Sunset in the Presidential Range
Oi, what a mountainy day! Ups and down predominated, but the overall direction was up, of course. Mizpah Hut was at 3800, I would end at the Lakes of the Clouds Hut at 5000 feet, only 4.7 miles further on. Yes, in time terms, a short day, but.
But the mountains stretched out before me like a line of tenpins. Immediately after leaving Mizpah came a 500 foot climb to the top of Pierce, and I was up above tree line again. I would stay that way for the rest of the day, with only brief flirtatious with stunted trees here and there.
Side note: The odd thing about the AT in the Whites is that every section of trail has a name, and without a good map, sometimes it is impossible to tell which of the named trails is actually the AT. For example, this day I was on the Webster Cliff Trail initially, but had to get onto the Crawford Path later. The AMC does have good signposts at the trail intersections, but it can still be confusing!
After Pierce came Eisenhower. The AT was kind enough to circle this mountain, rather than making one go over a very rocky summit and back down, though there was a trail to the top if I wanted. I didn’t want. The circumventional trail strayed a bit too close to the drop off for my comfort at points, but was pretty easy.
Franklin, I had to summit. I don’t recall it being too hard. I was starting to get the hang of climbing above tree line. Mt. Monroe was another circumvention around the mountain, rather than over, and I was getting excited at this point, because as I came around the curve, there it was… A large AMC hut nestled in the shoulder below Mt.Monroe. The Lakes of the Clouds Hut. And, rising just behind, the unmistakable bulk of Mt. Washington, 1000 feet further up, and the second highest peak on the AT. Excitement gave wings to my feet, and I quickly arrived at the hut.
When I walked in, I just wanted some soup, and then to stay in the “Dungeon”, a shelter for thru-hikers in the basement that costs $10 a night, and serves as an emergency shelter in the winter. Well, I went to look, did not like the look of the place, and did not want to do work for stay that day, I was pretty tired.So what to do?
This is where serenpidity wandered by again, and gave me a big push. Usually these huts are booked months in advance. As I was chatting with the crew member manning the desk, she mentioned that there were still three open bunks. Expensive as it was, I could not pass up the chance to experience this, and pulled out the credit card. One bunk and one unforgettable interlude secured. It was 2:30 and my hike was over for the day.
Oh, oh the view! The dining room stared out directly over the northern Presidential Range, with Mts. Clay, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison (I think) lined up just ahead, with Mt. Washington dominating just to the right. The line of mountains ahead was blue and silhouetted, Mt. Washington was a solid green and white reality that could not help but assert itself.
After I finished gawking at the view (okay, I never really finished), I found a good book about an attempt to climb Everest, and settled down contentedly to read the afternoon away, off my feet.
At some point during the afternoon, one of the crew members was doing a question and answer session outside, and demonstrating with one of the typical packboards they use to carry trash up the mountain, and food down. The Lakes of the Clouds crew has it easier than the rest of the huts – Mt. Washington summit is only a mile and a half away, and there’s the auto road to the top. A lot easier for carrying loads! I tried on the packboard, and my respect for them grew even more – the empty wooden frame alone was 12 lbs! They typically carry between 60-80 lbs on their loads. In contrast, my pack is 25-30 lbs, depending on amount of food and water.
Dinner was at 6:30, so they shooed us all away from the tables at 6:00 so they could set them. And what a dinner it was! Having leftovers in the kitchen during a work for stay did not begin to prepare me for dinner. All dishes were served family style. First came incredibly tasty pumpkin soup, then an Alpine salad… Mmmm, fresh greens! Black bean enchiladas with sour cream, freshly baked bread, cheesecake brownies, coffee, cocoa, ice water. All you can eat. I was so full by the end!
I also had a great group of tablemates – a group from Cincinnati who have been doing sections of the AT for years. This year they were hut hopping through the Whites – I’d been inadvertently pacing them, or vice versa, since Zeeland Hut. We hit it off well, and it was so refreshing to have a meal that involved real conversation, that one could linger over and just enjoy, where no camp chores were required.
Lights out/quiet time was at 9, so I went off to my bunk. The room was full of Boy Scouts and troop leaders, but earplugs muted snoring, the view out the window was incomparable, and I drifted off into a contented sleep. It was a DAY among days.
I hiked on.