Portrait of the Hutmaster as a Young Man

Our neighbors Jay and Dorothy came over for dinner last week, along with their son, George, who was home from college on spring break. We’ve known George almost his whole life: as a tow-headed kindergartner; as a middle-school student who insisted on wearing shorts in all four seasons; as a teenager taking driver’s ed, becoming an Eagle Scout, applying to college.

Now he’s a junior at Middlebury College. He’s turned into the kind of tall, strong young man for whom the word “strapping” was coined. What’s new? we asked him, and were treated to full-force enthusiasm about his upcoming fourth summer in the AMC huts. “My first year as hutmaster,” he said, grinning. “Greenleaf.”

Between high school and college, George got the night shift washing dishes in a smoothie bar. That left his days free. All that summer, he got up before dawn, blasted upstate, hiked hard for several hours, and worked his way through the New Hampshire 4,000-footers. He had ticked off all 48 by age 10 with his father, but didn’t remember much about them. As he hustled up and down the mountains to get back to his smoothie job in time, he kept seeing people his age working in the huts. He told us, “I thought, ‘They have the right idea.’”

One particular hike moved George from interest to action. He and his father traversed the Presidentials near the end of the summer. “It was a classic Lakes of the Clouds day,” George said — windy, spitting rain — when the door to the hut opened and in stepped a woman carrying a packboard loaded with supplies for the hut. “She was completely soaked,” George remembered. He also noticed that she handled the packboard with practiced ease, that she had strong, muscular legs (“thighs like this,” George told us, holding his hands a strong-thigh distance apart), and that she was smiling: “She just seemed really, really happy.” When they left the hut, George turned to his father and said, “Remind me to apply for a hut job.”

His first season, he joined the summer staff, known as “hut croo,” at Galehead. (“I loved Galehead.”) The second summer, he was assigned to Lakes of the Clouds. (“I loved Lakes.” He swam in a glacial tarn almost every morning, “which made me one of the first people in New Hampshire to see the sunrise.”) After a winter at Carter (“Wonderful!”) and a year off from college, he moved to Zealand last summer as assistant hutmaster.

Now he’ll oversee a croo of five. He has plans, ideas. He’s seen pictures and read journals from hut seasons 50 and 60 years ago, when Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas stayed in the huts, and when guests and croo sang together in the evenings. He’d like to bring back the journals, add a weekly hut newsletter, encourage croo members to spend more time getting to know the guests. “Think of the amazing people who are visiting the huts right now,” he said to us.

Listening to George, I had the feeling I was watching a young man come into his own. He now shoulders heavy loads with the same ease he once admired on a wet day at Lakes of the Clouds, and strides across the White Mountains as if wearing seven-league boots. “I have a map of the White Mountains with all the trails marked on it.” With each hut season, he said, “I’m slowly coloring them in.” He’s developing a deep sense of place, and his place in it.

He’s found community, too, which was easy for us to hear in his roll-call of friends who’ll be returning this summer to alpine-zone jobs. A friend who lives two doors down the hall from him at Middlebury just received her first croo assignment. She’ll be the huts equivalent of two doors down this summer, at Lonesome Lake.

We saw, too, George’s pride in real work, well done. “At my age, to be able to say that I have actual experience doing anything at all is amazing,” he told us — and a welcome counterpoint to college, where, he said, “I know so little.”

Best of all, though, we could see that George is very, very happy. This summer, some young kid or some teenager is going to see George in his element and think, I want to be like him.

Learn more
- Learn more about staying and working in the huts
- Look for an article about the 2009 hut season and a sneak peek at the 2010 season in the May/June issue of AMC Outdoors.

Photo: George Heinrichs, hutmaster.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

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