, Newburyport, MA

July 19, 2013

Part of the 'croo'

Port woman spending summer working in the White Mountains

By Jim Sullivan

---- — Newburyport’s Grace Pezzella has always been the adventurous sort.

An outdoors enthusiast and hiker most of her life, Pezzella was inspired by her parents to find herself outside as much as possible. Now she’s putting that lifestyle to the test all summer long as a member of the hut “croo” at the Lakes of the Clouds Hut on Mount Washington in New Hampshire.

“When I got there, we had to pack all of our belongings while in snow that was up to our waists,” Pezzella said. “On my first day, I was really stressed out, so my boss told me to take a break, and the mandatory break is sledding down the glacier, into the lake.”

Lakes of the Clouds and the seven other huts in the Appalachian Mountain Club’s network are currently celebrating 125 years of service to hikers on the Appalachian Trail.

Members of the croo are responsible for hauling up to an average of 70 pounds of supplies for the huts. The croo is also responsible for the general welfare of all the hikers, as well as anyone who just happens to stop in just below the mountain’s summit, which is 5,012 feet.

The croo also provides meals for all the guests, who can total up to 90 at Lakes of the Clouds, the biggest hut in the system.

“They’re like alpine lodges with full kitchens,” Pezzella said of the huts. “And run mostly on solar power.”

Of the approximately 200 new applicants for hut croo positions each year, only a select few are chosen. They work 11 days at a time with three days off that they can spend any way and anywhere they want, but most stay on the mountain.

“I think just a general love for the outdoors is pretty much the biggest prerequisite for the job,” Pezzella said. “We do a lot of on-the-job training. We are all required to get wilderness first aid certification before we can be hired. And, as far as packing is concerned, it’s just a sheer force of will.”

A 2011 Newburyport High School graduate, Pezzella will be a junior this fall at Bates College in Maine, where she is studying history, English and film. Last summer, she worked at the Pinkham Notch visitors center in Gorham, N.H. She has been part of this year’s hut croo since May 28.

Her wilderness first aid training includes CPR, setting bones with whatever may be available and bandaging. All this while operating within the backcountry without the aid of a hospital of any kind, making Pezzella and the rest of the croo the last line of defense.

“We have to (deal with) anything from a scraped knee to people who have heart attacks,” Pezzella said. “And although Fish & Game is in charge of search and rescue, we are always the first responders in any situation.”

Pezzella said that no life-threatening situations have cropped up on her watch so far, and as far as she is concerned, her greatest accomplishment this summer has been of the baking kind.

“I made some garlic bread from scratch,” she said. “And when I took it out of the oven, not only was it not burnt, but the crusts were perfectly done. I’m not a trained baker or anything, but to be able to accomplish that was pretty cool.”

Pezzella’s adventurous summer ends Aug. 20, the very same day she will head back to Bates. But for now, she couldn’t be happier working for the Appalachian Mountain Club, the oldest conservation organization in the country.

“It’s pretty much the best summer job I could ever ask for,” Pezzella said. “The organization I work for takes a lot of money they make and generates that back into the outdoors and scholarship programs for inner-city kids or people who couldn’t necessarily afford to spend time in the outdoors as much as they would like. They give people an opportunity to experience what I get to experience every day.”