Book Review: “Walks of a Lifetime: Extraordinary Hikes From Around the World”

Book Review: Walks of a Lifetime: Extraordinary Hikes From Around the World

by Robert and Martha Manning, Falcon Press, 2017.

Hurrah! Another elegant invitation from the Mannings to ordinary folks to try long distance walking!

Martha and Robert Manning on the Kumado Kodo Pilgrimage Walk, Japan, Courtesy Robert Manning

Walks of a Lifetime (2017), like the Manning’s first guidebook, Walking Distance (2013), alternates compelling descriptions of 30 exceptional walks around the world with brief essays on aspects of walking. With these intelligent companion volumes, Robert and Martha Manning are now firmly established as discerning and trusted guides to some of the world’s best walks.  Their approach goes way beyond your typical “trail guide”.

Essays in Walks of a Lifetime delightfully amplify themes in the walk chapters, connect the reader to the larger world of long distance walking, and inspire closer attention to the world we walk.  The 30 topics include trail angels, pilgrimage, urban walking, philanthropic walking, place, and the philosophy and ethics of walking.  The authors celebrate the joys of advance research, discuss how to prepare and how to enjoy serendipitous “misadventures” along the way, and offer advice on answering the inevitable question, “how long will it take?”.  Further, they explore the expanded field around walking by musing on ecotourism, health, walking as political statement, walking as art, and they contemplate the existential conundrum of journey vs. the destination.

Each walk portrait presents the sort of information that never goes out of date, for example natural and cultural history, land management context, weather and terrain.  Descriptions are useful, satisfying, but hardly exhaustive.  Instead, the reader will be stimulated toward further research, and to embrace walking as a process of life-long learning. Robert contributes knowledges honed by decades of research and teaching on national parks around the world, and he also provides hundreds of high quality photos.  Martha, an artist, speaks and writes as an astute observer full of practical advice.  Both husband and wife have an eye for natural beauty, topography, and unique landscape features.  They also share their infectious enjoyment of people, culture and cuisine.   Specifically, the walk descriptions include:

  • Orientation to the landscape and its natural history, including geology, wildlife, botany, weather, soils, bodies of water, etc.;
  • Cultural highlights of each area, including history, archaeology, museums, culinary traditions, agriculture, architecture, language, thermal baths, and local lore;
  • The context of the trail/traverse: how the trail came to be, how it operates, nearby and connecting trails, the challenges and unique features of the parks and natural areas it traverses, the broader trail system and walking culture of the nation/region in which it exists; and
  • Photographs that visually define each experience.

And, of course, practical information and advice is included:

  • Getting to the trail head and back, getting around in the region;
  • Availability of food, water, accommodations, bathrooms, campsites, etc.;
  • How to hike the trail in sections, other possible modifications, and adjacent trails;
  • Level of difficulty, type of terrain, safety considerations, and tips about gear;
  • Trail protocols (important do’s and don’ts) and environmental ethics.

In Walks of a Lifetime the authors expand our concept of long distance walking beyond hiking remote woods and tramping distant fields to include sauntering through some of the world’s most populous cities (Sydney, New York, Paris and San Francisco).  They also include a range of bucolic to backcountry walks in places like Arizona, Hawaii, Georgia, Utah, Colorado, Maine, N.H., China, France, New Zealand, Italy, Portugal, Japan, Scotland, England and Wales.  And they take us on treks in some of the most isolated locations in the USA such as Denali in Alaska, Havasu Canyon and Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness in Arizona, and Popo Agie Wilderness in Wyoming.

The Manning’s continued emphasis on long distance walks for ordinary people is a refreshing corrective to the current craze for “through hiking” on such trails as the Pacific Crest and Appalachian Trail.  Such hikes, requiring months of time and almost superhuman effort, are not for ordinary people. This book is a tonic for the rest of us.  In fact, in Walks of a Lifetime, the Mannings offer even gentler and more accessible walks than in their previous guide.  They include four urban saunters, and also describe a higher proportion of domestic (U.S.) walks (seventeen) than in the 2013 volume (twelve).  As to level of difficulty, this latest guide includes seven walks of low challenge (compared with two in the previous book) and eight that are categorized as high challenge (compared with twelve in the previous book).

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, an Urban Walk, Courtesy Robert Manning

The latest volume is published by Falcon Press, a specialist in trail guides.  The earlier guide, published by Oregon State University Press includes an index, further reading suggestions at the end of each chapter, a bibliography, and a sprinkling of sparkling quotations throughout.  The Falcon Press publication omits these extras.  I missed these.

One quibble: the maps in Walks of a Lifetime are extremely rudimentary.  While providing the highly detailed topo maps necessary for walking the walk is clearly not within the scope of this guide, better maps would definitely aid in amplifying the author’s text and in supporting the walker’s planning.  Falcon Press is capable of doing better by its authors and readers.

Readers new to long distance walking will find themselves in good hands as they select a walk and plan for their first trip.  Experienced walkers will enjoy perusing the options shared by the well-travelled and insightful authors. Written with intelligence, grace and gentle humor, the Manning’s two guides are perfect gifts for friends and family.  Each volume effectively encourages new readers to get off the chair, take a long walk, and savor the wonders of nature and culture at a slow pace.  Both guides are also highly recommended for libraries serving communities with interest in outdoor recreation.

Sam Demas, October 2017

American Prairie Reserve Huts

Hutmaster profile: Michael Quist Kautz, American Prairie Reserve

Hutmaster Profile: Michael Quist Kautz:

Founding hutmaster for American Prairie Reserve

[See Preview of the APR Hut System for background on this new hut system.]

The American Prairie Reserve’s (APR) hut system is a key part of the public access and education mission of this ambitious, privately-operated public land project that is gradually knitting 3,00,000 acres of public and private lands into a vast bioregional wildlife reserve. What kind of background and experience does one look for in hiring someone for such an undertaking?  This is the story Mike Kautz’s path to a leadership role in founding a ground-breaking hut system.

Mike’s journey to this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity began in Maine with schoolteacher parents, with whom he developed an early love of the Maine woods and all things out-of-doors.  While studying arts and humanities at Middlebury – a liberal arts college in Vermont — a friend recommended Mike to fill in for her for a summer job in the Appalachian Mountain Club’s (AMC) huts (she had decided to go to NOLS instead).  This happy accident turned into a ten-year stint working in the AMC huts. He worked in the huts four summers in a row, for several years as a seasonal worker, and eventually became AMC’s fulltime Hut Manager from 2004 to 2007.  Mike loved the sense of conviviality among both the “Croo” and the many hikers coursing through the huts.

At AMC Mike developed an enduring interest in working for conservation-related causes.  He was deeply influenced by Andy Fallender, former Executive Director of the AMC, who stressed that hut jobs went beyond hospitality to include education, stressing that the Croo’s job was to aid in “moving people through a conservation continuum”.   AMC also connected him to a large network, some of whom have made backcountry lodging a profession, including: Jesse Bellingham (Director of Lodging for the American Alpine Club), Tom Callahan (Executive Director of Alaska Huts Association), Paul Cunha (VP of Operations, AMC), and James Wrigley (Huts Manager, AMC).

After AMC, Mike enrolled in the MFA program at the University of Montana in creative writing, where he honed his classroom presentation skills and continued to work on his own creative expression.  He then taught writing and photography workshops internationally for National Geographic, taught literature in Turkey for a year as a Fulbright Fellow, and taught ESL at Montana State University.  While then While he liked teaching, he missed being outdoors and working in conservation.

Working for Jeff Brown (a former AMC huts manager) at the Yellowstone Institute Field School for 3.5 years, Mike ran the Lamar Buffalo Ranch.  There he managed lodging and field operations and supported a wide range of educational programs. This position deepened his management and hospitality skills, and grounded him in creative partnership methods for managing public lands.

Mike’s next move brought him ever closer to APR: working in the startup phase of Adventure Scientists, which operates citizen-science projects all over the world.   For 3 years he managed data collection projects, including an APR wildlife baseline data study (through camera tracking and transects).  Spending lots of time on the prairie engendered a love the subtle and spare beauty of the prairie and admiration for APR’s mission and organizational ethos.  He witnessed the profound responses of volunteer citizen scientists to places and to wildlife as they practiced close observation.  This reinforced the power of meaningful exposure to a landscape in engendering genuine appreciation and a sense of commitment to environmental protection.

As Adventure Scientist’s liaison to APR, Mike attended their annual Transect where an interdisciplinary group stays in tents and moves together across the landscape for ten days by foot, bike and canoe.  He marveled at the learning and sharing that went on around the campfire and along the trail, and discovered that APR was approaching a crucial moment in its evolution: after 15 years of focus on acquiring land, fundraising and building an organization, APR was ready to invite more visitors to the reserve and launch a new phase in its educational agenda.  The staff of APR was exploring how best to encourage people to visit this remote, harsh, and little-known prairie landscape.

This got Mike thinking about how hut systems allow people to move safely and gently through a range of environments, and support them in immersive listening and learning.  He began to envision the APR as a vast laboratory to test ideas about how facilities can, in Fallenders’s words, “move people through a conservation continuum.”  He shared his observations and experiences with APR, suggesting that huts could be a way to get people to come for recreation, but at the same time build a connection to the landscape that fosters a commitment to conservation.

It soon became clear that a prairie hut system was an innovative way for APR to realize its public access and educational goals, and that Mike was the perfect person to serve as its first Visitation and Huts Manager.

Why Mike?  For one thing, he has a broad perspective on the task at hand.  In addition to working in one of the nation’s largest hut systems, he came to know huts in Europe and New Zealand in his travels. However, while running the AMC’s hut system was about continuing a tradition and unswervingly maintaining a set of time-tested systems and procedures, the APR and its hut system are both startup organizations, requiring vision, flexibility and imagination.  Mike has experience in both following a plan and in “making it up as you go”.  This prepares him to help build new approaches to backcountry safety, logistics and hospitality in the nation’s first hut system not located in the mountains.

While Mike is the point person and has unique knowledge of how hut systems operate, he is hardly the only one at APR contributing to developing the hut system.  Partners include land management folks, marketing and PR staff, scientists, operations staff, fundraisers, board members, volunteers, and administrators.  His background in non-profit management in a variety of settings makes it easy for him to operate effectively within a larger organization, especially one as innovative, values-based, and unique as APR.

As a writer, photographer, and humanist, Mike is great at connecting the dots to create a compelling narrative.  He understands his work on operational, scientific and technical endeavors through a liberal arts lens.  He approaches his work as a humanist and an artist, as well as a manager and a skilled practitioner.

Finally, Mike’s sophistication with different forms of verbal and visual communication allow him to reach people in many different ways.  He is accomplished in using maps, images and text in telling the story of the APR and the huts.  Storytelling can inspire dreams when he talks about the prairie landscape and about the roles of huts.  His commitment to conservation education, his realization that it needs to be based in a fun experience, and his diverse experience in teaching and learning are invaluable assets in this recreational and educational enterprise.

Mike clearly has the skill set, education and experience for the job, and he came by them in his own unique way.   APR definitely has the financial and organizational capacity to develop something new on the American prairie!  It will be fun to watch this hut system innovate!

Reflections on the position of Founding Hut Master in the 21st Century

I’ve published a number of profiles of hut and trails founders; each person and set of circumstances is different.  While I’m not prepared to generalize across these stories, talking with Mike I began to see the outlines of a 21st century model for innovation in huts, for a new generation of Hut Masters, and for new approaches to public/private partnerships in conservation, recreation and education.  Riffing on my conversation with Mike, following are some initial thoughts.

Mike and the APR are at the beginning of an ambitious undertaking; and they approach it as a commitment to creating a new model for public/private partnership in conservation, recreation and education.  They are looking at what it takes to develop an innovative, educational, environmentally-sensitive hut system on private lands in 21st century.

The job of actually founding a hut system, bringing it to life, is a unique and rare calling. Like entrepreneur, farmer, conservationist and educator, the job of “hut master” is a richly interdisciplinary, creative undertaking.  It requires: vision; mastery of a wildly diverse bundle of practical skills and technical knowledge; sophisticated people, political, and organizational skills; perseverance; flexibility; and an active imagination. The work is aided by the gift of creating a compelling narrative about the significance of preserving and enjoying a wild landscape — and, in APR’s case, a vanishing and largely unknown biome that once dominated a third of the continent – that is traversed by the hut system.  This role goes way beyond safety, hospitality and recreation, and far into the realms of conservation and environmental education.

The ability to blend science, education, and practical know-how within a broad imaginative framework can be immensely helpful to the hut master. And the ability to make the educational dimensions of hut experience enjoyable, not dry and didactic, is a key to the success of any conservation education enterprise aiming to capture the imagination of young people.

As Andy Fallender said, guests may come to the hut experience for recreation, but through the efforts of the hut crew they gain they form a connection to the landscape that motivates them to protect it.  This is hardly a new concept in the hut world, but its importance is underscored as we struggle to cultivate an ethos of biophilia and do as little harm as possible to the natural world.

 

 

 

Hutmaster Profile: Michael Quist Kautz

Yurts rising on the Prairie: the American Prairie Reserve hut system

Preview: Yurts Rising on the Prairie!

American Prairie Reserve building their first two huts

By Sam Demas

The first two yurts of American Prairie Reserve planned 10 hut system are now subtly nestled in a remarkable prairie landscape in Montana.  The interiors will be finished this fall, the interpretive program will be developed this winter, and the yurts will be open for adventurous environmental pilgrims in Spring 2018.  The amazing American Prairie Reserve’s hut system will be:

  • the first in the USA not located in the mountains;
  • the first located on the threatened, sublimely beautiful great American prairie;
  • the second largest in the USA (after the 10th Mountain Division Huts);
  • the largest in the USA located on privately owned land;
  • operated as part of a huge nature reserve as and integral part of a strong conservation and education mission;
  • open to travel by hiking, biking and/or canoeing/kayaking; and
  • offering spacious, comfortable quarters with excellent amenities, with minimal environmental impact in a remote and rugged environment.

What follows is a brief preview, based on a visit in early September 2017, of what is coming soon on the great American Prairie.  I hope to visit again next year and present a more complete report, based on the experience of staying in the huts, on this innovative, distinctly American hut system.  For now much of the content below is derived from the APR website, from visiting the huts under construction, and from stimulating discussions with Mike Quist Kautz, Visitation and Huts Manager, who is leading the APR hut system development.

Yurts rising on the Prairie, Courtesy APR

One of the APR Yurt Sites, near Judith River, Courtesy Mike Kautz (also the featured photo at the beginning of post)

Context: Mission of the American Prairie Reserve (APR)

Our mission is to create the largest nature reserve in the continental United States, a refuge for people and wildlife preserved forever as part of America’s heritage.

Operating since 2004 on the basis of an exemplary set of values, the APR is committed to a bioregional program of stitching together 3,000,000 acres of existing public lands (primarily BLM lands) using private land purchases.  As their web site states, “When these fragmented public and private lands are connected, the Reserve will provide a continuous land area collaboratively managed for wildlife and recreation, the largest of its kind in the Lower 48 states.”

So far the non-profit APR has completed 25 land acquisitions transactions to build a habitat base of 353,104 acres:

  • 86,586 acres are private lands owned by the Reserve
  • 266,518 acres are public lands (federal and state) and  leased by the Reserve

They operate on the basis of a rigorous scientific program and strive to foster strong working relationships with their neighbors — the current human occupants and users of large parts of this landscape.

This map gives a sense of the scale and nature of the challenge.  The brown background is BLM land and the white is privately owned.  The goal is to knit together 3,000,000 acres surrounding the Upper Missouri Breaks National Monument andCharles M. Russell National Wildlife Preserve to create the largest prairie reserve in the world.  All this to help preserve and restore the land as close as possible to the landscape and wildlife Lewis and Clark encountered in this place in 1806.

American Prairie Reserve

American Prairie Reserve Current Habitat Map 2017, courtesy APR

The huts will be built on private lands owned by the APR.  The purpose of the hut system is to advance the APR mission by providing affordable shelter and recreational opportunity for visitors interested in experiencing and learning about this unique ecosystem.  Knowing a landscape engenders commitment to preserve it, and the hut system is being designed to aid in getting people to visit and come to appreciate the subtleties of the prairie.

Aerial View of Judith River Site – Courtesy APR

Conceptual plan for the APR Hut System

The prairie ecosystem of Central Montana is a spare and subtle environment — most folks fly or drive over it as quickly as possible.   It is a rugged steppe-like environment with weather extremes, including low rainfall, intensely slippery muds and dangerous roads, and is remote from gas, cell reception, and life safety services.  It requires serious shelter and planning to visit, and a slow, thoughtful pace to truly appreciate.

The hut system is conceived as a means of giving a wide range of visitors the rare opportunity to safely, comfortably, and affordably experience one of America’s iconic — and disappearing — landscapes.  How do you provide public access to a privately owned nature reserve?  How do you direct people to he places you want them to visit and keep them away from ecologically fragile areas?  These are the essential challenges of designing this kind of hut system.

American Prairie Reserve Yurts

Mike Quist Kautz, Director of Visitation and clerk of the works

The idea of a hut system grew from multiple stimuli: the experiences folks have had through APR’s amazing annual “Transect” program and its Kestrel Camp program of trips for board members and donors, from precedents including the Appalachian Mountain Club huts, New Zealand DOC huts and Great Walks, and from the vision  of Mike Quist Kautz and others that huts are an ideal way to introduce people to this unique landscape. 

Eventually 10 huts — ideally placed a days hike, bike or river trip apart — will provide a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in this rich ecosystem.   Each hut will feature a different facet of the Reserve and have its own interpretive theme.  In combination, the total experience of these 10 huts will cultivate appreciation of the the range of biodiversity, the threats, and special thrills of this subtle and vast landscape.  At one time xx % of the America was dominated by prairie.

The map below presents the conceptual plan for a 10 hut system, and the following picture is an artist’s representation of the hut designs.

American Prairie Reserve Hut System

American Prairie Reserve Hut System Plan

American Prairie Reserve Hut System Design Scheme

American Prairie Reserve Yurt Design Scheme, courtesy APR

The first two yurts: design, amenities and operation

Viewed from a distance on this grassland system, these two structures evoke a Mongolian steppe settlement or, in some ways, a spaceship landing in the outback.  The two yurts, designed and built by Shelter Designs (shelterdesigns.net) of Missoula, MT, are grand embodiments of the yurt/hut genre. They comprise three modules each: a 30′ diameter common area, a 30′ diameter sleeping yurt (with the space divided into four sleeping rooms, each accommodating two twin beds, and one also including a bunk bed), and a commodious bathroom yurt. These are unusually commodious spaces for a hut system.

One yurt is located by the rushing Judith River sheltered by a beautiful and increasingly scarce Cottonwood Gallery of majestic old trees. The other is higher in elevation and a nice hike away from the bench providing a dramatic Missouri River overlook (in the Missouri Breaks), featuring views of the historic confluence of the Missouri and Judith Rivers (see also featured photo for this post).

The entire yurt will be rented to a single party, on the model of the US Forest Service cabins common in the Western US. Prices are not yet set, but the intent is to make them affordable.

Yurts will have an unusually high level of amenities for a hut system.  Full kitchen facilities will include propane stove, refrigerator, pots and pans and eating utensils, and sink.   The huts will be available as self-serve (bring your own food and cook on site) or “catered” (food provided and you cook it yourself).  Provision of guided trips is under consideration.  Both huts are on ranch roads that allow for provisioning. Drinking water and food will be trucked in.  Solar collectors will provide power for lights, heat, refrigerator, air conditioning (!), and charging of personal devices.  Description from their website of toilets by Toilet Tech Solutions:

Toilet Tech offers a low-cost and low-hazard solution for waterless human waste management at high use sites.  Toilet Tech’s urine diverting toilets are superior to: expensive barrel fly out toilets, hazardous and ineffective conventional composting toilets, and water polluting pit toilets.  100% of urine is diverted and treated onsite by native or engineered soil.  Fecal matter and toilet paper are consumed by invertebrates (TTS-Decompose), or dried and burned onsite (TTS-Waste Away) leaving little residue.  No bulking agent is required.  Stabilized waste extraction is very infrequent.  Odor is very low.

Graywater will be collected in buckets in the kitchen area and hauled to the septic system behind the bathroom for disposal.

Biking will be on existing ranch roads.  Other recreational pathways are still under consideration. In addition to using existing trails (human and wildlife), walking routes will be created de novo by users in some areas as part of a grand vision with conservation, recreation and educational dimensions intertwined.  APR promotes a form of walking they call “snorkeling” (making ones way slowly across the trackless landscape and becoming attuned to its subtle pleasures). Canoeing and kayaking routes are under consideration.

The initial target audience will be native Montanans who are familiar with the great plains environment, experienced in traveling rough terrain and harsh climate, and overall have the outdoor skill set for this adventure experience.  Doubtless the demographic will evolve over time, and I predict many Europeans will eventually find and treasure this hut system.

This hut system is off to a fabulous start in developing infrastructure to give the user an experience of the larger meaning of prairies by recalling the American prairie as it existed when Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea came through in 1805 and 1806.

Next Steps:

APR hopes to continue development of its hut system by opening one or two more huts in 2019.  As the first American hut system not located in the mountains, they have an incredible opportunity to experiment with a wide range of hut designs appropriate to the weather and terrain. The inclusion of Indigenous architectural traditions, such as cabins and shelters dug into the hillsides (and perhaps some contemporary architectural riffs on these and other building traditions) might result in an architectural showcase of shelter types as well as demonstrating a high level of environmentally sustainable amenities.  And the potential for the huts as infrastructure for innovative environmental education by APR is incredibly exciting!

Stay tuned and get ready to book a trip next year!

Sam Demas, September 2017

 

 

Sun Valley Trekking

Featured Huts: Pioneer Yurt and Fishook Yurt and Hut

Pioneer Yurt and Fishook Yurt and Hut

Featured Huts of Sun Valley Trekking

(See Also Photo Galleries for Pioneer and Fishook,

and Operational Profile for Sun Valley Trekking)

Pioneer Yurt and Fishook Yurt are two of the six huts operated by Sun Valley Trekking in the beautiful snow-filled mountains of Central Idaho. These two locations have historical significance in the world of U. S. alpine touring huts, and they give a taste of the offerings of San Valley Trekking’s remarkable infrastructure for enjoying the beauty and thrill of these mountains.  

Pioneer Yurt sits on the edge of a lovely alpine meadow at 8,600’ in the Pioneer Mountains in the Sawtooth National Forest in Central Idaho.  Located near the towns of Ketchum and Hailey, this fully-equipped yurt — located in a bowl surrounded by Hyndman Peak (12,009’, the highest peak in the Pioneer Mountains), Old Hyndman Peak. (11,755’), Cobb Peak (11,6500), and Peanut Peak (c. 9,600).   This is paradise for ski mountaineering groups in winter and a spectacular base camp for hiking, botanizing, and star-gazing in summer.  

Sun Valley Trekking has operated Pioneer Yurt since 2006 when it took over from Heli-Ski and tore down the old yurt and erected a new one.  The 24’ diameter yurt is equipped with everything you need (just bring a sleeping bag and food) to enjoy this mountain Shangri La.  The high ceilings, three large windows, and nicely designed amenities provide a feeling of openness and comfort.  The ambiance is simple, rustic and cozy — perfect for a getaway with family and/or friends.

The amenities are thoughtfully honed over years of experience in mountain hospitality.  The yurt sleeps up to 16 people in four bunk beds, each with comfortable plastic covered mattresses.  The wood stove keeps the yurt warm.  There are lots of clothes lines and hooks for hanging wet clothing to dry.  Water for drinking and cooking is from snow melt in winter and from nearby Hyndman Creek in summer (gravity filter provided).  The kitchen has a three burner propane stove and all the implements needed for cooking and eating, including a small BBQ.  There are tables for indoor and outdoor eating and lounging, and foldable chairs for reading and sitting in the meadow or under the stars.   The Goal Zero solar collector system feeds a battery which powers lights, lanterns, a speaker system, and recharges GPS units and personal devices.  A selection of games and reading material, along with the hut log, provide quiet entertainment options.

Pioneer Yurt is 3-4 miles as the crow flies (much farther by trail) from the historic Pioneer Cabin, the first backcountry ski hut in Sun Valley.  In 1938 the Bavarian ski guides and instructors brought to Idaho to start the Alpine Ski Touring School at Sun Valley told their employers that the place to learn alpine ski touring is in the mountains, not in the valley.  They took over an old mining cabin and called it Pioneer Cabin, where they established one of the early alpine ski schools in the USA.  The original hut is no longer in use, but is a popular day hike destination for its fabulous panoramic views.  

Sun Valley Trekking

Fishook is comprises a wall tent and a yurt joined with a walkway. Photo Courtesy Sun Valley Trekking

Fishook Hut and Yurt sit at 6,800’ next to meandering Fishook creek and beautiful meadows on the edge of the Sawtooth Mountains wilderness area.  The jagged mountains rise above the meadow, with spectacular views of Thompson Peak (the highest in the Sawtooth Mountain).  Fishook has the same level of amenities as Pioneer, described above, and is distinguished by three features: topography, history, type of accommodation, and a hot tub.

The approach to Fishook is a gentle four mile tour.  The lower elevation and flat terrain are ideal for Nordic skiers and snowshoers.  Advanced skiers and snowboarders can find fantastic downhill terrain in the peaks above Fishook Valley: Horstman, Thompson, and Williams.  

The 16’ diameter Mongolian yurt is nicely appointed and sleeps 8, and is joined together by a lodge-pole pine framed walkway to a pioneer style wall tent that sleeps 6.  The wall tent, the site of cooking and dining, is appointed with colorful panels and a gorgeous fabric doorway.  There are two covered outhouses. The piece de resistance is a wood fired hot tub.  

Historically, Fishook was the site of what Joe Leonard, the guide who started the business that Sun Valley Trekking built upon, claims is the first yurt in North America, built in the 1970’s.  Whether this claim is true (there is a competing claim in Sun Valley lore), staying here gives the visitor a sense of being part of the history of alpine huts/yurts in the USA.  

****

Sun Valley Trekking

Joe and Francie St. Onge at work in the SVT office in Hailey, ID

Joe and Francie St. Onge, owners of Sun Valley Trekking, have developed a remarkable series of backcountry ski huts and a local and international guiding business.

They offer guided trips to their huts (including porters and food service if desired) as well as self-guided experiences.  Most of their business is from return visitors; first-time visitors in winter are required to use a guide for the first day.

This is a serious, well-run backcountry ski destination, and appropriate skills are needed.  I visited in summer and can’t wait to return for the winter experience!

Details on hut rental and reservations can be made on the Sun Valley Trekking website .  

 

 

 

Post by Sam Demas, September 2017

Sam Demas, September 2017

Grand Huts Association, Colorado

Trail Tracks Editorial in “American Trails”, Fall 2017: Hut-to-Hut is growing

Editorial: Hut-to-Hut is growing: lets plan for it

Following is an invited editorial published in the Fall 2017 issue of American Trails.  It is a call to trails professionals, recreation planners, and land managers to acknowledge that hut systems are no longer just peripheral, “accepted anomalies” on the American recreational landscape.  There is a grass-roots movement that needs support and guidance.

Since writing this I’ve discovered even more hut systems under development.  It is time to turn attention to the research and planning necessary to support and guide this nascent movement as an effective approach to environmental education and stewardship.

Conducting a formal recreational ecology study of the environmental impacts of huts is a great place to start.

Sam, September 2017

Hut-to-Hut is growing

Sam Demas Editorial in American Trails Fall 2017

Hut-to-Hut is growing

Sam Demas Editorial in American Trails Fall 2017

Update on Spearhead Huts Construction

Spearhead Huts Construction Begins!

by Sam Demas based on information from Spearhead Huts website

The Alpine Club of Canada and the British Columbia Mountaineering Club have broken groundAlpine Club of Canada - Claire and Kees  on the Kees and Claire hut, the first of three huts in three huts planned for the Spearhead Traverse.  Named after a young couple who perished in a collapsed snow cave they built for shelter while on the Wapti Traverse in 2006.                                                                 

The Spearhead Huts August 25, 2017 blog update provides some great photos of the intense volunteer effort undertake  to put in the foundation for the hut.  For an broad overview of the plan for the Spearhead Traverse, see the FAQ and other portions of their web page.

When completed this three hut traverse will offer safer access to the remarkable ski terrain that claimed the young lives of Kees and Claire.

Spearhead Huts Construction

Foundation of Claire Kees Hut emerges August 2017.  Photo Courtesy Spearhead Traverse Huts

Spearhead Huts Construction

Working fast on concrete pour between helicopter deliveries of concrete. Photo courtesy Spearhead Huts.

Alaska Huts

Alaska huts and trails and economic development

“Could the lure of trails salvage Alaska’s economy?”

article by Krista Langlois in High Country News (June 26,2017):

Summary  below with link to full article

 

This article is highly recommended to anyone interested in huts and trails and their potential for economic development.  Following is a brief summary:

The subtitle of this piece summarizes Langlois’ arena of exploration: A trial along the Trans-Alaska pipeline could be the start of a booming recreation economy. Krista interviews people on all sides of this question, but is clearly interested in the potential of Alaska’s greatest asset — its sublime landscape and huge tracts of magnificent wilderness — as a desperately needed driver of economic development.  

The economy of Alaska is on the ropes: timber jobs have decreased by 80%, oils production has dropped by 76% since 1989, the state is doing everything it can to prop up fishing and mining, but is now facing a $4 billion budget deficit.  Governor Bill Walker said in 2016 “We have reached a point in our state’s history that we need to be looking beyond oil.”  

The specific proposal Langlois explores is the development of an 800 mile trail that parallels the Trans-Pacific pipeline.  She outlines the arguments pro and con, provides interesting character sketches some of the advocates and opponents of the trail, and provides valuable context in comparing the state of trail development in Alaska compared with that in the lower 48 states.  The bottom line is that while Alaska has unsurpassed wilderness beauty, it has relatively little infrastructure to attract outdoor enthusiasts.

She hones in on the fact that the rugged wilderness of Alaska is beyond the capabilities of most people, and that the development of hut systems is one way of making these wonders accessible to the vast majority of “people in the middle” who appreciate and long for contact with wild but are simply  not up to the job of backpacking in Alaska.  She interviews Tom Callahan of Alaska Huts Association, and cites relevant economic development studies and initiatives including the New Zealand hut system and Great Walks, the AMC Hut System, and Adventure Cycling, and Fruita Colorado to name a few.  

But don’t settle for my summary: its well worth reading the entire article.

American Alpine Club

American Alpine Club Hut System

The American Alpine Club’s “Hut System”

While staying at the American Alpine Club’s (AAC) Grand Teton Climbers Ranch I was intrigued by a sign indicating that it is part of the AAC Hut System.

It turns out the AAC has borrowed the term “hut system” (see my article What is a Hut? Towards a definition)  for a more common definition) to describe its system of five lodging camps in USA.  I talked with Jesse Billingham, Lodging Director of AAC, to learn more about this accommodations network.  It turns out that AAC has developed four of these five properties in the past five years or so and is considering opening more in future.   As with the original Climbers Ranch in the Grand Tetonsthe other four lodgings are small non-profit operations. Some operate in the black and others in the red; it varies from year to year.  The AAC does not view them as a revenue stream, but hopes they don’t lose money.  

The mission of all these lodging enterprises includes:

  • providing affordable accommodations for climbers at iconic climbing locations,
  • community building through creation of a cultural hub for climbers,
  • education, and
  • environmental conservation.

To these ends each one provides lodging, a central dining pavilion, one (or two) communal fire pit (rather than many dispersed gathering spots), and education and volunteer service programs, such as the AAC “Crag and Classics” series of weekend events and clinics.

I was so impressed by the mission and thoughtful design of the Grand Teton Climbers Ranch, established in 1970, that I decided to look online at the others.  These lodgings are open to AAC members and to non-members. Reservations can be made online at the link below.

These are good examples of an organization developing lodgings to build community for their members and support nature-based activities.  Following is a very brief listing of the other for AAC lodgings, each of which is described in more detail on their website.

  • Snowbird Hut (Alaska), sleeping 6-12, this is a single hut that can be linked with two huts of the Alaska Mountaineering Club to form the Bombers Traverse.  Open year-round, this remote shelter is for back country skiiers, climbers, and hikers.  There is a link to the history of the hut on the AAC website.
  • Hueco Rock Ranch (near El Paso, TX).  Established about 2012, this ranch includes a house with rooms for rent, campsites, and space for parking travel vehicles.
  • New River Gorge Campground (Lansing, WV) was established in 2014 and has 40 campsites, a shower house, and two communal fire rings.
  • Gunks Campground (officially: Samuel F. Pryor III Shawangunk Gateway Campground, New Paltz, NY) was established in partnership with Mohonk Preserve and the Palisades Interstate Park Commission.  It has 26 drive-in campsites and 24 walk-in sites.

American Alpine Club Grand Tetons Climbing Ranch

American Alpine Club Grand Teton Climbing Ranch

Overview:  Located in Grand Teton National Park in Moose, WY, the Grand Tetons Climbing Ranch (GTCR) is one of five AAC mountain huts, i.e. base camp accommodations centers for climbers operated by the American Alpine Club.  The cluster of 11 buildings comprises 9 cabins, a lodge, and a bath house.  It is located on the valley at the foot of the fabulous Grand Teton mountain range.  GTCR sleeps 64 and provides an array of amenities designed to support climbers as they prepare to go climb in the remarkable Grand Tetons.  About 85% of the users of GTCR climbers, and about 50% are members of the American Alpine Club (AAC).  The GTCR has a venerable history and a special place in the history of the AAC.

GTCR is more than an accommodations center.  It is an agent in education, conservation and community-building in the mountaineering community.  Its mission is:

….to provide inexpensive, extended-stay accommodations for mountaineers visiting Grand Teton National Park.  As a facility of the American Alpine Club the Climber’s Ranch also represents the interests and concerns of the American Climbing Community in the Park, cooperates with the NPS in conservation of the environment and preservation of the historic structures of the ranch, and provides a venue for the cultivation of mountain craft, the exchange of information about the Teton Range, and the promotion of good fellowship among climbers.

History:  The establishment of the GTCR in 1970 was a signal event in the modern history of the AAC, and an important step in its gradual shift from an Eastern elitist organization to an inclusive climbing club reflecting the democratization of climbing in America.  Two visionaries — AAC President Nick Clinch and former superintendent of Grand Teton National Park Horace Albright — combined forces to address a growing challenge: the rapid increase in the numbers of climbers in the USA.

The Tetons are a cross-roads and focal point of American climbing.  In the 1960’s increasing numbers of climbers began gathering at the Jenny Lake campground adjacent to prime climbing spots.   It became hard to reserve camp sites and there were conflicts between the culture of the young “dirtbag” climbers and families staying at the campground.  The NPS had to impose limitations on camping and campground activities.  Clinch and Albright, neighbors in Palo Alto, got together to find a solution to these symptoms of the growing pains of a new phase of mountaineering in America.  In 1969 there were three former dude ranches for sale in the Grand Teton National Park; one of these, the Double Diamond Dude Ranch (operated 1924-1964), was determined by Clinch, Albright, Leigh Ortenburger, and others (reportedly including Yvon Chouinard, who did the plumbing in the early days) to be the most appropriate of the three for purchase by AAC.

In an article in the January/February 1969 issue of Summit: a mountaineering magazine (of which Royal Robbins was contributing editor), AAC President Nick Clinch published an article “The New Climbers Ranch: Your Base Camp in the Tetons”.  He outlined plans to open the ranch in 1970 for the purpose of “providing accommodations for climbers at a very modest rate”.  Clinch outlined plans to raise $200,000 to make improvements to the property and to establish an operational endowment.

GTCR opened in 1970 and Dave Dornan (of the Dornan family in Moose) was the first manager.  Rick Liu was the second manager, and Ruth Balsin, who served for 12 years, was the third manager.   There have been others since.  Bob Baribeau, the current manager, showed up in 1973 as a guest and climber and began helping out.

The former dining room of the original dude ranch building currently serves as the headquarters/registration building and the library.  It is listed on the National Historic Register.  A 1985 forest fire destroyed about half of the structures.  Other period structures were moved to the site by NPS and AAC to replace the burned buildings.  The first of these was named after Leigh Ortenburger, author of A Climber’s Guide to the Teton Range.

Accommodation and amenities:  Each of the cabins has between 2-6 two-tier bunk beds, each wide enough for two people but usually used for one person.   Guests provide their own bedding (sleeping bags and pads).  The bunk rooms are spare but thoughtfully supplied with plenty of electrical outlets, string for drying clothes, showers (bath tubs in at least one cabin!), and pegs for hanging gear and clothing.  Some rooms have a closet for gear storage and some have a desk or table.

Reservations are necessary and the charge for overnight accommodation is $25 per night per person for non-members, and $16 per person per night for AAC members.

The bath house includes a sink room, wash room, climbing wall, and recycling center.  The very well stocked sink room is supplied with detergent and scrubbers.  It also houses an array of loaner pots and pans, BBQ grills, toasters, electric water kettles, hose, etc.  In addition to bathrooms (in most of the cabins) there are central men’s and women’s bathrooms with showers.  There is a well-equipped laundry room with washer and drier ($5 per load), and a great clothesline located nearby.    GTCR also loans coolers, bicycles, and locks and helmets.  And there is a left-over food box with items free for the taking.

There is no food service; guests bring and cook their own meals.  The magnificent outdoor dining pavilion has great views and is perfect for preparing meals.  Bear-proof lockers are provided for food and gear.  It is also the social hub of the GTCR, where people eat, drink and talk together.  Most of the conversation revolves around climbing.

GTCR operates a serious recycling program including nearly every kind of waste (including fuel canisters), includes a can crusher, and even goes through the trash to separate out material that should have been placed in recycling.

The library is a magnificent amenity.  Located in a separate, sacred space (paintings, no shoes allowed) that used to be the kitchen of the dude ranch.  The collection is fairly extensive (the online catalog has 685 entries) and is primarily focused on climbing in the West, but includes an international focus.  The library is curated by Prof. Alan Nagel of U of Iowa.  The library is used for presentations and discussions.

There is a “partners board” where folks can meet up to climb together, as well as get information about local guides.

Operations:  The GTCR operates June 1 – September 15 within the Grand Tetons National Park (NPS) on a concessionaire permit, renewable every ten years.  The staff consists of a manager, Bob Baribeau, and four young staffers.  All are climbers, and are unfailingly knowledgeable, competent and courteous.

The GTCR structures are owned by the NPS and operated and maintained by AAC.  No new construction is allowed and the buildings are all old, many moved onto the property from the area.  The buildings are well-maintained with obvious care and attention to detail.

A plentiful supply of excellent water flows underground from the mountains, through a vast underground cobble field, and is tapped at a wellhead/pump house at the GTCR.  Sewage and graywater drain into a septic system which is pumped out as needed at AAC expense.

NPS conducts and annual walk through with the manager and compiles a list of maintenance tasks to be completed during the year.  NPS is responsible for road maintenance and large infrastructure projects.

GTCR conducts an annual “work week” in which volunteers assist with maintenance tasks.

Business model: GTCR operates on a non-profit basis under the AAC.  AAC’s attitude towards the economics of its five accommodations centers is that they are not looked to as revenue centers.  Its considered good if they don’t lose money, but some do in some years.  GTCR consistently earns sufficient revenue to cover its operating costs and return some surplus to the AAC.  There is a small operating endowment.

by Sam Demas, August 2017

Public Access to Private Land: gratitude for the kindness of strangers

Public access to private land is taken for granted. For several days along the Superior Hiking Trail in Minnesota prompted a strong sensation of enjoying the kindness of strangers.  Trail signs reminded me to respect the property rights of those permitting the trail corridor to traverse their land, and other signs clearly marked the NO TRESPASSING boundaries. With one exception this permissive access was granted anonymously.  The land owners likely live nearby, but we walkers don’t know who the are.  The one exception was a tribute to landowner Sarah Ellen Jaeger, who not only granted permissive access, but put her land in a trust.

While we in the USA are blessed with lots of public lands for trails, we are also often dependent on the kindness of private land owners who grant rights of way for trails.  Musing on this, Thomas Jefferson’s metaphor came to mind:

He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. 

As I reflected on our founding father’s notions about sharing intellectual property, I also realized the limits of the metaphor.  When a few hikers or bikers damage a trail, access to private land is compromised by their offensive footprints.

 

When landowners get fed up with ongoing disrespectful behaviors on the trail (e.g. littering, trespassing, camping, and lighting fires), they sometimes rescind the permissive access to the  trail corridor.

As a result, trails must be re-routed at great effort and expense.  Fortunately rescinding of access happens very infrequently.

In the USA under “permissive access” to private property: all the private land owner has to do to bar others is to post a NO TRESPASSING sign.  In some other nations traditional rights of way across private land are protected and “right to roam” legislation guarantees free trail access for the public.

It is easy to bemoan what we don’t have in terms of access rights to private land, and I agree with these arguments.  But as I walked the SHT I was overcome with gratitude for what we do have: thousands of anonymous land owners who willingly grant public access to their land because they believe in the importance of trails and in sharing their woods, rocks, trees and vistas.

It was a special pleasure to see one special land owner memorialized on the trail.  Thank you Sarah Ellen Jaeger and all the other generous owners of private land who allow us to walk.