Many popular recreation areas in Australia are dotted with huts of various types. In bad conditions, the shelter and warmth offered by a hut can be life saving. However, to rely on hut usage is foolhardy in the extreme—you may not reach the hut, you may not be able to find it, or it may be full. Parties must always be equipped to camp away from huts.
In bad conditions it is inadvisable to rely on track notes when locating a hut. Though they can lead you to the general vicinity, such as the snow-pole line, the track end or the cattle yard, they generally cannot help during the last 200 to 300 m. Huts blend in with the environment, particularly under snow or mist conditions. It is best to reconnoitre the hut in fine weather. Look for and record distinguishing landmarks which will help you find it in bad conditions. After heavy snowfalls, it may take up to two hours to dig down to the door. Your trip plan should allow for this.
Huts and parties come in various sizes. A party of six in a hut that can accommodate 30 presents few problems. However, you as a leader may have to organise 30 people to sleep in a hut that is designed for six! Some of the following suggestions may help:
- Use the fire primarily for warmth, as a fire is a great morale booster in bad weather. Avoid large fires, particularly with wooden chimneys. Cooking and drying of equipment have lower priority, although heating a large container of water on the fire can save stove fuel. Never leave the fire unattended.
- Use tables for cooking with stoves. If cramped for space, send all but the cook from each group to bed.
- During the meal, gear may be placed on the bunks.
- Drying of clothes and equipment is preferably done after the meal. Sleeping bags should have the highest priority.
- Hygiene is of the utmost importance, especially when the hut is crowded. Water sources near huts are notorious for making people ill—be especially careful about water sources and toiletting. If a toilet is provided, use it. See Chapter 24.
- Collecting wood and water should be a communal task. Always leave a larger pile of dead wood than was present when you arrived. Do not cut living trees. It is terrible for the environment, and green timber does not burn readily in any case. Leave dry kindling by the fireplace. When using snow for water, ensure that your supply is not contaminated.
When leaving, ensure the hut is cleaner than when you arrived. Carry out nonburnable rubbish and do not leave food behind, as it attracts rats and possums. Close the door, and replace the snow shovel near the roof or chimney.
Hut ownership varies, and some are privately owned and locked. Only in an extreme emergency would a party consider breaking in. If this occurs, the owners should be informed and the group should offer to repair damage. Other privately owned or maintained huts are left open for general use. Try to contact the owners/ maintainers prior to the trip to seek permission for their use. Other huts may have been abandoned by their owners and may be very dilapidated. Do not hasten their decay—they may still save a life. Where two or more parties arrive at a hut, leaders should confer to ensure that weaker or more needy members in all parties are given first access to facilities.