As mentioned above, a lot of the campsites and tentsites have caretakers living at the site and collecting a camping fee. (Work for Stay is available if work exists at these sites.) I’m often asked why there is an $8 fee to do something that has been free on the rest of the trail. Of course, finding caretakers at other shelters along the A.T. is extremely rare, so why is there one here? Again, it comes down to volume of users and managing the impact on the environment. Appalachian Trail thru-hikers make up less than 5% of the total use of these sites, which average 14,000 people annually overnight. What this volume of overnight visitors translates to is a significant impact on the natural environment, as well as the bear of the job educating the public on minimizing their impact. Of all the impacts to trails, water quality, erosion, the one that is most tangible is the human waste deposited by 14,000 people. While in the privies in the south it was just requested that you throw a handful of leaves in after you use it, here, the volume is so high (2,400 gallons across all AMC AT campsites, or about 300 gallons at Liberty Springs Tentsite alone!) that it requires a person to devote about one-third of their work time to manually composting human waste in a labor-intensive process.
In addition to building staircases and bog bridges on the Appalachian Trail, AMC caretakers work to maintain a balance between overuse and sensitive natural areas, so while you might find them sitting on their porch reading a book, their day started before 7 a.m. and likely involved a full 8 hours of trailwork in addition to managing a busy campsite. The origins of the caretaker program date back to 1970, when overuse almost destroyed Garfield Pond, Franconia Ridge, and others. However, as recent as October 2013, the caretaker’s role in protecting the resource through education and hands-on work was shown when AMC campsites in the White Mountain National Forest were closed and not staffed during the Columbus Day Weekend as a result of the federal government shutdown. The damage that resulted because they were unstaffed can be seen on the AMC’s Trails Blog
. For more information on caretakers’ responsibilities and the “whys” of fees, give this a read
. As a fun fact, the $8 fee has not risen in over a decade – and think about how many other things have increased in cost.
If you have a non-freestanding shelter, hammock or otherwise, ask the caretaker where you can pitch your sleeping quarters. At all AMC sites there is a location to accommodate non-freestanding shelters, it's just a good idea to ask before throwing your tent onto the ground somewhere.
This section is going to be broken up into a few different sub-sections because there are a lot of topics to cover. If you play your cards right, you’re apt to leave the Whites drier, happier, and with a few extra pounds on your thru-hike-emaciated body.
About the Huts
The AMC runs 8 huts along the AT corridor. Greenleaf is about a mile and 1000 vertical feet off the trail, but the rest are either on the trail or no more than 0.3 miles off. They have bunk space for between 36 and 90 people a night and provide dinner, breakfast, and educational talks. In addition, they provide a place for day hikers to fill up their water bottles, get trail information, use the composting toilets, buy gear they might have forgotten, have a snack or a hot drink, or provide shelter from a storm. While thru-hikers receive AMC member rates at all facilities (20% off), for someone on a limited budget like most on a thru hike, affording a hut stay might not be in the cards. Because of that, the huts have a work-for-stay option in which you can do some work for the leftovers from dinner and breakfast, as well as a place to sleep.
Work For Stay at AMC Huts
The official WFS policy is that each hut can take two thru-hikers a night (except Lakes of the Clouds which can take 4), have them do 2 hours of work, and then give them some food and a place to sleep. Until it’s time to eat and do work, you’re usually asked to stay out of the dining area when dinner is happening. The croo member that you’ll be interacting with has probably been up since 5:30 a.m. cooking and is extremely busy making a soup, bread, salad, entrée, side dishes, and dessert. Don’t take their apparent disinterest as being rude or mean; they’re just busy cooking, by themselves, a dinner for 36-90 people.
1. The work you do on a WFS can vary from something as simple as cleaning the ice out of the freezer to a full two hours of scouring pots. I did both on my thru. It all depends on what the croo needs.
2. Lakes of the Clouds has a room beneath the dining area called, affectionately, “The Dungeon.” It’s the emergency shelter that’s unlocked all year round that has a few bunks, though no mattresses, that costs $10. It’s not the Hilton, but it’s shelter from a storm, you don’t have to do any work, and it’s a neat experience. When I was working at Lakes, I had a number of thru-hikers elect to stay there rather than do the WFS. Indoors is indoors.
The tricky part about WFS is securing one. Here are some tips that might help you get a WFS.
1. You’ve been camping most of the time on the trail, so you can handle camping some more. Don’t try to stay at every hut. You’re reducing the chances of everyone else getting a WFS at some point by hogging all the slots. If everyone tried to stay at every hut, barely anyone would get WFS. This can create tension between thru-hikers, as well as anger at croos that can’t really do anything about it.
2. If you’re in a big group, space out by the time you get to Kinsman Notch (after Moosilauke) if you’re northbound, Gorham if you’re southbound. Hut croos like giving out WFS, but if you’re hiking with a group of 8, there’s no way you’re all going to be able to stay and it’s going to get competitive. Don’t put that stress on your group or the hut croo.
3. Show up between 3 and 4 p.m. after having hiked a good number of miles that day. If you show up too early, you’ve got time to push a little further.
4. Show up and ask for WFS with humility and work like you mean it. You’re a representative of the thru-hiking community and your actions and attitude will affect how the rest of the thru-hikers will be treated in the future. If you work hard when asked, eat ALL the leftover chicken, and say thank you, the croo will be more likely to be happy to have more thrus. If you get all the perks but skip out before doing chores, then the croo might be less likely to be accommodating to the next batch of hikers. Yes, you are doing something difficult and epic, but hut croos see thousands of thru-hikers every year, and if you come in demanding things and acting entitled, it will not make them particularly inclined to grant you a WFS. Hut croos might have more amenities than you have in the woods, but I promise you that they work very, very hard. My days at Lakes of the Clouds were sometimes 15 hours long.
|Lonesome Lake with Franconia Ridge in the Distance|
So many of the people I knew on the trail deemed the White Mountains their favorite part of the trail. When I asked my thru-hiker friends what they would have wanted to know before they arrived in the Whites, I got a lot of what you’ve read above, but also tons of comments that sounded something like, “It was my favorite section. Hands down.” There’s nowhere else on the trail like it and the amenities of the huts can be a great part of that. The towns are all hiker-friendly, it’s easy to hitch, and there are a lot of people to talk to. Have fun. Enjoy every crag. If I’m up there working, stop in and say, “Hi.”
As I signed all the trail registers,
Love and arm rippings
Jeremy “Beowulf” Day thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2012 and went on to work at Greenleaf in the fall of 2012, Lakes of the Clouds in the fall of 2013, was a caretaker at Carter Notch and Zealand Falls over the 2013-2014 winter, and plans to return to the huts this fall. He is currently thru-hiking the John Muir Trail, Long Trail, Cohos Trail, and 1,200 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. You can follow his trip at https://www.facebook.com/beowanders