Spring Training

Unlike major league baseball teams the hut crews do not head to Florida for spring training. Instead they converge at the AMC’s Camp Dodge, just north of Pinkham. Depending on the temperature the air there is often either opaque with snow, or black flies. This year we had some of both.

During Spring Training Caitlin Gray (Huts Field Supervisor), Nancy Ritger (Senior Naturalist), Anastasia Roy (Backcountry Education Assistant) and I work like sausage makers to stuff as much information into the crews as possible. These five days are the only time the hut crews are all gathered together in one place, rather than in 8 huts across 50 miles of trail. It is our one chance to lay out our expectations of how the huts should run, and what traditions of high-mountain hospitality are most important. Among the topics covered at this year’s training: chicken pot pies, Bicknell’s Thrush, climate change, sexual harassment prevention, Mountain Watch, Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, composting kitchen waste, composting human waste, inventory at the hut store, the 15-year Forest Plan, and baking bread. That is a much-abbreviated list.

We spent most of the week up at Mizpah. On Tuesday the trail was still covered with slush and snow. I hiked up with the naturalists, Nancy and Ana. As we gained elevation we went backwards in time. The hobblebush in bloom and the leafy birch at 1500 ft. were both barely budding by 3000 ft.

At the hut I met a six-year old hiker named Autumn who was from Tallahassee, FL. When I asked her if she had seen snow before she shook her head. “Never in my life” she said with a small southern accent. She and her dad built a snowman outside the hut, then headed back down to Crawford Notch before dark (photo).

Tuesday night and Wednesday were damp days in the hut, and the helicopter could not fly. Up in the attic in the Executive Suite where Ana, Nancy, Caitlin and I slept it was raining inside. The warm air from the kitchen and all the warm bodies continually condensed on the cool ceiling and dripped onto the bunks. As we went through different training topics the assembled crews ate 16 pounds of peanut M&M’s and drank gallons of hot tea and cocoa. The kitchen was filled with steam from the cook stoves and dish sinks of hot water (photo).

The crews didn’t seem to mind. The hutmasters, assistant hutmasters and returning crews taught the rookies how to perform BFD’s (the morning blanket-folding skits) in which an egg-beater becomes a pistol in the hands of a Cog Railway-hijacking desperado (photo).
There was an afternoon of culinary school where new crews learned the basics of making 8 loaves of bread, chocolate cake for 60, and 7 gallons of soup. In the evening 2 scientists from the Mount Washington Observatory came to talk to the crews about White Mountain weather, air pollution, and climate change.

On Thursday we woke up to sun streaming through the skylights. We were able to go outside for the first time, hang out wet clothes, and absorb some warmth. Dennis of CC called on the radio and let us know the helicopter would be landing after lunch. We spent the morning doing a mock search and rescue (photos), then prepared the hut storage areas to receive 16,000 lbs. of food.

The ship landed in the small field in front of the hut and dropped off 3 top crew, along with some empty nets for outloads. For the next 2 1/2 hours the crews stood in a fireline from the door of the hut, up three flights of stairs, to the attic. The Mizpah crew stood at the end of the line unpacking cans and stowing dry goods in the mouseproof storage (photo). As always, the pilot Carl set net after net exactly outside the front door (photo).

After all the heavy lifting we were hungry for ham, which was served at dinner with all the hut fixings (soup, salad, bread, and dessert). During dessert Jeremy Eggleton, a member of the Old Hutman’s Association spoke to the crews. He worked in the huts in the early 1990’s, then spent 4 years in Africa with the Peace Corps. He is now in law school at Boston College, and spent last summer in Sierra Leone helping to reestablish the country’s judicial system. He spoke eloquently about how a season in the huts stands out even in a life full of other adventures.

Many of the huts have photos of past crews hanging in their bunkroom hallways. At Lakes a crew from the ‘60’s stands on an iceberg in the upper lake, at Greenleaf a crew from the ‘50’s contained three men and two ducks. Looking at these past crews as they were when young I think of the movie “Dead Poets Society.” In the scene I remember best John Keating walks his prep students past dusty trophy cases and fading photographs, all while whispering “Carpe diem… carpe diem…” As the training comes to a close I hope the crews understand how much work will be asked of them this summer. I also hope they will love that work, do it well, and remember it fondly.

Carpe diem.