History of Galehead Hut
Galehead Hut, completed in 1931 along with Zealand Falls Hut, was part of legendary Huts Manager Joe Dodge’s plan to make all of the huts a day’s hike apart. Both followed the general layout of Greenleaf Hut, with bunks on either side of a central dining room and kitchen. Wood was again the material of choice, and Galehead was built log-cabin style from trees cut near the site. Furnishings and equipment were brought in from the outside world on the backs of burros. Thirty-two tons of materials were packed in over the course of the season. Construction crews and packers camped at the old Galehead Shelter near the hut and slogged through a long, wet season of hard work.
For all their labor, the crew ensured that guests would remain relatively warm and dry. The logs of the hut were chinked with oakum, a rope fiber and pine tar mixture traditionally used in shipbuilding. A seagoing vessel is an apt metaphor for the hut. An article published in Appalachia after the hut’s construction notes that “future years with their great storms will test our present best.”The test would come earlier than the author could have anticipated. On September 21, 1938, a hurricane moving across the Atlantic from its origin in Cape Verde struck the North Country. Gusts of up to 163 mph were recorded at the Mount Washington Observatory. A combination of heavy rain softening the ground and high winds led to the destruction of thousands of trees. Dead and dying wood led to the closure and restricted use of huge swaths of the White Mountain National Forest due to the tremendous risk of wildfires.
Galehead Hut, with its strong, tight construction, survived unscathed. On the other hand, trees surrounding the hut were no match for the storm and the hut gained a temporary 360 degree view. Galehead has strong ties with the weather in other ways as well. One of the hut’s first croo members, Salvatore Pagliuca, went on to work as a weatherman for the Mount Washington Observatory. As chief observer on April 12, 1934, Pagliuca recorded the highest wind speed on earth up to that time – 231 mph.
Galehead was subject to wartime closures between 1943 and 1946. Upon reopening the hut received a new roof and eventually switched from an oil stove to one that ran on gas. The hut was already supplied with water from a nearby spring. A storage tank held enough to power flush toilets inside the hut. Food refrigeration simply meant storing perishable goods under the porch where it was cool.
Over the decades these methods faded from favor. Parts of the hut were rebuilt as needed and modern equipment eventually replaced the old. In 1999 the hut faced a new chapter in its life when it was decided that the old structure should be entirely replaced. When construction began AMC was faced with an additional challenge to heavy renovation in a backcountry site. The Forest Service now required that the hut meet accessibility standards as set out by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). When the work was completed in 2000, the hut was equipped with wider hallways, enlarged bathroom stalls and a ramp leading into the hut. To test the new facility, three hikers in wheelchairs and two on crutches set out along the Gale River Trail on August 15, 2000. With the help of friends, family and their own determination, the party made it over the 4.6 mile trail to the hut in twelve hours.
Read more about Galehead Hut's history in Passport to AMC's High Huts in the White Mountains >>
Photos: AMC Archives