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 Tetons, the 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.