I spent my first winter overnight at a self-service Appalachian Mountain Club Hut earlier this season and had a really good time. The AMC keeps several of their White Mountains huts open in winter at reduced rates and on a self-service basis, making it possible to do multi-day hiking or cross-country skiing trips without having to camp out at night.
On our trip, we hiked into the Zealand Falls Hut on a Sunday night in order to cut some miles off the full Bonds Traverse from Rt 302 to Lincoln Woods. This is a 23 mile end-to-end hike in winter because the first 3.5 miles of Zealand Road are closed during winter, making it a 6.2 mile hike from the Rt 302 to the hut. That still left close to 17 miles for the leg from the hut to Lincoln Woods on the following day, up and over Zeacliff, Mount Zealand, Mt Guyot, West Bond Mountain, Mount Bond, and Bondcliff, including 3+ miles of above treeline exposure.
We stayed over Sunday night when the rate drops to $27.50 per night, which is still pretty dear, but way less expensive during the regular season that the 90+ price per night per person when the hut is fully crewed and they provide you with dinner, entertainment, and breakfast the following morning.
In winter, the hut is open on a self-service basis, meaning you carry in your own food and cook for yourself with full access to their kitchen.While there is a caretaker in residence, her job is to maintain a sense of order, prevent people from burning down the hut, and perform other minor maintenance chores to keep everything ship-shape.
The hut isn’t heated, except for a small wood fire for a few hours in the morning and at night in the common room only, so you need to bring warm clothing if you want to hang out and a warm sleeping bag to sleep in. There’s also no running water, which has to be carried into the hut in plastic gas cans and heated for cooking, drinking, and dishwashing.
The sleeping accommodations at the Zealand Falls hut are bunk beds stacked three high with a maximum of 36 overnight guests, in two separate unheated bunk rooms. Each bunk bed is a cubicle built into the cabin and has several built-in shelves and lots of hooks so you can store or hang things you want to keep track of during the night. There’s even a separate reading lamp the runs off the hut’s solar batteries built into each bunk bed alcove so you can read without disturbing other people in the bunkroom.
Hint: The best bunkroom to sleep in at Zealand Falls is the one farthest away from the bathroom building, so you don’t hear the bathroom door slamming shut all night.
Hint: Bring ear plus to block out the sound of people who snore at night.
Each bunkbed comes with a mattress that’s sealed up in vinyl so you don’t have to worry about catching bed bugs. There’s also a pillow, but no pillowcase. The hut provides guests with wool blankets during the full service season, but they are moved offsite in winter for cleaning.
The Zealand Falls bathrooms are located in an adjacent building and connected to the hut by a covered porch. The toilets are Clivus-Multrum composting toilets - no septic system or water required, but you do need to put on some shoes and walk briefly outdoors from your warm sleeping bag to the bathrooms at night.
Hint: If you’re a guy, make sure you aim well in winter because liquids freeze on contact with cold surfaces and don’t melt for weeks.
Winter guests have free access to the kitchen facilities at the hut, including an immense gas stove and oven. The thing must have 12 burners on it! In addition, there is a refrigerator for guests to store food and rodent proof containers. Many guest bring elaborate ingredients to the hut and cook up a storm. When I was there, one guest made chocolate cookies and passed them around for everyone to enjoy.
In order to prevent chaos in the kitchen, guests sign up for 30 minute time slots to use the stove and preparation areas to cook their meals. There’s a sign-up board next to the wood stove in the common room with time slots beginning at 5 pm in winter.
If you need to get up early in the morning before sun up to get an early start, there is a huge pot of water on the hut stove that is refilled before people go to sleep the night before. If you wake up early, turn on the gas burner below this pot so you can fill your water bottles with boiling water before you leave. It takes about 45 minutes to bring the water in the pot to a boil, so factor that into your wakeup and start time.
Guests have access to pots and pans, plates, bowls, glasses, and silverware in the hut, but are responsible for doing their own dishes and packing out all of their trash. Since there is no running water in winter, cleanup is done using by dipping your dirty dishes in tubs filled with hot water and bleach. A minimal amount of soap is used this way and grey water is kept to a minimum for leave-no-trace disposal.
Fire is a big concern in the huts in winter, since there’s a long history of Appalachian Mountain Club huts burning down over the years. In addition to a strict no smoking policy, all open flames, including Jetboil style canister stoves, are prohibited from being used inside the hut or on the hut porch.
Despite their obvious convenience, staying at a self-service Appalachian Mountain Club hut in winter is a great experience because there’s always an interesting group of other guests on hand. Couples and groups are very welcome and opening, it’s easy to meet strangers and talk to them. and even strike up new friendships with kindred spirits. If you’ve never stayed at an Appalachian Mountain Club hut before, winter might be a good time to try one out when they’re full of people with adventuresome spirits and a twinkle in their eye.
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