There are two ways to get food and supplies up to the huts, by
helicopter and by carrying it in on your back. Every May the huts get flown non-perishable food and supplies that last through the summer. Flour, soap, blankets, tomato puree, propane, construction materials and everything in between will get flown up by a helicopter with each hut averaging about 30,000 pounds of supplies.
The beginning of this process starts back in February when AMC's Storehouse Dept. starts purchasing everything that will eventually get up to the huts. Food and supplies are ordered over the next couple of months and stored in eight different tractor trailers, one for each hut (try imagining half a tractor trailer's worth of food being stored in Zealand's attic, or a whole one for Lakes). This process alone takes over a month of work from the Storehouse crew who has to count everything when it's delivered to Pinkham Notch and accurately distribute the correct amount of food for each hut.
After all the food and supplies have been moved to the trailers, they are driven to the airlift sites. Each hut has it's own airlift site which is usually the closest open area to the hut where a helicopter can fly into. Depending on the weather and the winds, the pilot and the AMC crew will choose which huts to fly on a given day. A convoy of trucks will meet at the airlift site with last minute items, nets, hardware and a lot of people to move all of those boxes.
For all hut airlifts, there's a top crew and bottom crew. The top crew consists of 4 people who are flown into the hut who will be the ones that receive the nets of food, open them up and stack all of the food inside the hut. They are also the ones to hook out-loads that are being flown from the hut to the bottom crew. The bottom crew stays busy by making up nets of food and supplies that weigh as close to 800 pounds as possible. That's the limit for the helicopter we use, so we try to get close without going over the line. 800 pounds seems like a lot but when you look at a trailer full of food compared to one net load, it's easy to see why it takes a couple hours to supply a single hut.
Once all of the food is flown up, the caretaker or hut crew will spend hours moving boxes up to the attic, inventorying everything and storing it until it is finally consumed by our guests. At the end of the process, this food has been handled 8-10 times, driven by vehicle, flown by helicopter, cooked by hut crews and finally eaten by hungry people.
Helicopters have been used by the AMC to get supplies into the huts since the 1960's. It's a finely tuned system to maximize our in-loads and out-loads and to be as efficient as possible. Whenever something is flown in (food, propane etc), we match it with an out-load of empty propane cylinders, solid waste or trash. This makes it so that there is no wasted trip back and forth which shortens the amount of flying time. Of course, even with the best planning, weather has a great effect on when, where and how much we can fly. As usual, our schedule this year was slowed down due to rain and gusty winds, something that is all too common in the mountains. As of last Thursday, our spring airlift was complete. Now, all we have to do is get the rest of the fresh and frozen vegetables, fruit, meat and cheese up to the huts. Stay tuned for a post on the old school way of doing this, packing.