Gathering place on the Appalachian Trail

Along a 50-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail, there sit eight secluded, rustic huts where hikers can bunk, eat, enjoy the company of other nature lovers and soak in the mountain air.To do so, you need to be a serious hiker, like Jeff Lannon.  


Jeff, a member developmentmanager for Canton, Massachusetts-basedPro-Link, Inc., lives in the Boston area but loves being in the mountains.He’sbeen an avid hiker for over 40 years, but his first experience coming across one of these huts was backin 2013, while hiking inthe White Mountains of New Hampshire 


We used to stay in lean-tos or shelters, orjust found a spot, dropped our tent, and camped for the night,” recalls Jeff.But as the years went on, we looked for comfort. 


Since then, Jeff has stayed in seven of the eight rustic huts, which are owned and managed by the Appalachian Mountain Club 


“The easiest hut to get to isthe Zealand Falls Hut, because the terrain is relatively flat,” Jeff explains.You drive about three miles on a fireroad to the trailhead, then take a three-mile hike to the hut.You go through multiple ecological zones, including beaver ponds and areas with all kinds of wildlife.Then the hut, which is at an elevation of 2,600 feet, is just 30 feet from the waterfalls. 


The huts are staffed by a crew (in Appalachian Mountain Club parlance, “Croo),typically college kids who are both hard-working and entertaining.  


The Croohauls supplies up and takes trash back down from the huts in 85-pound packs,” says Jeff. “They give educational talks, perform elaborate skits, sing songs and recite poems.They are fantastic.”  


While more comfortable than a tent in the backcountry, the hutswith occupancies ranging from 36 to 96 people are not exactly luxurious. Reservations are required for a simple bunk in the communal space. 


You pay around $130for a mattress, pillow and blankets in a bunkroom. Meals are also cooked and served family style by the Crooin the dining hall,” says Jeff.It’s always a great group of down-to-earth people who share a common interest: the mountains.”  


In addition to meeting other hikers, Jeff enjoys the huts for their tranquility 


One of my favorite things is the night sky,” he says.You just go out on the hut’s porch and look upto see the Milky Way, as clear as day. 


In normal times, Jefftries to do two or three overnight hut stays per year. However, because of the pandemic, he limits his excursions to just day trips.  


“I did a day hike in October,” Jeff recalls.It was the best of times and the worst of times. I loved being in the mountains, but there were so many people on the trails. During the pandemic, hiking grew in popularity and the trails became overrun. 


That said, Jeff still loves being in the mountains. Helooks forward to more hikes and hut stays with his wife, Lauren, and many of hisfriends.  


Being in the mountainsis beneficial both physically and mentally,” he says.I don’t race along the trails because I hike for the views. It’s always a good experience.