Drip, drip, drip….. whoosh! Without warning, our warm breezy night beneath the stars immediately turned into a soggy wet downpour. I struggled to unzip my sleeping bag, grabbed my Therm-a-Rest, and ran inside the hut. Our plan to sleep peacefully al fresco quickly morphed into a night spent tossing and turning on the hut dining room floor, listening as the 70+ mph wind, rain, thunder, and lightning took no mercy on anything in its path. So it goes with the notoriously fickle weather in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
I was hiking in the Presidential Range together with Thule and REI Adventures. We were on a three-day hut to hut loop that started at the AMC Highland Center in Crawford Notch, followed the Crawford Path, the oldest continually used mountain trail in the US, to the summit of Mt. Washington, before heading steeply back down to our starting point.
For over 125 years, the AMC high-hut system has offered hikers, both young and old, backcountry style adventure with the comfort of a warm meal, composting toilets, and a bunk for the night. Speckled along the famed Appalachian Trail, most huts are within a day’s hike of each other and almost always located in some spectacular location. This means all you are required to carry is a sleeping bag and whatever you need on the trail for the day.
All of the huts are manned and run efficiently by a “Croo” of young 20-somethings. There is nothing more inspiring for the future of the outdoor industry than seeing a group of young adults dedicate their summers to cooking for and cleaning up after 90 strangers each day, ferrying excruciatingly heavy loads up and down trails on old traditional pack boards, all while giving lectures on the benefits of composting, living off the grid, leave no trace, and sharing their general love of nature.
East Coast hiking is nothing like West Coast hiking—you will find no gradual inclines or switchbacks here. Although the trail to the Mizpah Hut may only be 2.5 miles, it’s 2.5 miles of unrelenting vertical over slippery rocks and roots. Once you reach the ridge however, it’s generally nice rolling terrain across the range.
The first day we were blessed with beautiful sunny weather, so after a quick lunch at the hut, we enjoyed a leisurely exploration of the surrounding alpine bog area and a summit of Mt. Jackson. After our rude awakening that night, however, you can only guess what awaited us on the next day’s hike. Trying to remain upright on the trail in dense fog, 50+ mph winds, and driving rain definitely qualifies as Type II fun, but we loved every minute of it.
With winds over 80 mph blasting the summit of Mt. Washington that afternoon, we passed the time at the Lakes of the Clouds hut playing cards, Trivial Pursuit, and “throw the Thule hat on the peg” challenge (oh, the games you can invent when stuck inside!).
As the hut sits only 1.5 miles below the summit of Mt. Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast, we were determined to summit on the third and last morning if the weather cleared. Rolling off my dining table bench at 4:30 am and seeing the winds hovered at only 40 mph on the summit, we set off hiking upward at 5 am.
Covered in fog, the summit structures of the old cog railway juxtaposed with the highly modern radio towers appeared like an alien universe. Although we couldn’t see a thing from the top, the clouds magically parted on our hike back down to the hut, giving us our first glimpse of the valley bathed in the soft colored light of dawn. We took a brief moment to appreciate the view, before heading inside to coffee and a warm cooked breakfast.
By this point, you may be wondering why Thule had us hiking through the mountains of New Hampshire. You will just have to stay tuned….
If you would like a guide to the High Huts in the White Mountains,check out the book by Thule’s own Ty Wivell.