Cardigan Lodge

This past week, we had a thoroughly enjoyable two night stay at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Cardigan Lodge. We have been active members of AMC for more than a decade, and this was our first trip to the Alexandria, New Hampshire facility. Cardigan is steeped in history. Nestled into a hillside near the base of Mount Cardigan, the facility is a bit of a hybrid, when it comes to AMC venues. We dubbed it a “hodge” since it is a cross between one of AMC’s high mountain huts and a lodge. Also, uniquely, it is the largest piece of property that our club owns outside of Maine. The lodge sits on 1,200 acres. 

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It is smaller than AMC’s two larger lodges, but has drive up parking, heat, warm showers, and other amenities that huts lack. But unlike a large lodge, it has a “croo” and the character of a hut because you can hike, snowshoe, or ski out the front door onto a terrific mountain landscape.

Cardigan had a major renovation in 2004-2005. This was around the same time that AMC built the Highland Center in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire, so many of the green building lessons learned were also used for the Cardigan project. The insulation and windows are super efficient. Passive solar warms the building. Carpets made from recycled materials, and Low Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) paints were used.

Much like Joe Dodge Lodge and the Highland Center, many day trippers use Cardigan as a base to launch themselves into the mountains. The lodge has a particularly neat gear room just inside the entrance. It is on its own HVAC zone and has its own ventilation. It is the perfect room to stage for a hike, climb, or ski; and when you return, it is the perfect room to dry out your gear.

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Our trip was a short one. We had a couple of nice evening meals (we cooked one and one was provided) and we met some nice folks. The lodge was about half full, though it was booked earlier in the week for the New Year’s holiday. Fortunately, we arrived after the holiday crush. On Friday we snowshoe hiked from AMC’s reservation into Cardigan State Park, which you enter on your way up Mount Cardigan. We hiked, first pulling Shep in the Chariot (on skis), then with him in the backpack. Shep ch0se the Holt Trail, and after 90 minutes of breaking trail, he advised us (in his own sort of way) that it was time to turn back. It worked out for the best.

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He was chilled and was asking for both the lodge and the fireplace. Cardigan is blessed with a wonderful hearth. After a great lunch and a little siesta, I ventured out solo to attack the mountain again. I got to Grand Junction, a point where several trails converge, and once again, opted for the Holt Trail. I got to the point where we had previously turned back, and soon realized why no one had been this way in a while. The trail got steeper and steeper as I hiked. Eventually, I was bushwhacking because it was impossible to find the trail. There were very few blazes on the trees and all the rocks were covered in a foot of snow. I haven’t got the photos to prove my adventure…yet. I shot film and have half a roll left, so it is going to be a while. This digital age thing is crimping my photographic style! 

I pushed onward, while alternating fist punches into the crusty ultra-steep slope, then planting the spikes of my snowshoes one at a time. It was sketchy in the spots where the windblown snow was thin, and exposed rock with a thick layer of ice was beneath. My snowshoes didn’t grab at all. I was wearing a pair of vintage Tubbs running snowshoes, so they weren’t really the right tools for the job. I thought it would be 45 minutes to the top, but it ended up being a 75 minute uphill trip. The last bit was a scramble from rock to rock (minimal snow on the bare summit) and I did that while holding my snowshoes in my hands. Eventually, they became a liability. I donned my shell, and then I sat behind the fire tower on the 3,121 foot summit for several minutes. I absorbed the 360 degree view that makes Cardigan so special. The wind was blowing steady, but it wasn’t bad at all. I walked down to where the snow got deep again, put on my snowshoes, and ran back to the lodge via the Clark Trail and Holt-Clark Cutoff Trail. The descent took 35 minutes. I was proud of my 105 minute round trip, but knew that given the chance, Debbie would beat that time. Regardless, I had a blast. 

On Saturday morning, Debbie got up early and smoked it. She ran most of the way, though she avoided the Holt Trail, and went up and back on the Holt-Clark Trail/Clark Trail combination. She was up in 60 minutes and down in less than 30 minutes. She must have killed it on the descent. I would never have kept up. She came back very happy, which was the whole point of spending a few days in the mountains.

Good beginner hikes link for Mount Cardigan.

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