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Alpine Stewardesses of the White Mountains

Alpine Stewardess on Mount Moousilauke
Alpine Stewardess on Mount Moousilauke

If you’ve climbed any of  the more popular peaks in the White Mountains, you’ve probably seen or spoken to an Alpine Steward or Stewardess. Their job is to educate visitors about the rare plants and grasses found high up on mountains, above treeline, in the alpine zone. These plant communities are extremely fragile and have very short growing seasons, lasting just 2 months of the year, when they’re NOT covered in snow and ice.

The biggest threat to the rare plants of the alpine zone is trampling by hikers visiting the peaks, so the main job of the Alpine Stewards is to educate them about the need to stay on established trails. If you look carefully at the placement of trails above treeline on Mt Lafayette, Mt Washington, or Mt Moosilauke, you’ll see that the scree walls and trails stay on bare rock, and carefully guide hikers away from fragile plant life.

Alpine Vegetation - Don't Tread on Me
Alpine Vegetation – Don’t Tread on Me

As hikers, the most important thing we can do to protect the plants in thealpine zone is to stay on solid rock above treeline and not venture off established trails in large groups. Frequent trampling kills fragile plants and reduces their tenuous foothold on life.

First developed by the Green Mountain Club in the 1970’s, the Alpine Steward program has since been adopted by the Adirondack Mountain Club, the Appalachian Mountain Club, the Dartmouth Outing Club, and Baxter State Park in partnership with the Nature Conservancy, The Waterman Fund, and the US Forest Service.

In the White Mountains, Stewards are volunteers who receive room and board while they’re working, gear and uniforms, and numerous training opportunities. In addition to climbing the same mountain every day (not a bad job if you can get it), their responsibilities include:

  • Demonstrating  appropriate alpine zone behavior and Leave No Trace ethics.
  • Approaching hikers to provide education on the alpine zone environment, ecology, and Leave No Trace practices.
  • Approaching visitors causing a negative impact on the alpine zone to provide education in a friendly, educational manner.
  • Providing information to visitors about safety concerns, particularly regarding weather.
  • Communicating information concerning Forest Service backcountry camping regulations and Leave No Trace principles, as needed or requested.

If you ever climb Franconia Ridge, chances are good that you’ll encounter a Alpine Steward or Stewardess on the summit of Mt Lafayette or Mount Lincoln and see their work in action. There’s also a series of posters where you can learn more about the Stewardship program posted within the Greenleaf Hut on the Old Bridle Path Trail as you climb Mt Lafayette.

When you meet that Steward or Stewardess, make a point to thank them for their service. Rain or shine, they’re on top of our high peaks protecting and conserving the Alpine Zone so that future generations can enjoy the Wilderness as do we.


  1. They’re on the “most popular” summits in the Adirondacks too. It’s always a pleasure to chat with them about the mountain. Tough kids…climbing a mountain daily all summer!

  2. It is great that they do this. I worked as a REEF Teacher for a heavily populated snorkel spot in Kona, HI, teaching people about the coral reefs and green sea turtles. Its a hard job, but soooo important. I found that most people liked knowing more about the areas. Education is key to conservation.

  3. So that’s who I talked to on the Falling Waters trail! An alpine steward caught me a mile or so from the top and kept “encouraging” me to turn around. After inquiring about my water supply and plans, he said, “You got a late start, there’s no telling what the weather will be like on top and you have a long way to go.”

    I pressed on for several reasons:
    I didn’t get that late a start–I was just moving really slow since I’d underestimated the difficulty of the trail.
    There was no way in the world I wanted to go back DOWN that trail!
    I was almost to the top–I wanted my reward… and what a reward it was!

    I wished I’d had more time to soak in the knowledge that was available at the Green Leaf hut once I got there. Some of the staff were taking people around the hut area for nature hikes. I’ll be better prepared next time.

    • One more thing. Part of the reason I didn’t want to go back down Falling Waters was psychological. In March, I took a bad fall descending a very steep rocky “trail” and shattered my right wrist. I’m still a little gunshy when going down areas of large rocks. I’ll get back to a normal level of caution but the injury and pain was still fresh and I could tell it was working on my psyche.

  4. Just Your Average Hiker

    Unfortunately I have never had the pleasure of seeing, meeting, or talking to the Alpine Stewards or Stewardesses as of yet. I think what they are doing is great, and look forward to meeting them one day and learning more about the alpine environment. Thanks for the post!

  5. I wonder if people give them a hard time? It must be a bit challenging at times. I’m guessing a lot of people do not take kindly to being confronted on the trail by someone who is there to “educate” them. Would require some finesse and skill in communication to do this in a way that people will have a positive reaction. Do they get training in this aspect of their jobs?

    • Communication skills are at the heart of all advanced Leave No Trace training, so yes there are techniques to persuade people. But their job is to provide education, which usually disarms people, rather than enforcing backcountry regulations.