The Hut Traverse is a 50-mile route in the White Mountains of New Hampshire that links the Appalachian Mountain Club’s eight huts. Beginning at Carter Notch, hikers trek west along some of the roughest and rockiest terrain in the area to tag each of the huts before finishing at Lonesome Lake. This grueling challenge involves 15,000 feet of elevation gain and must be completed in under 24 hours. To achieve such a feat at all is remarkable enough. Only a determined and superbly conditioned hiker finishes it in a single day. Katie Schide did it faster than anyone else.
Schide has become a rising star of the European ultra-running scene. In the last few years, she has achieved podium finishes in many major races; most recently winning the 90K at the Marathon du Mont Blanc and finishing sixth at the renowned 100-mile UTMB this past summer. She dedicates much of her time now to her training regimen, but her path to becoming an ultra-runner began before she had any thought of competing – when she started working in AMC’s huts eight years ago.
As a teenager, Schide was introduced to AMC’s huts during a backpacking trip with her father. They hiked hut-to-hut, staying at Mizpah Spring and Lakes of the Clouds. Schide was drawn to the energetic and positive nature of the hut croos she encountered during her stays, “I saw a croo member, Beth White, carrying a guy sitting on her pack board. I was impressed by her athleticism and I thought that looked like a lot of fun.”
In 2011, Schide applied and was hired to work in the AMC huts. She initially regretted taking the job on a hut croo when she began her first season at Greenleaf Hut. Poor weather had prevented a helicopter from airlifting blankets and dried goods to Greenleaf, forcing Schide and her croo members to carry 50-60 pounds of supplies up to the hut on pack boards every day their first week.
Cooking also proved to be a demanding activity. “On my first cook day, I was 19 and cooking for 48 people,” she recalled. “I wasn’t prepared for how long those days were. You get up at 5am, prepare and serve breakfast, and then everyone leaves to go hiking and you’re still there greeting day hikers and cooking dinner. You don’t have time to doubt anything, and I remember being exhausted mentally and physically at the end of it.”
However, after a few weeks, Schide’s attitude changed completely as she found comfort and community in her fellow croo members. “I started to become really good friends with my hut master and the rest of the croo. I remember thinking, ‘This is so great. I get to spend the summer with five cool people and have fun every day,” she said. “Once you’ve worked in a hut you know the slang and the way you refer to things. Different stories get passed around. My friends from the huts are people who I don’t feel I need to keep in touch with, but it’s easy to catch up. There are so many shared experiences between us that you don’t feel it’s necessary.”
During her free time, Schide would often hike to other huts and visit friends. Her Greenleaf croo would hike to Lonesome Lake Hut to go swimming and have lunch on the dock with the Lonesome croo. Sometimes, she would take a long day hike over the Twin Mountains to Galehead Hut. But no matter where Schide journeyed, she knew she had to be back at Greenleaf for dinner at 5pm, a deadline her hut master called “Go Time.”
Some of her first experiences trail running in the White Mountains were on “Late for Go Time hikes.” “When you go down to the valley to meet your friend and then find yourself at the trailhead a little later than you intended, you take on the ‘Late for Go Time hike.’ You hike really fast and hope you’ll be back by 5pm to serve dinner,” Schide explained. “We weren’t training for trail running, we didn’t know what we were doing. If anything, we were sleep-deprived, eating too much sugar, and hiking too much to be well trained. We hiked a lot and were excited to do it and I think that’s enough.”
Schide first attempted a hut traverse during her season at Greenleaf in 2011. She completed it in 24 hours. Her next two attempts in 2012 and 2014 were completed in 19 hours. Reflecting on her record-setting attempt in July, she said, “Normally no one really knows you’re doing a hut traverse, just friends and family. This time there was more pressure.” She finished two hours faster than the previous women’s FKT holder and seven hours faster than her own previous marks.
“I think it’s easy to say I’m good at hiking and mountain running because I was a hut croo member who hiked a lot, but I also learned a lot about mental toughness,” said Schide. “When I think back to my time in the huts, I remember more the rescues I was a part of or solving problems as a hut master than I do difficult pack days. You’re given so much responsibility at a relatively young age. In a lot of ways, you can look at the hut croos and think they are immature because of the costumes, but if someone has to be carried out, we’re the ones carrying the litter. If someone has an issue in the hut, we are the ones in charge. I got really good at being confident, making decisions, and moving through things that weren’t comfortable.”
Schide concludes, “The huts are how I found this sport that is now a huge part of my life. I didn’t start this sport to compete, it was because I liked being in the mountains. Maybe it will inspire others to plan their own traverse or big run.”