Hut to Hut in the White Mountains: Family Style

Last week, we had a wonderful family trip to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. This adventure was unlike many of our past adventures to the mountains. Shepard (2 years, 10 months) joined us for the fun. Debbie planned a point to point hike to perfection.

On Wednesday, we parked at the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Highland Center Lodge in Crawford Notch and then took AMC’s Hiker Shuttle over to Franconia Notch. We unloaded our backpacks and Shepard, and then began our walk. We had a short hike (3 miles) straight up the Old Bridle Path trail to Greenleaf Hut.

Greenleaf Hut and Mt. Lafayette.

AMC’s high mountain hut system is fabulous. Debbie and I have been to all eight of these hostels, and after this trip, Shep has now been to four. His first, Mizpah Spring Hut, was at nine weeks old. We carried him in the front pack then, but this trip, he was on our backs. Each had has its own unique character. They all operate within the same system. You get a bunk, a pillow and case, wool blanket, and two hot meals (dinner and breakfast). They all share wonderful history. Greenleaf is at a stunning location on the shoulder of 5260 foot Mt. Lafayette. Wednesday afternoon was muggy and overcast, but just as we arrived at the hut, blue skies appeared. The sunset was spectacular, though we were pretty knackered from the walk up and climbed into our bunks shortly after 8:00 P.M.. We hadn’t carried heavy packs like this in a while.

We used our Deuter Kid Comfort II to carry Shep. Our version is three years old, but the design hasn’t changed much. We have a ton of feedback to provide Deuter, if they are open to listening. Prior to this trip, we used this pack for up to six hours at a time, but 24 hours of hiking over four days on some of the most rugged trails in New England, was a whole new proving ground. The plan was for Deb to carry Shep and for me to carry enough gear for the three of us. The Deuter has a metal frame and several pockets to store stuff in addition to the kid. The Deuter with Shep weighed 40 pounds. My pack loaded with food and water weighed a bit more. It turned out that we had to alternate carrying Shep.

2009_White Mountain Hut to Hut Hike 31 - Version 2

The Deuter required much more balance because the load (the kid) is much higher and shifts when he moves or if you are on unstable ground (all of the White Mountains). You can’t lean forward too far and you can’t sit down to slide on rocks. Your hip flexors get overworked pretty quickly. The pack itself just isn’t designed for that kind of distance, though I’m not sure if there is anything better on the market. Our Ergo Baby Carrier is a much better solution for short hikes. We use it extensively for walks up to three hours. However, it is all cloth, has no frame, and no foul weather accessories (sun cover/rain cover). It also has no storage. The position of the child right up against your back is great for naps, but offers no ventilation for either person. We felt that the Deuter was the better choice for backpacking. We are not sure what we will do next time. In the extreme environment of the White Mountains, you have to be prepared for any weather. We were blessed with only moderate winds on the summits, and the rain was mostly a nuisance rather than being dangerous. However, all of us, including Shepard, have the right clothing for the conditions we faced. It is important for both parents, especially the one carrying the child, to have the necessary gear. You never know if you are going to get split up.

2009_White Mountain Hut to Hut Hike 627 - Version 2

We were prepared. Our son was never uncomfortable, though he never napped, which was tough on all of us. The trip was fantastic. On day two, we hiked from Greenleaf to Galehead Hut via the Greenleaf Trail and the Garfield Ridge Trail. This was our longest day. The 7.7 miles took nine hours and 10 minutes. We had lots of breaks, including 30 minutes on the summit of Lafayette. The Garfield Ridge Trail was tough, but thrilling, with lots of exposed rock.

Galehead Hut.

It was great to return to Galehead. It is one of the most remote huts and is nestled a half mile below the 4024 foot summit of Galehead Mountain. On day three, we awoke to heavy rain. This is the day that really tested all of us. We knew the forecast in advance and were ready for the challenge. The trails were quite soggy, but again, late in the day, we had just enough clearing to snap some great photos from Zeacliff. As we were approaching the hut, we met up with old friend, Matt Schomburg. We last saw Matt riding away on his motorcycle from Grafton Notch State Park on Labor Day Weekend 2008. Deb, Matt, and I completed a one day 42 mile circumnavigation of the Grafton Trail Loop. Matt had wintered in Antarctica (their summer) and recently returned from a month-long stopover in New Zealand. He was fit as usual and ready to tackle his White Mountain National Forest Ranger responsibilities. It was great to see Matt.

Matt Schomburg.

The seven miles took six hours and 45 minutes. We took the Twinway Trail all the way to Zealand Falls Hut. On 1 January 2005, we completed our New Hampshire 4000 footers with an ascent of Zealand Mountain, and spent a wintry night at Zealand Falls Hut. That was the last time that we took in the spectacular Pemigewasset Wilderness view from the porch. This time, it was a Friday night, and the hut was full of hikers getting an early start to the weekend. We had a lively dinner and a good night of sleep.

Zealand Falls Hut.

Our final day was a four and a half hour hike over 5.5 miles back to the Highland Center in Crawford Notch. Our last tough climb was most of the way up Mt. Tom. The majority of the hike was on the A-Z Trail and the Avalon Trail. We spent our final night in the mountains at the Highland Center, one of AMC’s greenest buildings. The huts themselves, are quite green too, and have been for years. They are powered by a combination of propane, solar, and wind power, though their power consumption is very low. Water pumps and a few lights are all that is required. Zealand is unique in that it is also powered by hydro power from Whitewall Brook, which is right out the front door. Hearing the rushing water as you doze off is a real treat.

Like all of AMC’s facilities, the huts offer a great learning experience. All of the Hut Croos are staffed with a resident Naturalist, who present a daily program for guests. There are also Junior Naturalist programs for children. Interpretative displays demonstrate the importance of maintaining our environment, hightlight the joys of wilderness, and illustrate sustainability through best practices. After four days, all three of us could have kept on going. We would have loved to visit Mizpah Spring Hut again, then gone on to Lakes of the Clouds, Madison Spring, and Carter Notch. Maybe next time. Deb chose the Greenleaf-Galehead-Zealand combo because of logistics. They seemed like the best three to take a kid too, though Lonesome Lake, the most westerly hut, is the one geared most to families.

Lovely.

This trip could not have been any more different than our Memorial Day Weekend adventure in western Maine. On that trip, we covered the same distance (23 miles) in one day, then followed that up the next day with another 15 mile hike/run and a 35 mile bike ride. Of course, we had left one important item at home…Shep.

Lady Slipper.

He had a wonderful learning experience. He referred to the huts as “houses.” He was intrigued by the Clivus Multrum composting toilets, though we realized they are not kid friendly. You could easily lose a curious three year old down that big of a hole. Deb and I got to look at things differently. We were forced to slow down, observe the flowers, listen to the water, and focus on each footstep in a meditative way. There was no hustling. There was no peak bagging. We skipped all the side trails and extra summits. We spent time sharing the wilderness experience with Shep. He pointed out every tree that had fallen on the side of the trail and frequently suggested that someone needed get a wood chipper to take care of the “mess.” He requested frequent “snacks” and “breaks.” We gave him ample time to scramble over the rocks and splash in puddles. His most important question was whether or not there was a “payloader and dump truck” at the next house. He asked that question many times. Kids have a one track mind and he wasn’t truly happy until we emerged from the woods in Crawford Notch and promptly came upon a tractor.

Tractor.

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