Sunday, April 17, 2011

"Destinations: New Hampshire's White Mountains," by Aimee.

In the heart of the White Mountains of New Hampshire, lies a chain of huts at varying altitudes from the roadside all the way up to 5,000 feet on the shoulder of Mt. Washington. These seasonal high huts, and year-round low huts offer spectacular scenic outlooks of the mountain range and valleys and are run by the extremely eco-friendly and conservation-steward, Appalachian Mountain Club. (Even though I live in Tampa, Fl, I have been a AMC member at the low rate of ($25 (under age 30)-50.00/p.p, $75.00 for a family,) each year for membership, and every year made my savings back in discounts on lodging and gear.)

My Mom and I have been making yearly trips to hike in the Whites since 1994 (for 17 years!) and every year we have stayed at one or more of these fabulously run huts or lodges. (See photo below for huts & altitudes). There are 48 mountains in New Hampshire at an altitude over 4,000 feet and it has been our goal since that first hike up Mt. Washington in 1994 (when I was nine) to hike all of them. Currently: we have TEN left! The AMC huts provide access to most of these mountain summits. (Advance Lodging Reservations usually required, made easily at For trail suggestions and ability level recommendations, please visit the AMC's 4000'er planning guide.

There are two roadside Visitor Centers that offer a plethora of family-oriented activities: the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center and the Highland Center (formerly: Crawford Notch Hostel) on either side of Mt. Washington. The others require a little (or a lot) of effort to reach! So here is my review of each of the Appalachian Mountain Club huts:

Family style dining at the Highland Center
THE HIGHLAND CENTER (roadside at Crawford Notch): The Highland Center offers family adventures and activities, year-round, from local hikes (around the lake, 3-mile Red Bench trail (Mt. Washington view), to hiking Mt. Avalon (3,430 ft), Mt. Tom (4,051 ft) & Mt. Field (4,331 ft) or as a starting point for all destination trails of Mt. Washington, this hut sits nestled on the Appalachian Trail in the valley of Crawford Notch, NH. It is one of "The Top 50 Ecolodges Worldwide" -National Geographic, and with several economic lodging options: bunk rooms for families/college groups and hotel-style rooms and the Shapleigh Bunkhouse hostel bunkroom for $40/night, is extremely affordable for singles and families. The meals (dinner & breakfast) are included and a great way to meet new people, fellow hikers/travelers from all over North America with the "family style" dining options.

The Highland Center (and Aimee)
I have stayed here in both summer and winter and have been very comfortable in both seasons. I like their eco-friendly laundry/towel/sheets policies, and the family style dining. They have a great gear store as well in case you forgot anything and want to buy it: otherwise you can borrow any of the gear you could possibly need from the L.L.Bean Gear Room for FREE.  A great way to "test before you buy!" (Although, with Bean's 100% guarantee, I've never been dissatisfied with their products/customer service!)
Aimee & winter at the Highland Center

Mom (Liz) at Pinkham Notch (2010
On the other side of Mt. Washington lies the only other roadside Visitor's Center: PINKHAM NOTCH VISITOR'S CENTER. Pinkham Notch offers the same family friendly lodging and adventure guides for on-site trips, as well as a starting point for all trails north of, and up Mt. Washington, including the legendary Tuckerman's and Huntington's Ravines. The mountains north of Wash include the beautiful, rugged and remote Carter Range (which includes Carter Hut, Carter Dome (4,832 ft), South Carter (4,430 ft), Middle Carter (4,610 ft) and Mt. Moriah (4,049 ft) and the Wildcat Range (which includes Wildcat (A Peak- 4,422 ft,) Wildcat D (4,401 ft) mountains.) Pinkham Notch also provides easy access to the Mt. Washington Auto Road and the North Country peaks: Mt. Waumbek (4,006 ft), and Mt. Cabot (4,167ft).
Aimee & view from Mt. Height, Summer 2010
While the most famous peaks here offer great views: one relatively unknown and uncountable peak (too near the summit of Carter Dome) offers 360 degree views at sky-level: Mt. Height. (See photo right) This surreal bit of heaven should NOT be missed. 

Aimee & Liz almost at Carter Hut, 2010.
CARTER NOTCH HUT offers access to both the Wildcat Range and the Carter Range, and is a both a full service (full meals) and self-service hut (pack in your own food/water) depending on the season. Located nestled in the valley between Carter Dome and Wildcat D peak, the hut is also open for snowshoers and nordic skiiers in the winter. (Be advised: this is no easy winter snow trek, even though the trail is only 3.6 miles, you still gain an altitude of 1,300 feet in elevation from Pinkham Notch.) The notch views of the lake and the rock ramparts are also bucket list views as well. 

Aimee & Liz: Breakfast at Carter Hut, Summer 2010.
The Presidential Range, which includes: Mt. Adams (5,774 ft), Mt. Jefferson (5,712 ft), Mt. Madison (5,367 ft), Mt. Eisenhower (4,780 ft), Mt. Jackson (4,052 ft), Isolation (4,003 ft), Madison (5,367 ft), Munroe (5,372 ft), Mt. Pierce (4,310 ft) and Mt. Washington (6,288 ft) is home to three of the AMC's  high-altitude huts: Lakes of the Clouds, Madison and Mizpah Huts.

Lakes of the Clouds Hut from
descent of Washington cone.
Lakes of the Clouds Hut (Alt: 5, 050 feet)
LAKES OF THE CLOUDS HUT: Lakes was my favorite childhood hut, on the shoulder of Mt. Washington. The nighttime views of the sky and stars from the hut are unsurpassable in beauty and scope. (The views make midnight bathroom runs are that much more fun getting up for!) I've stayed at Lakes about four times in different kinds of weather: torrential downpours, fog, cloudless-vistas, hot and cold weather, and this hut, being the highest altitude hut in the AMC system, does require alternative routes in case of bad weather (as do Madison Hut, Galehead and Greenleaf huts). Lakes features giant bunk-rooms where hikers stay with strangers, which is all part of the experience. Recent renovations have sectioned off the larger old "gender" bunk rooms into smaller bunk rooms. Family style benches and long tables can feed up to eighty people per night, and the hut is usually full on weekends in the summer. There is a library of books to read, and maps to look at and a century of guest logs to check out to find your past trip salutations. 
Josh & I: Summit of Washington in '08.

On the Northwest shoulder of Mt. Washington, sitting nestled between Mt. Madison and Mt. Adams, is MADISON HUT. One of my most memorable hikes, (because I hiked both of these 5,000'ers with mononucleosis in college) this is a popular night-time summit hike from the hut up to the top of Madison. Many hikers have dinner, then grab a bottle of water to run up and see the sun set from the top of the Mt. Madison and then hike down with headlamps and flashlights back to the hut for the night. I remember hiking Mt. Adams in June of '97, and being surprised to see a huge patch of snow of the side of the mountain! Like Galehead Hut, and Greenleaf Huts, Madison offers a bit of that remote wilderness to only be reached only by foot on the rugged climb in. 
Aimee at Madison Hut in 1997.

Propellor Blade at Lakes Hut
Moving away from Mt. Washington, south, are the rest of the huts. Directly south of Lakes of the Clouds hut is MIZPAH HUT, with an infamously high ceiling inside, one that hosts a few signs from the other huts, impossibly out of reach for the midnight hut crew thief in the AMC Hut Croo's infamous game of Raiding. Most famously, the 75lb airplane propeller blade, which was showcased at Lakes for years has gone missing. Mizpah is a moderate altitude hut (3,800 ft) but it boasts proximity to one of the best trails in the Whites: the Webster Cliff trail. (See photo below) This trail is a part of the Appalachian Trail, but should not be traveled in inclement weather because the trail hugs the cliff for it's entirety. Also: I do not recommend this trail if you are afraid of heights because some of the rock scrambles are formidable!

View from Webster Cliff Trail

Aimee & Liz at Mizpah Hut, 1996.
Traveling further south, you would hike down from Mizpah to the Highland Center (roadside) and then (if you are continuing on the Appalachian Trail) to ZEALAND HUT. Zealand is a family friendly 2.8 mile moderately flat hike in, (from Zealand Rd. via Zealand Trail). It is open year-round as a full and self service hut (see AMC's webpage for details). 

Aimee & Liz at Galehead Hut in '94.
The next hut in the chain of day hikes is GALEHEAD HUT: which is my family's favorite. A vigorous hike to in any direction, getting to Galehead is a truly satisfying accomplishment that also rewards you with delicious meals, crisp clean mountain air and spectacular views from Galehead (4,024), North (4,760 ft) and South Twin (4,902 ft), Garfield (4,495 ft), Bond (4,698 ft), West Bond (4,540 ft) and Bondcliff (4,265) over the untamed Pemigewasset Wilderness.
Galehead is still my favorite hut, even after reaching it at 8PM after twelve solid hours of hiking in torrential downpour, thunderstorms and hail from Greenleaf Hut on July 4th, 2009. (Probably suffering hyponatremia, dehydration and mild hypothermia.) Which reminds me to remind you to make sure to pack warm wool gear even in the midst of summer in the Whites.
Aimee & Mom at Galehead Hut, '09

In reverse: the next hut would be (heading south) GREENLEAF HUT. On the shoulder of the infamously treacherous and deadly Mt. Lafayette (5,249 ft) and the Franconia Ridge: which also includes Lincoln (5,089 ft), Haystack (4,780 ft), Flume (4,328 ft) and Liberty (4,459 ft).

Aimee & Liz at Greenleaf Hut in 1995.

Aimee & Mom at Greenleaf Hut w/ whiteout views, '09
Bill Bryson wrote in his famous book A Walk in the Woods about stopping at Greenleaf Hut for lunch, after a dismally dangerous hike in icy fog over the Franconia Ridge (a summer trip) writes, "Every guidebook, every experienced hiker, every signboard beside every trailhead parking lot warns you that the weather in the White Mountains can change in an instant. Stories of campers who go for a stroll along sunny heights in shorts and sneakers only to find themselves, three or four hours later, stumbling to unhappy deaths in freezing fog are the stuff of every campfire, but they are also true...I understood now [after climbing Mt. Lafayette] how people die in he White Mountains even in summer."

South of Greenleaf, is only LONESOME LAKE HUT. Like Zealand Falls Hut, Lonesome is a four-season hut, and is easily accessed for families. For the peak baggers, it is located in proximity to the Kinsmans: South Kinsman (4,358 ft) and North Kinsman (4,253 ft).


1. With knowledge and gear. Become self reliant by learning about the terrain, conditions, local weather and your equipment before you start.
2. To leave your plans. Tell someone where you are going, the trails you are hiking, when you will return and your emergency plans.
3. To stay together. When you start as a group, hike as a group, end as a group. Pace your hike to the slowest person.
4. To turn back. Weather changes quickly in the mountains. Fatigue and unexpected conditions can also affect your hike. Know your limitations and when to postpone your hike. The mountains will be there another day.
5. For emergencies. Even if you are headed out for just an hour, an injury, severe weather or a wrong turn could become life threatening. Don’t assume you will be rescued; know how to rescue yourself.
6. To share the hiker code with others.
  •  Get Maps and the 28th AMC White Mountain Guidebook for essential trail descriptions and information: