar "in the very near future."

I wait. But as August wears on, the thrill of raiding--and being up in the magical huts--finally wears thin. "It takes a lot of social energy being here," Alsofrom says. "It can only last so many weeks and then you want summer to end."

On August 20, with the oar still up on the wall at Galehead, the summer croos come down out of the mountains. Life as the rest of us know it resumes. Autumn arrives, eventually, and myself, I keep thinking about the sublime, long-ago joy of being up in the Whites amid blinding patches of snow as the summer sun baked down upon my bony little kid back. I begin hatching this theory that the most important part of the whole hut experience involves remembering the place and wanting to go back. And that's when I think of Emily Taylor, the hut veteran who visited Galehead on my first night there.

Taylor is 24, and a small wire of a person, black-haired, tiny, and tautly muscular, with this intense, bouncy ebullience about her. She came to Galehead straight from her job at an organic farm in Portland, Maine, driving three hours right after work and then beginning her hike in at 7:30 p.m., bearing a six-pack of beer.

"I'm so happy to be here," Taylor said, arriving, "so happy." But she told a wistful story about her previous summer, her sixth and last season in the huts. It came right after her graduation from college. She was the hutmaster at Carter Notch, and Chelsea Alsofrom was on her crew. "I have so many great memories," she said. "When it rained, I'd sit on the kitchen floor on a blanket with Chelsea and listen to James Taylor on an iPod. But I was stressed out, running a hut, not knowing what I was going to do in the fall."

"You saved your senior spring college freak-out for the hut," Alsofrom said. "It felt like you were having an existential crisis."

"I was just feeling," Taylor said, "like I couldn't do another summer. A goal of my life had been completed, and I felt like I was being torn out by the roots.

"I wish I still had the energy for this job," Taylor continued. "I wish that I was still OK with sharing my home space and that I could set out silverware again, without feeling like I was going to scream. I wish I could go back to being 19. I loved the huts; I've felt so at home here. But it's time to move on."

Luke Teschner was lingering by the stove as Taylor reckoned with the hard reality of growing a little older, of no longer belonging where once she was so comfortable. Does the sting of her story register on him?

He doesn't remember, he says when I call him this spring. But he is looking forward to going back to the huts in June. He'll be at Madison this time. "I'm pretty excited," he says. "Madison is the oldest hut in the system. It's above treeline. It's notoriously the hardest hut to get to. The hike in is steep, so you tend to get more hardcores there: people who really know what they're doing. It'll be good. It's gonna be a good summer."

Bill Donahue lives in Portland, Oregon. He wrote about that city's Forest Park for the October 2009 issue.


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Reader Rating: Star Star Star Star Star

READERS COMMENTS

Star Star
tim
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.

Rika
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.

Mike
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!

rcl
Aug 17, 2010

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

Greg
Aug 05, 2010

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

MEK
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!

Steve
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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