Backcountry Hut Maintenance in Alaska
Alaska Huts is not the only backcountry hut operator in Alaska, and this month we have an insight into one of our sister organizations, the Mountaineering Club of Alaska. The MCA operates huts on glacier traverses, like the Eklutna Traverse, but their support system is much the same. Enjoy!
The MCA backcountry hut system is very much operated and maintained by the community. There are no paid staff, thus the huts are supported entirely by the passion of volunteers. Funding and decision making authority lies with the MCA board of directors, but huts is not a primary focus of that board. The club uses a huts committee for deliberative and planning processes, in addition to opinion surveys and discussions with the general club membership. Each task or project is driven by one or several passionate individuals taking up the cause. Volunteer coordination is itself a volunteer duty. Some of the work is thankless (outhouse related tasks in particular), and many volunteers contribute without acknowledgement. Perhaps the huts themselves, the places they occupy, and visiting them, are part of the reward.
Currently, general maintenance is spearheaded by a single individual, the huts committee chairman, who makes regular reports of hut status on the club website. This facilitates users, who are already planning to travel to a hut, to take on needed tasks and incorporate them into their own trip. Since the huts are remote, transport of materials and volunteer labor to the site is one of the biggest hurdles. Larger projects, such as renovations, rely on skilled labor. Several club members with construction experience have a long-standing de facto role as hut construction/renovation leads. There is currently an effort to recruit new skilled individuals into this role, to “pass the torch” of this critical function. Additionally, even with extensive volunteer labor and donated materials, larger projects inevitably require funding. Membership dues pay for some huts related expenses, with grants and donations making up a large portion as well.
The MCA huts do not have a reservation system, nor is use tracked beyond what hut logs and user reports allow. Users by and large are tasked with coordinating with other users, and keeping the huts in serviceable condition. In a way the nature of the huts, deep in the mountains without internet or phone connection, helps to foster the self-reliance and considerate behavior needed to support their existence. All users, new and experienced, rested or tired, can find a way to contribute in their own way.
-Jonathan Strong, MCA Committee member