Outdoor Adventures: Memorable highs in mountain huts
They are mountain way stations in some of New Hampshire’s most dramatic lands. They contain much-appreciated sustenance, insightful information often presented with a playful twist, barebones bunking and embracing camaraderie with like-minded souls.
What started 125 years ago has grown into a string of eight mountain huts stretching along the iconic Appalachian Trail through the rugged Presidential Range. They are worthy destinations unto themselves and Alpine jumping-off places in a wild and scenic landscape.
The Appalachian Mountain Club’s White Mountain huts touch hikers in many ways. A surefire conversation starter in the trekking world, many a tramper can reminisce about time spent trying to get warm, dry or rested in them. They can spin tales of epic hikes, plentiful meals, wildlife spotted along the way and entertaining and enthusiastic hut croo doing little informational skits about hut rules.
Hut hikers are as diversified as the mountains. Some are in essence mountain athletes, compiling impressive and insane feats from trail running to peak bagging to thru-hiking. There are others for whom just reaching a hut, and yet another, is a long-sought accomplishment. For others, they are like visiting old friends.
And they have their warts, like buzz-saw snorers and sketchy aromas.
With more than a century of memories, the hut log books are loaded with shared notes, drawings and whimsy. Stories live long in the heads and hearts of hikers, and I have mine, too.
Lakes of the Clouds at over 5,000 feet is perhaps the most dramatic of all the huts, sitting in a col on the side of monumental Mount Washington. For me, the best time I spent there was when it was shuttered in May, the barren landscape punctuated with pockets of snow, and my buddy Mitch Hanson and I hiked there from the nearby Mount Washington Observatory, where we were spending a week volunteering. It was a fascinating few hours, an upside down hike if you will, from the mountain’s top, down and then up again.
Handsome Mizpah Spring Hut on the side of Mount Pierce was a lofty landmark during a stunning hike of the Southern Presidentials as my hiking honey, Jan, and I traversed Monroe, Eisenhower, Pierce and Jackson in one glorious day.
Mount Lafayette’s Greenleaf Hut is part of the spectacle of Franconia Ridge, but it’s also the hut where Jan and I learned more of croo culture because of a giant stuffed snake inside. Seems each hut has an annual item sought by their colleagues that can be taken during a raid.
The huts are stunning, but cold in the winter. Of course, what happens in a hut stays in a hut. All I’m saying is that at Lonesome Lake with its stunning view of the jagged Franconia Range on a below-zero night, Jan and I were the only guests. Instead of staying in the bunks, we nestled ourselves on the floor in the main area by the wood stove. We also learned that hot water in a water bottle in a sleeping bag is a warming friend.
Zealand, on the edge of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, with waterfalls outside the front door and perhaps the most congenial trail to it (last stretch has a pitch), can also be reached in winter via a long, glorious ski. Such was the plan with an old hiking buddy many years ago. We got to the hut in early afternoon. The hut caretaker wouldn’t fire up the wood stove until later, so we opted to ski some more, during which I broke my ski pole. Upon returning to the hut, the fire was going. The caretaker’s girlfriend had arrived.
Carter Notch, with its tarns and dramatic rocks by Wildcat Mountain, is loaded with mountain memories for me. We snowshoed there following the ice storm of 1998, the trees bent from the wrath making something of a chandelier-lined tunnel with wind chimes.
Reaching Madison Spring Hut in a saddle between Mounts Madison and Adams is no easy task. But on a recent visit there, I couldn’t believe the people we met, from a man who climbed Mount Monadnock every day for a year to thru-hikers. Nothing like the hiking fraternity.
Galehead’s the hut with easy access to a 4,000-footer readily climbed before breakfast. For Jan and I, it was the hut we stayed in before the long hike over the Bonds to finish our 4,000-foot quest with packs filled with hut memories.
(Marty Basch can be reached through onetankaway.com.)