Category Archives: Future of huts

Sperry Chalet

“Sperry Chalet dorm lost to fire may be rebuilt” by Ray Djuff

Sperry Chalet dorm lost to fire may be rebuilt

by Ray Djuff, Prince Of Wales Hotel 1973-75, ’78

[posted here by kind permission of the author;

featured image of Sperry fire courtesy National Park Service]

As quickly as the Sprague forest fire destroyed the dormitory, or “hotel,” building at Sperry Chalet on August 31, 2017, there was talk of rebuilding the structure.

The morning after the fire, Doug Mitchell, newly appointed executive director of the Glacier National Park Conservancy, was talking with park superintendent Brian Mow about the next step.

The conservancy quickly established a $90,000 emergency fund and hired DCI+BCE Engineers to come up with stabilization plan for the damaged building. The conservancy will also buy supplies to do the stabilization work.

{Note: since this was written the building has been stabilized for the winter by the NPS with funding from the Glacier National Park Conservancy.  See Glacier NP Media Release Oct. 19, 2017}

DCI+BCE Engineers is a Seattle-based structural and civil engineering firm, with offices in Missoula, Kalispell, Bozeman and Billings, that was consulted on repairs to Sperry Chalet after it was damaged by an avalanche in 2011.

Glacier superintendent Jeff Mow told the Missoulian newspaper that it was too soon to know what the future holds for Sperry, but “this work represents the first step in assessing the extent of the damage to evaluate what future actions might be possible.”

For U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, a native Montanan and former U.S. representative for the state, there was no doubt about the future.

“Rebuilding Sperry is one of my top priorities,” Zinke said in a news release from Glacier. “Today’s announcement is the first step in that process.”

The sentiment was supported by both of Montana’s U.S. senators, Jon Tester and Steve Daines.

The fire that gutted Sperry Chalet was caused by a severe thunderstorm on August 10 that saw some 150 lightning strikes setting off several small blazes in Glacier, one in the Sprague Creek drainage on Edwards Mountain, east of Lake McDonald Lodge.

The forest fire grew rapidly, from 10 to 101acres within days of its discovery, cutting off access to Sperry Chalet along the trail from Lake McDonald, stranding chalet staff and 39 guests.

The last guests to arrive at the hotel was a group of five women, among them Khi Soldano, daughter of Blackfeet artist King Kuka (1946-2004).

In face of the growing fire threat and after consultations with the National Park Service, chalet manager Renee Noffke closed the building and led the staff and stranded guests to safety on Friday, August 11, via Gunsight Pass, a 13.5-mile trek to Sun Road.

For Soldano and her four hiking partners, who had struggled over that same trail just two days before due to being ill-prepared and ill-informed about the hike, the return trip was a daunting thought.

“I wasn’t sure if I could ever do that (hike) again,” Soldano told the Great Falls Tribune. “Then that thought was thrown in my face. I’d have to do it again.”

With the public evacuated from the Sperry region, a group of highly skilled firefighters was assigned to defend the chalet. The firefighters did fuel reduction around the five structures in the area, laid out an extensive line of hoses, put sprinklers on the chalet roof and set up a pump system. As well, the firefighters put protective wrap on exposed wood and around the bottom of buildings with decks.

It was decided that it would be too unwieldly to try to wrap the entire dormitory.

Logistically, it is difficult to wrap a building the size of the chalet, said Glacier fire information officer Diane Sine. Each roll of the fire-resistant material weighs about 100 pounds and the crew couldn’t get to the top of the two-storey building.

Sine said using a fire retardant gel also presents difficulties, as it has to be maintained and hauled in buckets to the site.

“They felt that the sprinklers were enough,” Glacier’s public information officer Diane Mann-Klager said.

Despite the best efforts of firefighters to contain the Sprague fire in the heavily wooded and steep sides of Edward Mountain, it continued to grow, from about 500 acres on August 18 to 4,600 acres on September 1.

With the fire spreading unchecked and causing dangerously poor air quality conditions in the valley, Lake McDonald Lodge announced August 29 it was closing early for the season. It was originally supposed to close September 27. The move was out of concern for employee safety–because they work and live onsite they have a longer duration exposure to the air conditions.

Four days later, Sun Road was closed from Apgar to Logan Pass and everyone around Lake McDonald was ordered to leave.

Firefighters moved in to protect Lake McDonald Lodge and neighbouring buildings. Pumps were put in Snyder Creek and Lake McDonald, hoses laid out and an extensive “Rain for Rent” sprinkler system was used to increase the humidity around the lodge.

By now, the fire was now on Sperry Chalet’s doorstep.

“The fire team . . . worked tirelessly to contain this fire and protect structures and infrastructure,” said superintendent Mow.

While battling an “ember shower” from the approaching fire, the firefighters noticed puffs of smoke under an eave on the Sperry Chalet dorm. It was approximately 6:10 p.m. on Thursday, August 31.

The firefighters sprayed the area with water because they thought there was an ember on the roof. Almost instantaneously, a window in the dorm broke out and flames were licking at the eaves. From a photo taken of the event, it would appear that embers had gotten inside the building and had set the interior alight.

It was a “valiant stand” by the firefighters, supported by three helicopters with water buckets, to save the structure, but they were unsuccessful.

The 103-year-old Sperry dorm, a national historic landmark, was gutted.

Fortunately, the rest of the buildings survived the fiery onslaught.

The public reaction when photos of the burning building and the remaining rock walls of the chalet were published was shock and grief.

“I am utterly devastated that our beloved Chalet has been lost to the Sprague fire,” Geneva Warrington, a member of the extended Luding family which operates the chalet, posted on Instagram.

“Each and every person who was lucky enough to spend time here knows what a magical place it was, and what a terrible loss this is,” Geneva wrote. “My family has been incredibly blessed to get to share this magnificent place with the public for the past 63 years, and we are so very sad it has ended in this way.”

Kevin Warrington, Sperry Chalet co-ordinator for Belton Chalets, Inc., which operates the chalets, called the loss “a sad day.”

“I have been around Sperry for my entire life and I have never expected to see anything like this,” Kevin said. “It has been a privilege to share Sperry with the great many people that love it.”

Beth Dunagan of Whitefish, lamented: “My heart is breaking not just for my family, but for everyone who so dearly loved that chalet.”

Dunagan, another member of the extended Luding family and a former employee who recently wrote a book, Welcome to Sperry Chalet, about the place, spent all of her childhood summers and five years as an adult at the backcountry lodge.

“There’s no place on earth I’d rather be,” she told the Daily Inter Lake newspaper shortly after her book was published in 2013.

Dunagan’s book is as much a tribute to the chalet as it is to the Luding family, which has operated Sperry Chalet since 1954.

Sperry became a tourist destination in the early 1900s, after the Great Northern Railway paid Dr. Lyman Sperry to have students from the University of Minnesota build a trail from Lake McDonald to his namesake glacier, which he’d earlier located.

Upon the Glacier region being designated a national park in 1910, Great Northern president Louis Hill commissioned a series of camps be built for tourists on saddle horse trips. The tent camp near the present Sperry Chalet opened in 1911.

The first buildings appeared the following summer, 1912: two log cabins and a 22- by 80-foot dining room/kitchen complex made of locally quarried stone and lodgepole pine. The kitchen/dining room opened for business in 1913.

That same summer, work started on a 32- by 90-foot dormitory building, again made of rock and wood. It was finished and opened in the summer of 1914. The two-storey dorm had 23 guest rooms.

Both stone-and-wood structures at Sperry were designed by Spokane, Wash., architect Kirtland Cutter, who also created the plans for Lake McDonald Lodge, also opened that year, 1914.

Situated on the edge of a cirque 6,500 feet above sea level, the chalets offer a fantastic view of the surrounding mountains and down to Lake McDonald. The hike from the lake to the chalets is a rigorous 6.7 miles, gaining 3,300 feet in elevation.

Sperry Chalets were a popular destination for anyone wanting to visit the nearby glacier, and a welcome stop for tourists on saddle horse trips. During the Great Northern era, fresh bread and pastries were made daily, served at mealtimes by waitresses in uniform. Each bedroom had metal beds with springs and mattresses, a sink with cold running water, and chamber pots so guests wouldn’t have to go the outhouse during the night. Lighting came from kerosene lamps.

The creation of Going-to-the-Sun Road, along with the Great Depression, radically changed the nature of tourism to Glacier, to people driving themselves and fewer venturing on horse trips into the backcountry. By the 1950s the Great Northern Railway was looking to get out of the hospitality industry in Glacier, and in 1953 it sold the Sperry buildings to the National Park Service for $1.

While other chalet colonies the railway had built were razed due to lack of use, Sperry got a reprieve when the park service in 1954 leased the operation to Ross and Kathleen (Kay) Luding. It was the beginning of a six-decade long revival of the complex, with the Luding family starting and maintaining new traditions at the fabled site, so remote it is supplied by mule train arrivals each week.

Kay Luding, a sprite of a woman with boundless enthusiasm and a welcoming smile, became the heart of Sperry. In her book about Sperry Chalet, Beth Dunagan said Kay Luding always put others first:

“It doesn’t matter to me how many discomforts I have up here just to serve the public,” Kay Luding said. “I couldn’t care less, because I want our guests to have a memory they’ll take home with them that will last forever.”

She achieved her goal, turning Sperry into a spot where tourists champed at the bit to make a reservation for the following year, and openings were hard to find during the short, 60-day summer season in which it operated.

It is on the basis of that reputation, maintained by her son Lanny Luding and other generations of the extended family following Kay’s death, that has sparked the push to rebuild the fire-ravaged Sperry Chalet dorm building.

When Doug Mitchell, who had only taken on the top job at the Glacier Conservancy six weeks before, heard the news of the Sperry fire, he said: “This puts all hands on deck. We will marshal the troops and do what we can to help. Our mission is to be here for the long run.”

The conservancy has set up a page where the public can make contributions to its “Sperry Action Fund.” As a special thank you for any donations of $100 or more, the conservancy will send donors a limited edition 12- by 18-inch poster of Sperry created and donated by Roy E. Hughes, done while he was Glacier’s artist-in-residence in 2005.

With the conservancy’s support, a team of engineers has visited the site and is putting together a plan to stabilize the rock walls of the fire-charred dorm so they survive the winter, after which a decision will be made about whether they can be preserved for a rebuilding project. The plan is to have the supports for the walls in place before winter hits the higher altitudes in Glacier.

Park spokesperson Lauren Alley told the Flathead Beacon newspaper that approximately 100 beams will be brought to the site by helicopter to stabilize the remaining walls. The chimney will be secured with stabilization collars, and the gables will be surrounded with plywood.

“We want to protect the walls from wind and snow this winter,” Alley said.

Meanwhile, the Heritage Partnerships Program of the National Park Service is seeking blueprints of the Sperry Chalet dorm to assist in any rebuilding effort. The Heritage Partnerships Program helps citizens, agencies, organizations, and communities identify, document, interpret, protect, and preserve National Historic Landmarks within the eight-state Intermountain Region.

Fans of Glacier Park eagerly await news of the fate of what remains of the Sperry dorm, and the rebuilding plan.

Elsewhere, Glacier’s staff is looking at the huge job of cleaning up some 30 miles of trails where the Sprague fire swept through the Lake McDonald area, felling 1,900 trees on the hiking and riding paths.

Park spokesperson Lauren Alley said it’s possible that some popular routes, such as the Mount Brown Lookout trail, Snyder Lake trail and Sperry trail will be closed well into next year. The Lincoln Lake and Lincoln Creek trails were among the most heavily affected by the fire, she said, with two bridges damaged on Snyder Ridge.

Milder weather rain and snow had diminished the fire, which at last report before publication continued to smoulder. It had burned more than 17,000 acres in the park.

 

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

 

 

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

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

Trip Report: Three Sisters Backcountry Hut-to-Hut Ski

Trip Report: Three Sisters Backcountry Nordic Traverse

By Perrin Boyd

The Three Sisters Backcountry hut-to-hut ski traverse is a self-guided 22-mile trek from Dutchman Flat near Mt. Bachelor traveling the eastern edge of the Three Sisters Wilderness boundary to Three Creeks Snow Park outside Sisters, Oregon.  This great ski adventure involves three days of skiing with overnights in two comfy, fully stocked, self-service huts.

Six friends from Northfield, MN gathered the night before our trip for a feast and discussion of logistics. Kelly, Mike, Sofia and I now live in Bend, Oregon.  Sam Demas, researcher for hut2hut.info, invited us all on the trek along with his wife, Laurel.  It was an opportunity we could not pass up. 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.

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Plan for Adirondack Hut-to-Hut System

This report is required reading for those interested in what it takes to site and develop a new hut-to-hut system in cooperation with state officials and trail communities.

After months of research and community consultations, Leading E.D.G.E. LLC has released its “Conceptual Plan for a Hut-to-Hut Destination-based Trail System for the Five Towns of Long Lake, Newcomb, Indian Lake, Minerva, and North Hudson”.  The plan proposes 26 possible routes for consideration by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.  It thoroughly explores options for developing a trails and lodging system in the Five Towns region within the Adirondack Park (the largest park east of the Mississippi River).  It is based on the work of the Adirondacks Community Based Trails and Lodging System.

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