Category Archives: Architecture/design

Sperry Chalet

Sperry Chalet – historic hut in Glacier National park

Sperry Chalet: historic hut in Glacier National Park

[Featured image (1914) above by Fred Kiser, Courtesy Ray Djuff Collection]

By Sam Demas, October 2017

Sperry Chalet, a much-loved historic hut in Glacier National Park, came to national attention on August 31, 2017 when the main lodge, or “dormitory” was badly burned.  Sadly, I never visited Sperry.  This is not a first-hand account; like many others, I still hope to get there some day.  Efforts are underway to rebuild and re-open this early exemplar of high mountain hospitality. May they succeed!

This post is an appreciation of Sperry Chalet as one of the oldest and most beloved high mountain huts in the nation.  It sketches the hut’s history and architecture, and briefly treats its prolific namesake Lyman Beecher Sperry.  This post is based entirely on secondary sources, mainly the work of Ray Djuff, but others as well.  Apologies in advance if any errors crept into my account.

For fuller information about the present and future — i.e. the Sperry fire, present conditions and efforts to re-build — please see the article by Ray Djuff, which he kindly granted Hut2Hut.info permission to print and the October 19 Glacier National media release reporting on the stabilization efforts to help the structure (which lost its roof and floor) weather the winter.

For fuller historical information about Sperry Chalet see chapter 10 (p. 128-137) of Glacier’s Historic Hotels and Chalets: View With a Room by Ray Djuff and Chris Morrison (Farcountry Press, 2001).  For a touching, first hand post conveying the depth of affection Sperry has engendered among park visitors and staff, see Courtney Stone’s Remembering a Grand Lady: the Loss of Sperry Chalet, 1913-2017.  And the website of the National Park Lodge Architecture Society.

Origins of the second oldest hut system in the U.S.

Between 1913-1915 the Great Northern Railway (GNR) built a system of nine Backcountry Chalets (see my separate post on this early hut system) and four hotels to provide park visitors with horseback (and hiking) access to the interior of the park.  This makes it the second oldest hut system in the USA, and until sometime in the 1930’s or 40’s it seems to have been the nation’s largest hut system.

Until the 2017 fire, Sperry and Granite Park Chalets were the last remaining backcountry chalets in this once-grand hut system. The Glacier huts (and hotels) were sited in places of great natural beauty, each one a day’s horseback ride apart from another lodging option.  Designed in the style of Swiss Chalets, these hut complexes were part of the railroad’s efforts to market Glacier as “America’s Switzerland”, as part of a promotional campaign aimed a wealthy Americans to “see America first”.  See the introduction to Glacier’s Historic Hotels and Chalets: View With a Room for an excellent overview of this ambitious initiative advanced by Minnesota railroad barons James Jerome Hill (the Empire Builder) and his son Louis Warren Hill, Sr.

Sperry Chalet: quick historical sketch

Built on the precipice of a magnificent cirque, Sperry Chalet offers some of the finest views in Glacier and provides access to to nearby Sperry Glacier.  The Great Northern Railroad was anxious to build on this strategic site to gain a monopoly on access to one of the most popular destinations in the park.

Legally designated a National Park in 1910, the Great Northern Railway (GNR) was quick to establish a near monopoly on lodging in Glacier.  Sperry was just one of a dozen or more construction projects initiated soon after formal designation as a national park.  At Sperry a tent camp was constructed in 1911 and hosted 461 visitors in 1912, its first season.  Construction on the stone kitchen and dining hall began in 1912 and the facility opened in 1913.  The “dormitory” — accommodating 75 guests — was constructed in 1913 and opened in 1914, and supplemented by a tent camp (which operated until WWI) accommodating another 75 guests.

The hut is accessed by 6.7 mile trail from Lake McDonald (with a 3,300′ elevation gain) and a gentler, scenic 13.7  miles through Gunsight Pass.  The blazing of the trail to the site of Sperry Chalet is an interesting story related below.  Accessible only by horse or by foot, Sperry Chalet is renowned for its views, remoteness, and its mountain hospitality during its 60 day operating season.  Even without electricity, the level of amenities made for genteel comfort in a backcountry setting.  In the early days lighting was provided by kerosene lamps, running cold water was available in the dormitory rooms and hot water was delivered on request.  The buildings were heated by wood stoves. Plentiful servings of good food was provided, family style, three times a day in the dining room.

Sperry Chalet

Sperry dining room and kitchen in 1920’s, Courtesy Ray Djuff Collection

The hut was supplied by pack horses from Lake McDonald.  Human waste from outhouses and gray water were tossed over the cliff until the environmental effects became intolerable (see below) by 1992.  Lounging on the balconies to watch the sunset was a favorite activity.

Sperry, along with the other Glacier lodgings, suffered financially during the Great Depression. After the initial completion of the Going to the Sun Highway in 1933 park visitors increasingly visited by auto and overnights at the backcountry Chalets dropped off. 

Sperry closed (1943-46) during WWII.  By the end of WW II all but 2 of the chalets were accessible by car, the demand for saddle trips fell off dramatically and the railroad deemed the Chalets out-moded or unsupportable.  The GNR sold Sperry to the National Park Service for $1.  The Park Service let the hut as a concession to Martha Russell.  In 1954 the concession went to the Luding family, who operated it for many years.

What kept Sperry and the few remaining backcountry chalets going during the 1950’s and into the 1960’s was use by enthusiastic and fit cliques of park and concessionaire employees.  Ray Djuff says this was a second golden age of the chalets, which became prized hiking destinations for those in the know.  The back to nature movement of the 1960’s and backpacking boom of the 1970’s precipitated yet another golden age, which continues today.  People love these huts.  Getting reservations has long been very competitive, and will certainly be harder still in future.  As in Yosemite, the interest in backcountry huts on national park lands is intense.  Sperry continued to operate through August 2017 in much the same way as it did in the early days, as rustic shelter for backcountry travelers who appreciate comfort and conviviality at the end of a day of hiking in fabulous mountains.

[Coda: It is interesting to speculate what the Glacier hut system would look like today if the other backcountry Chalets at Glacier had been able to survive the incursion of the automobile into the center of the park.  If, like Sperry and Granite Park, they had been able to hold on until the environmental movement and backpacking boom a generation later, Glacier still might have one of the largest and oldest hut systems in the USA.  In any case, Glacier still has Sperry (assuming it will be rebuilt) and Granite Peak as reminders of a different era in National Park Service backcountry lodging options.]

Sperry Chalet, note rock work mimicking log joints, Courtesy Wiki Media

Architecture

Both of the main buildings comprising the Sperry Chalet complex were built of local stone and lumber from the area.  The kitchen/dining building was built by Italian stone masons in1912. Both structures were designed by architect Kirkland Cutter of Cutter and Malgrem in Spokane.  The one story 22’x80′ Kitchen and dining hall was a fairly unassuming stone structure.  The 32’x90′ two story lodge or dormitory, was built in the style of a Swiss chalet.  The balconies were a favorite feature of guests.  A nice detail in the stonework is the use of stone to look like the corner joints of a log cabin.  Following is the architectural data included in the description on the website of the National Park Lodge Architecture Society:

Sperry Chalet • Glacier NP, 1913
Classification IV
Location:
 Sperry Trail, Lake McDonald, Montana
Theme: Swiss Chalet; National Park Rustic “Parkitecture” with multiple rectangular structures
Original Architect: Cutter and Malmgren; some sources list Samuel Bartlett. Glacier Park Hotel Company
Construction: Glacier Park Hotel Company (later renamed Glacier Park Company), subsidiary of Great Northern Railway. Most aspects of design and construction were controlled by Louis Hill, president of GN Railway.
Structure: Two storey stone dorm building with asphalt roof, multiple porches and dormers. Interior walls cedar tongue-and-groove, floorboards are painted wood, interior and exterior railings are peeled log. One storey kitchen-dining room building, stone structure with wood shingle roof.
Known Timeline:
Construction begins, 1912
Kitchen/dining room building completed, 1913
Open for guests, 1914
Closed due to war, 1918
112 total season guest count due to depression, 1932
Dormitory altered, 1940
Closed due to war, 1942-1944
Concession transferred to Luding family, 1954
Dormitory altered, 1955
Dining Room altered, including roof replacement, 1961
Deck and balconies replaced, 1978-1979
Restoration of entire complex, 1996
New restroom building added, ca. 2008
Presently offers 17 guest rooms

Environmental impact: the “million dollar toilet”

For years kitchen waste was pitched over a cliffside and became, as in many national parks, a public viewing ground for the nightly feasts of “garbage grizzlies”.  In response to problems with beats attacking people in a number of national parks, culminating in several lawsuits after bears killed humans.  NPS implemented strategies (e.g installing bear boxes, visitor policies, and closing of dumps in the park) to break the connection in the minds of bears between people and food.  At Sperry a new strategy — packing out the kitchen waste beginning in 1954 — was implemented long before the aforementioned NPS policy changes.

Disposal of sewage was a harder problem to fix. While flush toilets were added in 1964, sewage disposal continued as before: dumped over the mountainside.  By 1992 the unenlightened practice of disposing of sewage finally caught up with the National Park Service.  The pollution effects of this practice were no longer possible to ignore; Montana state water quality tests were one indicator that precipitated discussions of Sperry’s future.  Sperry was closed after the Sierra Club Environmental Defense Fund threatened to sue NPS for this defilement of a beautiful high mountain area.  The cost of fixing the sewage problem was deemed prohibitive by NPS, which had many other pressing priorities.  NPS decided to close Sperry Chalet and Granite Park Chalet, which had similar conditions.

This decision prompted a public outcry in the form of a “Save the Chalets” lobbying and fundraising effort.  Public pressure resulted in action from the Montana legislators, getting Congress to direct the NPS to keep the chalets open and allocating $3.3 million to implement solution.  The funds were used to effect renovations at both huts, but most of the funds went to fixing the sewage problem (the most costly component was helicopter fees associated with complex backcountry construction).  Sperry and Granite Park were closed from 1992 – 1999 during  construction and renovation.

The elaborate project attracted much press coverage about the “million dollar toilet”.

Alas, the expensive toilets were removed in 2005 due to non-performance — they could not achieve a sufficiently high temperature conditions to actually compost the waste.  They were replaced with latrines using sealed drums, which were used to haul sewage from the huts by helicopter to a sewage treatment plant.

Today we know from experience that siting of high mountain huts is a significant challenge.  Site selection for Sperry Chalet was done quickly by the railroad, and without sophisticated consideration of the long term effects of human use, in particular waste disposal.  Sites like those of Granite Park and Sperry Chalets would no longer make it through the screen of an Environmental Impact Statement process.  However, high mountain huts “grandfathered in” are extremely popular and can prompt extraordinary measures to keep them open in compliance with environmental stewardship principles and practices.

Lyman Beecher Sperry: professor, naturalist, sanitary scientist, trailblazer

Sperry Promotional Brochure, Courtesy Carleton College Archives

Lyman B. Sperry, the namesake of Sperry Glacier (after which Sperry Trail and Sperry Chalet were named)  was a talented with many interests.  He was trained as a physician, taught at a number of midwestern colleges (Oberlin, Ripon and Carleton), promoted the establishment of Glacier National Park, and was a tireless lecturer on nature-based travel and on topics concerned with public health and human sexuality.

Several aspects of Sperry’s connection with Glacier Park are related in “Lyman Sperry and the Last of the Firsts”, a chapter in Randi Minetor’s book Historic Glacier National Park: the Stories Behind One of  America’s Great Treasures (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016 ). Apparently Sperry visited the Glacier area with two purposes in mind: to purchase land in the Avalanche Lake area as an investment, and to explore the wonders of the magnificent landscape.  In the end it seems his appreciation of the beauty of the region — or something like that — trumped his pursuit of land acquisition.

At some point (it is not clear if this happened before or after the discovery of Sperry Glacier, but I assume it was before) Sperry was approached by an agent of the GNR and asked to explore the region.  Sperry already had a reputation as a lecturer and promoter of travel and, according to Djuff and Morrison,

“Sperry was enticed to explore the Glacier Park region by a Great Northern Passenger agent who asked him to “make such observations as you shall find practicable regarding our scenic attractions.”  It was the first hint of the railway’s interest in developing tourism in Glacier — more than a full decade before the area became a national park. 

In June 1895 Sperry visited the Avalanche Lake area in the region that would become Glacier National Park.  Homesteader Charles Howe told him about a U-shaped valley he had discovered, and about a sighting from the top of Brown Mountain of a large glacier.   The thought of finding a new natural feature in a region that had been pretty well explored was exciting.  They went as far as the edge of the huge basin in June and realized they needed more  time and gear to do a proper exploration.  Sperry returned in August 1895 (with his nephew Albert L. Sperry and Prof. L.W. Chaney, a geologist from Carleton College) and mounted an expedition into the basin and measured the elevations of the surrounding peaks, made some geological observations, and analyzed the water of Avalanche Lake, determining its composition indicated the source was glacial meltwater.  There was clearly a glacier in the mountains high above them, and they looked for a way to find it.  They reached the edge of the massive glacier and determined they would have to return to complete their exploration and documentation.  Sperry wrote up his findings in the January 1896 issue of  Appalachia, and returned in summer 1896 to climb onto the glacier and fully document it.

Like the GNR, Sperry soon became a fervent promoter of the idea of protecting Glacier as a National Park.

The next step was to provide visitor access to this remarkable discovery.  Sperry went straight to J.J. Hill to propose he fund trail construction from Lake Mcdonald to Sperry Glacier. It seems Hill was intrigued but concerned because the land was not yet protected as a National park and he ran a risk of losing his financial investment.  Sperry suggested the job could be done inexpensively by letting him (Sperry) hire a fifteen students at the University of Minnesota to build the trail in a summer.  Hill agreed to let the students do the work (apparently without pay) and provide them transportation to and from the park on the Great Northern.

[A final note on Lyman B. Sperry the lecturer and promoter: he traveled the nation and abroad for over 30 years lecturing on “Sanitary Science”, an early tributary of what later became  the disciplines of public health and human ecology.  His lectures at colleges and through YMCA programs, focused particularly on societal and individual  problems of sex and narcotics.  Sperry was part of a movement to counter the effects of roving quacks who dispensed advice and medications that confused young people and also filled them with fears and misunderstandings about these little-understood matters.  Among his lecture topics were “Male and Female”, “Human Longevity”, ‘Brain and Nerve”, “Narcotics and Narcoticism”, “Superstitions, Delusions, and Fads”, “Friendly Enemies”, and “Gumption and Grit”.  By all accounts he was a powerful lecturer.  With all this practice, its no wonder he was convincing in his promotion of national park status for Glacier, a topic for which he also developed strong conviction.]

Author’s note: I am deeply grateful to Ray Djuff for his research, on which I have drawn heavily, for our phone conversation, and for his providing the images used in this post.  Ray  is passionate in his research and generous in sharing his knowledge and resources.

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

 

 

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.

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

Shelter system materials and techniques for design with minimal footprint

By Matt Reilly

[Editors note: the opinions are those of the author and he has taken responsibility for obtaining rights to the photographs used here.]

With the stress of daily routines, spending time in nature becomes an ultimate escape from the urban lifestyle. Being surrounded by peacefulness and stillness connects us to the environment and memorable experience of living according to it. The more time we spend in nature, the more we realize the significance of environmentally responsible behavior. Some people feel hostility about spending more than one afternoon without a comfortable couch and a TV. But does connecting with nature has to mean alienation from comfort? The answer is no: modern technology has the potential to bring comfortable camping to another level. However, how do we spend time in nature without harming it? We can decrease our impact on nature by using environmentally sensitive portable and non-portable shelters. This article represents helpful design ideas and shelter system materials for consideration by designers of overnight accommodations for  front-country environments.

Following are examples of accommodations which include convenience while leaving a minimal footprint. Suggested designs are not environmentally friendly solely for the material but for their functionality as well. They  can incorporate sustainable ways of water and power consumption through rain harvesting system,  portable shower systems, solar-powered technologies like portable solar panels and chargers, composting appliances (for instance outdoor composting bin), and promote modern waste reduction through practices like recycling, reusing waste material and utilizing biodegradable soaps and detergents.  This recommended set of ideas also takes into account positioning of accommodation which should be sited in such manner to capture enough sunlight in the winter and to lessen heat gain during summer.

The container shelter

The container shelter’s key features are that they are easy to transport and fix. This portable shelter solution is designed using burly shipping containers which can end up being commodious and useable living space simple to fabricate and transport anywhere. Standard shipping containers dimensions are W8m x L6m(20′) or 12m(40′) x H5.5m. This type of accommodation provides electricity, drinkable water, and sanitation. Those designing this shelter can also easily upgrade it with various green reinforcements such as with rainwater harvesting system, ceramic filtration system, and composting toilets.

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mikecogh/16002272638

The ekinoid shelter

The Ekinoid shelter is an innovative project that represents a self-sufficient and sustainable housing.  Spherical construction sits on stilts, and the elevation allows avoiding flood damage. Built strong enough to withstand intense storms and prefabricated, this ekinoid shelter also has incorporated the wind and solar power and rainwater harvesting model.

Source: http://inhabitat.com/spherical-ekinoid-house-is-an-off-grid-prefab-solution-for-global-housing/

The buBbLe House

The buBble House project developed a portable housing that is a blend of simplicity, amenity, and environmental care. It is easily transportable wherever you go, and it provides inhabitants with all essentials for comfort. Aluminum frame is slab-sided with extremely lightweight bubble skin material, and it opens with a metal locker. It includes a small kitchen and lightning as well as eco-friendly laundry facilities. It is powered with an insulating chamber.

Source:

Straw bale homes

For those looking for a non-portable shelter that performs highly eco-friendly and is functional, straw bale house might be the best solution.  Hay bales serve to build house’s walls inside of the frame that should also be of a natural material such as wood. Straw bales can efficiently replace conventional building materials like plaster and concrete. They contribute to the functionality of your eco-friendly home by providing high insulation levels in a sustainable manner.

Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Straw_Bale_House06.jpg

Bamboo Shelter

Bamboo is versatile. Its tensile strength and light weight make it the ultimate material for building both non-portable and transportable shelters.  The renewable character makes it even more desirable in an eco-friendly building.  Bamboo replaces bulky and costly materials and it perfect for constructing shelters for places hit by natural disaster since the building is fairly simple.

Source: https://pixabay.com/fr/tunnel-de-bambou-passerelle-arc-282547/

 

Tents made using natural and organic fabrics

Simplicity is never overrated. When terrain demands extremely easily transportable shelters so designers should take tents into account. The most environmentally sensitive tents are those made particularly from natural materials such as wool, hemp or cotton. Using these types of tents will leave minimal footprint behind in comparison to synthetic ones, however, they also require a significant financial investment.  Keep in mind that natural materials have to be additionally waterproofed in order to work well in wet weather conditions.

Source: https://www.touchofmodern.com/sales/nordisk/alfheim-19-6-organic-cotton-tent

 

Tents made of  recycled and recyclable materials

Synthetically made tents continue to attract more buyers than those made of natural fabrics and materials. There are two crucial reasons why that is the case. Firstly, synthetic tents promise quality protection in wet conditions which natural shelters can’t guarantee and secondly, even though natural tents are lightweight, synthetic ones are even lighter and easier to transport. However, certain manufacturers and designers in the eco-friendly sector are adjusted to the market and launched tents made from recycled and recyclable materials. Creating alternative tents from recycled polyester and adding a waterproof solvent-free coating could motivate campers to purchase the green option.  Eliminating harmful and toxic dyes could also strengthen the green factor of these tents and tent designers could come up with a way to paint them in an eco-friendly manner.

Source: https://www.backpacker.com/gear/gear-guide-2009-nemo-nano-oz-tent-review

Shelters using techniques  and materials like these, built in environmentally responsible manner, are more than just shelters. They contribute to raising awareness of green building as well as prove people that connecting to nature doesn’t have to be an unsafe or unpleasant experience.

 

Shelter from the Storm: The Story of New Zealand’s Backcountry Huts: book review part 1

Book Review by Sam Demas:

Shelter From The Storm: The Story of New Zealand’s Backcountry Huts

(Part one of a two part book review)

2012, Craig Potton Publishing, Nelson, NZ.

Text and most photographs by Shaun Barnett, Rob Brown, and Geoff Spearpoint.

With its highly-organized system of 1,000 backcountry huts New Zealand (NZ) — about the same size (area and population) as Oregon — is the hut capital of the world.  By comparison, the USA has about 110 huts operating within 17 different hut-to-hut systems; Switzerland and Norway each have about 500 huts.  Every nation’s approach to outdoor recreation — including how its citizens organize overnight stays in the wild — is based on local causes and conditions such as geography, size of the country, climate, terrain, history, economics, politics, and cultural values.  Shelter from the Storm is a richly illustrated, well-researched history of the causes and conditions that created NZ’s unique hut culture, and a beautiful tribute to the huts themselves.

Continue reading

Shelter from the Storm – Introduction to a Book About History of New Zealand Huts

Below is a reprint of the “Introduction” to the book: 

Shelter From The Storm: The Story of New Zealand’s Backcountry Huts

2012, Craig Potton Publishing, Nelson, NZ.

Text and most photographs by Shaun Barnett, Rob Brown, and Geoff Spearpoint.

Embedded below is the 14 page, beautifully illustrated “Introduction”, by Shaun Barnett, to the remarkable book Shelter from the Storm. In it he provides an overview of the benefits, history, and architecture of New Zealand huts. His “Introduction” gives the reader a feel for the book as a whole. For more on this book, see my two part book review of Shelter from the Storm click here for: part 1 and part 2. Continue reading

Shelter from the Storm: book review part two

Book review continued:

Shelter From The Storm: The Story of New Zealand’s Backcountry Huts

(Part two of a two part book review)

2012, Craig Potton Publishing, Nelson, NZ.

Text and most photographs by Shaun Barnett, Rob Brown, and Geoff Spearpoint.

For part one of this review click here.  Following are some fascinating themes and stories that are skillfully elaborated in Shelter from the Storm, about New Zealand Backcountry Huts.

This book tells the story of how a geographically remote island nation came to create a robust international outdoor culture, and how a disparate collection of huts built for other purposes – I like the phrase infrastructure lying in wait — came to form the backbone of the world’s largest hut system. Continue reading

Shelters for Hunters by Daniel Chabert

Shelters for Hunters Who Are Out For Days

by Daniel Chabert; Photos Courtesy of Author

Safe house or shelter is the top need for any hunter who will be out in the wild for days or in most survival crises. Extreme climate conditions can kill within a few hours if you don’t have some sort of safe house to guard you from the elements.

A survivor is somebody who prepares to live as healthy and safe as could be expected under the circumstances when life a long way from home doesn’t go precisely as planned. Preparing to survive starts with trying to understand what you have to prepare for. You can live days without water and weeks with no food. Continue reading

Backcountry Hut Company: Architectural Design & Business Model

Backcountry Hut Company: Architectural Design & Business Model

by Sam Demas, October 12, 2016; All photos courtesy Backcountry Hut Company

The Canadian company Backcountry Hut Company (BHC) has completed its design and has constructed a prototype for a pre-fabricated, modular hut system. The design is optimized for alpine and other outdoor clubs, lodge operators, and also private outdoor recreation enthusiasts.  Based on a conversation with BHC’s Wilson Edgar, this post is a brief description of the design concept, business model, and rollout plans.

Continue reading