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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
 
 
Previous          Journal Topics by Date            Next
 
 
PHOTOS 21: GIMME SHELTER, PART 3:
SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK & WHITE MOUNTAIN HUT SYSTEMS
 
FEBRUARY 15, 2006
 

I was burned out from exhaustion, buried in the hail,
Poisoned in the bushes an' blown out on the trail,
Hunted like a crocodile, ravaged in the corn.
"Come in," she said,
"I'll give you shelter from the storm."

- fourth stanza of "Shelter From the Storm," Bob Dylan, 1974

 

Twin huts at Lonesome Lake in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Photo from the AMC web site, below.

There were days I felt like that on the AT!

Usually our camper was my "shelter from the storm," but one night in the White Mountains of New Hampshire I took advantage of one of the wonderful huts to break up a long and difficult stretch of Trail that I couldn't manage in daylight. The starry night was bracketed by two beautiful, sunny days, yet I still appreciated the shelter it provided me.

I literally turned down an invitation to "come on in" at the first hut I encountered. It was on one of my most-miserable weather days, Day 117 in the Kinsman Mountain Range.

I came to the Lonesome Lake Hut early that morning. It was foggy and raining. The hut is situated above a lake that is very scenic, even in the fog. You're supposed to be able to see the magnificent Franconia Ridge from here, but I couldn't even see the far shore of the lake that morning:

As I climbed up the mountain toward the hut (I was going southbound that day), a couple with two young children was just hitting the Trail. This hut is popular with families because it's less than a two-mile walk in from the nearest trail head. We exchanged pleasantries and they suggested I "go on in" and get a cup of hot chocolate.

Oh, that was tempting!

In retrospect, I wish I had gone in so I could see what the hut looked like, but at the time I was afraid I'd get sucked into the warm, bright vortex of comfort and never emerge back into the cold, wet, gloomy outer world!

Accommodations at Lonesome Lake Hut are actually in two buildings (48 people in small coed bunkrooms). The huts are located on Cannon Mountain at 2,760 feet and are the southwestern-most of the White Mountain huts.

Because of the rain I didn't take many photos that day. The photo at the top of this page is from the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) website at www.outdoors.org, where you can find a wealth of information about each hut.

After that day I did go in most of the remaining huts to take a break, have some soup, and/or just check 'em out for future reference. Each hut is different, although the services are similar in most of them.

COME ON IN!

I'm getting ahead of myself. First, a little hut history . . .

Backcountry ski huts are a wonderful European tradition that has spread to other countries, including the United States and Canada. They are very common in Scandinavia and the Alps, where you can cross-country ski for days on end and stay every night in a comfortable mountain lodge.

As in Europe, ski huts in this country range from rustic self-service cabins high in the mountains to more accessible, luxurious full-service lodges with menu service, wine, and shopping opportunities. Huts are most common in the western states, but are also found east of the Rockies in states like Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire.

Many of the huts in the U.S. and other countries are open year-round so hikers can also enjoy them. They are often situated a day's trek apart, whether you're enjoying the back country in running shoes, hiking boots, cross-country skis, or snowshoes.

In this essay, I will concentrate primarily on the cabins/huts available for a fee to hikers on the Appalachian Trail in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

HUTS IN THE WHITE MOUNTAINS OF N.H.

I've never had the opportunity to visit any remote high country huts until last summer in New Hampshire. I was totally captivated with the ones I saw along the Appalachian Trail in the White Mountains.

They are comfortable refuges that offer full services to hikers in the summer and early fall. Some of the huts have an extended fall, winter, or spring season with caretakers and self-service available so folks can ski or snowshoe to them.

The eight huts and two visitor centers, which also have lodging, are spaced a day's hike apart (from about five to ten miles).  

The Appalachian Mountain Club maintains not only the trails (including the Appalachian Trail) in the Whites, but also the huts. Founded in 1876, it is the oldest nonprofit conservation and recreation organization in this country. Its 90,000 members belong to twelve chapters from Washington, DC north to Maine.

According to its very informative web site, the organization promotes the protection, enjoyment, and wise use of trails in the whole northern Appalachian region, not just the AT. Many of its trails pre-date the AT.

The huts have (limited) electricity, running water, kitchen facilities, and staff, but no heat.

They provide bunks with mattresses at the full overnight price or hikers can use their sleeping bags on the dining room benches. Full-paying guests also get a gourmet dinner and breakfast, as in this photo of the interior of Galehead Hut on Day 118:

It costs major bucks to stay in the huts (last summer, non-members like me paid $85.00 a night) because each is fully staffed and all supplies to the remote huts, including fresh food, are hiked in. "Hiking in" involves steep trails up and down mountains with all the supplies carried up on the backs of staff members, or "croo." And any trash that isn't recycled has to be carried back down!

I presented a lot of information about the hut system in general, and Galehead in particular, in the journal on Days 118, 119, and 122. Please read those entries to learn more about the hut experience and how AT hikers can take advantage of the huts either for free or for a small fee.

In this essay I'll concentrate more on photos and details about each hut instead of repeating all the information I've previously shared.

There is also a ton of information on the AMC web site: www.outdoors.org. Click on the link for "huts" and then the individual huts. There are panoramic views of each hut, its scenery, and the interior.

GREEN TECHNOLOGY

I was intrigued with the "green technology" that is used in the high-country huts to minimize impact on the surrounding environment.

I heard a noise as I approached the Zealand Hut on Day 119 and took this photo of some of the gizmos situated close to the Trail (don't ask me what they do!):

All eight huts in the Whites utilize solar power to their electrical systems, which power a base radio, fire alarm system, water pump-in substation, refrigerators, lights, fans, and various other items.

Solar power also preheats water in the Lonesome Lake and Mizpah Spring huts. The other six huts use wind power, causing the weird noises I detected at Galehead and Zealand Falls Huts. Zealand also uses hydropower, since it is close to the creek that forms Zealand Falls.

Composting toilets are used in all the huts except Lakes of the Clouds and Madison Spring, the two loftiest huts.

LET'S TAKE A TOUR . . .

. . .  of the huts from southwest to northeast in the White Mountains, the same direction I was running the AT (most days).

I've already discussed Lonesome Lake Hut at the beginning of this essay. It is right on the AT and less than two miles from a trail head, one of the easiest of the high-country huts to reach.

The next hut is Greenleaf, the only one I didn't see at all. Why? Because it is off the AT a bit over a mile and I didn't have any time to waste on Day 118 over Franconia Ridge. I was on a mission to get to the Galehead Hut before dinner began at 6 PM (I barely made it!).

You can see a small photo of the hut on the AMC website. It was originally built in 1926 and expanded to accommodate 48 hikers in coed bunkrooms. The hut sits at tree line (4,200 feet) on Mt. Lafayette. Many people hike up from Franconia Notch on a rugged trail, stay overnight at Greenleaf, then explore Franconia Ridge.

Galehead Hut, shown in the next three photos, is the most remote of all the huts and the most recent one to be rebuilt (year 2000). It's the hut in which I stayed overnight on Day 118:

Although it was still light when I finally arrived at the hut at 5:45 PM,  I was more focused on getting a bunk and cleaning up for dinner than I was in taking photos. I took these exterior shots the next morning (Day 119) before heading up the Trail:

Galehead is not easy to reach by the AT or by side trails. The most direct route is up a 4.6-mile trail that is steep and rocky near the top. The hut sits at 3,800 feet in a saddle above the Pemigewassett ("Pemi") Wilderness.

This is the view from the porch (I think that's Franconia Ridge in the distance):

Galehead holds 38 hikers in coed bunkrooms. The hut was full the night I stayed; I got one of the last reservations that morning.

I would have been in a world of trouble if I hadn't been able to stay there that night because the next few nights were booked and I couldn't have made the strenuous 28-mile run/hike from Franconia Notch to Crawford Notch without staying on the Trail somewhere.

The $85 cost sounded exorbitant to me, but I definitely got my money's worth. I had a wonderful experience at Galehead and recommend that other folks try staying in one of the huts during the full-service season to see how much fun they are!

MOVING ON . . .

As I ran and hiked northward up and over the Twin Mountains, Mt. Guyot, and Zealand Mountain on Day 119, the next hut I encountered was the Zealand Falls Hut:

This hut has the distinction of being the lowest (2,700 feet) and the easiest to reach on the relatively flat three-mile Zealand Trail, so it is open all year. (I guarantee it is not as easy to reach on the AT, however!) It's a popular destination for families with children.

Zealand Falls Hut is located in Zealand Notch right next to Whitewall Creek, which has several pretty cascades, including nearby Zealand Falls:

The next AMC lodging is the relatively new Highland Center at Crawford Notch, one of two visitor centers in the Whites that are on or near the Appalachian Trail. It is in the valley on Rt. 302 and is on the popular Hiker Shuttle route that links hut-to-hut trips.

The Highland Center is a four-season lodge and outdoor education center. It has a variety of accommodations from  private rooms to shared bunk rooms and serves meals. Many people use it as a base to explore the area, and AT hikers sometimes stay there. Jim and I visited the main lodge on our way "home" to our camper but we didn't check out any of the rooms.

The fourth hut just off the AT is the Mizpah Spring Hut, situated at 3,800 feet on the southern flank of Mt. Clinton/Pierce in the southern Presidential Range. I spent more time in this hut because I didn't have a long run on Day 120 and I wanted to experience the famous hiker tradition of "bottomless bowls of soup" for only $2.00.

Had inflation increased the price by now? Was the soup as good as I'd heard it was? No and yes! I enjoyed two hot bowls of delicious homemade potato soup for only two bucks. Yum!!

 

The Mizpah Spring Hut was built in 1964 and holds 60 guests in four- to eight-person bunkrooms. It has large south-facing windows and a separate library.

LAKES OF THE CLOUDS

I also spent some time on Day 120 inside the largest, highest, and most popular hut in the Whites, Lakes of the Clouds Hut, situated at 5,050 feet on the southern shoulder of Mt. Washington:

This spacious hut accommodates 90 guests but its season in 2006 spans the shortest time (June 1 to September 16) because of the severe weather found above treeline on Mt. Washington.

Although most folks get to Lakes of the Clouds the easy way - via the road to the top of the mountain - they still have to negotiate a difficult mile-long "trail" over rocks and boulders down to the hut, and then back UP when they leave. I passed numerous downhill day-hikers as I was going up that mountain at the end of my day. I don't think some of them realized how strenuous their return trip would be!

Since I'd had soup at Mizpah Spring a couple hours earlier, I just browsed inside the hut and decided to make a purchase I felt guilty making at Galehead after spending so much to stay overnight. I bought a nice "technical" (synthetic) short sleeved sports shirt for running and hiking. It has a subtle Lakes of the Clouds logo on it. It's the only clothing purchase I made on the AT Adventure Run to commemorate my journey. I love wearing it to run and to work out at the Y.

The views from this hut are just fantastic. I would have loved to have been there at sunset. From the photo above, you can see the beautiful blue sky with puffy white clouds that afternoon. Sunset would have been awesome.

DO NOT look at the iPIX panoramic virtual tour on the AMC web site or you'll find yourself wanting to make plane reservations for New Hampshire right now!

For summer, that is.

I took this photo of Lakes of the Clouds Hut as I began the final climb up to Mt. Washington on the north side of the hut (the hut is on the far side of the lake - look hard!):

LITERAL SHELTER FROM THE STORM

Remember the theme at the top of this page, "Shelter from the Storm?"

The next day, the Madison Spring Hut really DID save my butt in nasty weather. You need to read the journal entry from Day 121 to get the full story.

The executive version is that I was caught above tree line on Mt. Madison, in the northern Presidential Range, in a gale-force wind, thick fog, and sleet that was forming ice on the boulders I had to negotiate (there is no "trail" on many of the ridges from Mt. Washington to Mt. Madison, just rocks).

I was going southbound from Pinkham Notch to Mt. Washington that day. Or TRYING to, anyway. There is a very steep descent on the north side of Madison that I chose to go UP instead of down. Using that MO several times on the Trail prevented me from having major knee problems during the trek.

Anyway, it took me forever to get over the summit and half a mile down to the Madison Spring Hut, which sits at the tree line. If the hut was not there, I would have been in deep doo-doo.

Although I was warm enough (as long as I could move) and had enough fluids and food for several more hours, my progress was terribly slow and I never could have gotten to my destination that day, Mt. Washington. Jim couldn't have met me there as planned, either. The weather was so bad, the road to the summit was closed.

I was so relieved to get to that hut that I almost cried in relief. The kind staff at the hut radioed to Mt. Washington to leave a message that I wasn't able to get there to meet Jim, and offered me some hot soup for free.

I was crazy to turn that down, but I had an agenda and didn't want to spend the time eating. I was incredibly lucky to reach Jim by phone when I went outside the hut, and told him I'd be coming down a different trail to the valley.

That hut really DID offer me "shelter from the storm," and I'm eternally grateful it was there and the staff was so hospitable to a runner/hiker in distress.

There's a photo on Day 121 of the fog on top of Madison but I didn't take a picture of the hut that day. I had my camera wrapped up to keep it dry and I was so focused on survival and my rendezvous with Jim that it didn't even occur to this shutter-bug to take a photo of the hut that day.

However, on Day 126 I was able to complete that hike IN THE SUN from Mt. Washington to Mt. Madison (northbound) and took the photo below, looking down to Madison Spring Hut as I descended Mt. Adams:

That's Mt. Madison in the background. Everything sure looked different on a clear day!

The current hut is on the same site as the original one, which was built 'way back in 1888. It was the very first hut in the chain. Because it is so high in the alpine zone at 4,800 feet, it is also open only from June 1 to September 16 this year.

The hut accommodates 52 guests in two bunkrooms with - get this! - four-tier bunk beds!!  (Galehead's were stacked three high. Some are just two high.)

I cropped the photo above to get this close-up of the hut, which is one of the most difficult of the eight huts to reach by any trails in the area:

It was much more relaxing to visit the hut my second time there!

The Pinkham Notch Visitor Center is next up, going northbound. It is located in the valley at the AT trail head on Rt. 16 between Gorham and Jackson.

I started out there on Day 121, the day I got into the storm on Mt. Madison. I didn't see any of the lodging choices but enjoyed browsing through the books and maps at the trading post. Even if hikers don't want to pay to stay in a bunk room here overnight they can use the convenient bathrooms and water fountains and get a bite to eat.

This lodge is another hub for activities in the surrounding mountains and is also on the Hiker Shuttle that links hut-to-hut trips.

The eighth and last AMC hut is the Carter Notch Hut, which sits at 3,290 feet in a col between Wildcat Mountain and the Carter Range. It is self-service year-round. There is a caretaker, but no "croo" to entertain and feed you, even in the summer. That means it is inexpensive to stay here overnight.

I met the caretaker when I visited for a short break on Day 125 after a strenuous hike from Pinkham Notch along the edge of several flooded lakes. Although it was sunny that day, enough rain had fallen the previous days to make the AT into a creek much of the way. I didn't stay long because I had a tough 21-miler that day.

This is one of the very pretty twin Carter lakes just down from the hut:

The setting is wild and rugged. The climb to the hut on a side trail is listed on the AMC site as "moderate." Getting there on the AT is more difficult. 

Although meals aren't served here, hikers have use of the kitchen facilities, bathrooms, and mattresses. There is room for 40 in two unheated bunkhouses. The main hut has a wood stove.

Going north on the AT from the hut there is a very steep climb up Carter Dome. I took this photo of Carter Notch Hut, which has several buildings, on the way up Carter Dome:

I'd been grunting up that hill for only twenty minutes and the hut and lakes already looked far, far away.

The photo below is cropped to show the buildings more clearly:

I want you to notice something in the valley photos above. Can you visualize the size of the two-story building in the front? The two green-roofed bunk-houses in the rear?

OK, now look left to that pile of rocks. There are more in the wider-angle photo, but the ones in the close-up show their size in relation to the buildings better.

That is a field of huge, fallen boulders called "The Ramparts." Some of those rocks are the size of trucks and houses, folks, and are similar to what Mahoosuc Notch is filled with (if you'll remember, Mahoosuc Notch is the slowest, most difficult mile on the entire AT and I'd be visiting is in a couple days).

Fortunately the Ramparts are not on the AT - they just serve as entertainment for hut visitors. Boulder fields are fun if the weather's good and you aren't in a hurry!

GREAT HUT MEMORIES

I was sad to see the end of the huts. I sure could have used one on Day 127 in Maine when I had to negotiate Mahoosuc Notch, Mahoosuc Arm, Old Speck, and other tough terrain on a very long day between road crossings. I really enjoyed the hut system through the Whites.

Not everyone is happy with the current hut system, which has evolved over more than one hundred years into more of a family-focused operation so it can sustain itself financially.

Some traditional thru-hikers and locals believe the system caters more to day hikers than thru-hikers. I was surprised to find that I was the only guest at Galehead on Day 118 who was thru-hiking the AT. A few folks were section-hiking for several days in the Whites, but most had come up a shorter, better groomed side trail to explore Franconia Ridge, stay overnight in the hut, and return to the valley the next day.

Since I wasn't doing a traditional thru-hike, that didn't bother me one bit. As a "hybrid hiker," I felt just as comfortable with the "civilians" as I did with thru-hikers.

Many people can't handle the rigors of backpacking and/or the Appalachian Trail; the huts encourage more folks who might not otherwise be able to enjoy it to get out and hike this area. I really appreciate the fact that the AMC has a strong educational component, offering a wealth of environmental information to adults and children that should benefit the wilderness areas in the future.

Even with some running it is difficult to get in as much distance in the Whites as on most of the rest of the Trail. The northbound thru-hikers I knew who had worked up to twenty miles a day were reduced to ten a day here. They were amazed that I was able to cover fifteen to twenty miles some days. But that was frustrating to me because I wanted to do THIRTY-mile days!

It was an effort, and I didn't get to take in the scenery like I wished I could. So I want to go back with Jim some day and do more leisurely runs/hikes in this area and spend a night or two in a hut again. They're pretty cool.

HIKER HOUSING IN THE SHENNIES

The AT shelter situation is a bit different in Shenandoah National Park than along most of the rest of the Trail.

I showed you a variety of both typical and unusual types of shelters in Photos 19. Those are first-come, first-served accommodations that are free to hikers and 99% of them don't require reservations.

In the Shennies, "shelters" are for day use only. There are five three-sided shelters in the Park that are for picnics and temporary day use to get out of storms. One I passed right on the Trail is Byrd's Nest #3, below (Day 56):

 

However, there are eight three-sided "huts" along the AT in the park that may be used for overnight stays by thru-hikers; these are called "shelters" or "lean-to's" along the rest of the Trail.

Shenandoah requires backpackers to have a valid backcountry camping permit to use these huts.  To prevent overuse or improper use, the huts are monitored by park rangers, Potomac AT hut overseers, the PATC Trail Patrol, and other volunteers. The huts are free and available first-come, first-served. There are also tent sites near each hut.

The only hut I visited was the Bear Fence Hut, but I didn't take a photo there.

Shenandoah also has six historic rustic backcountry "cabins" that are available for rent to the public on a first-come, first-served reservation basis. Cabins are equipped with bunks, mattresses, blankets, kitchen and eating utensils, housekeeping supplies, and a wood stove or fireplace for cooking. They are not staffed like the huts in the White Mountains. Campers supply their own food, personal bedding (preferably a sleeping bag), lights, and firewood. Like the shelters and huts in the park, cabins are accessed by foot, not vehicle.

There. Hope that wasn't too confusing!

Next up: a series of environmental entries, starting with clouds and sky drama

Sue
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil