2016 White Mountains Hut to Hut Adventure

For the July 4th weekend, we returned to New Hampshire’s White Mountains for an awesome hut to hut adventure. Once again, Debbie planned a fun trip for the four of us to take. The itinerary had us start in Franconia Notch and finish in Crawford Notch.

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So, with Horst Engineering closed from Friday through Monday for the holiday, we had a window of opportunity to head north. Friday morning, we drove to the Appalachian Mountain Club’s (AMC) Highland Center in Crawford Notch. We stashed our bags and one of my bicycles in the lodge’s gear room before changing into our hiking gear and driving to Lafayette Place Campground in Franconia Notch State Park. Regular readers of this blog will know that Debbie and I are very active and enthusiastic AMC members. We have both served on the Board of Advisors for 15 years and I joined the Board of Directors in January. If you haven’t experienced AMC’s high mountain huts, then you are missing out. In addition to the huts, AMC (and others) manage numerous backcountry campsites if you are into camping on your own. The beauty of the huts, especially when hiking these distances with kids, is that you don’t need to carry all of the food, the tent, sleeping pads, or sleeping bags. With a roof over your head, full service breakfast/dinner, and a bunk/blankets, you can carry less and cover more ground.

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Lafayette Place is where we left our car. Once free of the vehicle, we set off on foot destined again, for the Highland Center, but first with stops at three of AMC’s famed high mountain huts: Greenleaf, Galehead, and Zealand Falls. Our family has a love affair with the huts. Many of our best adventures have taken place in the White Mountains. Debbie have been traveling to northern New Hampshire as a couple since we first met in 1999. Our children have joined us on trips north since 2006 when we took our son to Mizpah Spring Hut at nine weeks old. He has since been to the other eight huts.

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This most recent trip completed the set for our daughter, who at six, is three years younger than our son. The hike from Lafayette Place to Greenleaf was a good warm up for the next three days. It was a short 3.0 miles from the parking lot to the front steps of the hut, but it was straight uphill. We were a little late for dinner, which always starts promptly at 6:00 P.M., but we joined the rest of the guests when we arrived. The weather was good, though just as we arrived it started to sprinkle and we heard thunder in the distance. By the end of dinner, a wave of thunderstorms blew in, dumping two inches of rain on the mountain in only a matter of hours. The thunderstorm brought back bad memories from our 2013 one day Hut Traverse, when a t-storm pinned us down on the slopes of Mt. Lafayette.

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Our 2013 traverse was supposed to improve upon the time that it took us to do the same route in 2011. Both of those adventures were painful efforts and until recently, I swore off ever making another attempt. However, hanging out with the Greenleaf Croo and chatting about the traverse has made me think that we might try it again. I so badly want to do it on a perfect weather day when I’m at peak fitness. We had issues both times and Debbie and I know we can cover the distance in less time than it took us in the past.

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The evening at Greenleaf was fantastic. The four of us slept well and we were up early for breakfast. The sunrise was really nice. We departed shortly after breakfast, knowing that we had a long way to go over difficult terrain, if we were going to reach Galehead by dinner. The summit of Lafayette was windy and damp. It was cold and ice formed on our gloves. The kids were super strong as we made our way across the Garfield Ridge, which was wind whipped. Once we got down the backside and got out of the wind, we were able to pick up the pace going down into the col between Mt. Lafayette and Mt. Garfield. We hadn’t seen too many people, but then our friend, Brian Rusiecki, came around the corner. He was running the 36 +/- mile Pemigewasset Loop in the counter-clockwise direction. He was training for Vermont 100 and UTMB later this summer. It was great to see him and chat for a few minutes before he ran off in the direction of Lafayette.

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The climb up Garfield was rough and slow. I remembered this section of the trail going in this direction from the last time we did the Franconia to Crawford hike. That was back in 2009 when our son was just shy of three years old. Debbie, who was six months pregnant, and I alternated carrying him in our Deuter pack. That was hard! This time, the kids went the entire distance on their own feet, even carrying their own packs. The views from the summit of Garfield were spectacular. We lingered a bit before continuing on our way. The hardest part about this section of trail was the descent to Galehead. The trail was still draining from the prior night’s rain storm and that made the rocks slick. We got down it without incident, but the climbing wasn’t over as the last bit to the hut was uphill again. We were all ready to get there after 7.7 miles and nearly 11 hours on our feet.

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We didn’t arrive until 7:00 P.M. at the end of dinner, but the Croo was kind enough to accommodate us. After dinner, my son and I hiked the 0.6 of a mile to the summit of Mt. Galehead. We witnessed a great sunset. Upon our return to the hut, we got to hear a couple of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers talk about their experiences on the trail. We were all ready for bed by 9:00 P.M. and had another good night of rest.

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In the morning, after breakfast, we got another prompt start since we had to go another 7.0 miles to reach Zealand Falls. The Twinway Trail connects the two huts and the route isn’t as difficult as the prior section between Greenleaf and Galehead, but it is still tough. The hardest part of the trail was the first 0.9 to the summit of South Twin. This took some time and gave my son and me the opportunity to make an excursion to North Twin, another one of New Hampshire’s 48 4,000 foot peaks. Debbie and I have hiked all of the 4,000 footers of New England. He and I ditched our packs and made the 2.6 mile round trip in good time. We were able to catch up to Debbie and our daughter soon after our return to the summit of South Twin. The 360 degree view from the summit was fantastic and is likely the best view I’ve seen in the White Mountains.

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We had a great day on the trail. The weather was lovely with bright sunshine. We made the short detour to the summit of Mt. Zealand, which was the last of the New Hampshire 4,000 footers that Debbie and I hiked to complete our list back in 2004. On the way to the hut, we also stopped at Zeacliff, which also had a nice view of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Without as much elevation change, we finally made it to a hut before dinner. Afterwards, we had time to relax by Zealand Falls. After breakfast on Monday, we took our time to get going. We only had 5.5 miles to cover on our way back to the Highland Center in Crawford Notch. The weather was even better than Sunday.

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Once again, my son and I took a side trip. We went ahead of the girls and climbed Mt. Tom (1.2 miles round trip) and then climbed Mt. Field (1.8 miles round trip) before meeting back up. Those two mountains were the 7th and 8th that our son got on the trip. Our daughter managed four, which is pretty good for her short legs! We were back in the notch by 3:30 P.M., which gave me time to ride my bike the 23 miles back to Franconia Notch to fetch the car and return before dinner. Our friends, the Schomburg’s, met us for dinner and fun on the mountain playscape.

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This was one of our best trips ever. My son and I covered 30 miles over the four days. Debbie and our daughter covered about 24. The children are very proud of their accomplishment, and we are very proud of them. As they get stronger, we are looking forward to many more trail miles with them.

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