AMC NH High Mountain Hut Traverse – Days 1-3 – 6.13-6.15.2014

I recently completed a traverse of the AMC high mountain huts in NH. The idea was to follow the huts across the White Mountains, as they are positioned to be about a day’s journey apart. I completed the trip successfully with a little help from Summerset who met me on Day 4 to trade out some of my pack items and provide moral support and also came in on Day 8 for the walk into Carter Notch Hut and back out again on Day 9 for the journey back to everyday life.

Along the way, I took pictures and journaled. My journal entries aren’t the most exciting perhaps (and even trivial at times), but they captured my thoughts around each day as I went. The trip really was one of the most impactful events of my entire life. So…here we go with days 1-3. I’ll post 2 more with days 4-6 and then days 7-9 plus some concluding thoughts. Here we go.

Day 1 – 6/13/2014 – Lonesome Lake Hut

Hiked up to Lonesome Lake Hut with my friend Josh O’Brien who flew in from Ohio to do the first section of the hike with me. Summerset dropped us off at the Basin area trailhead in Franconia Notch, then we ascended via Cascade Brook Trail. Very wet, raining. We missed a stream crossing at some point, and realized it as trail got very tough, muddy, unkempt. After a bit, we could see the right trail across the stream, but it was tough to cross – water was high, running fast. We hemmed and hawed, but finally picked a spot, crossed, and the trail was much better. But then we had to cross right back over just a few tenths later to stay on trail. Another challenging crossing. Josh went in crotch deep. COLD water. Thannkfully, that was the last crossing. We slogged up to the hut, checked in, changed into dry clothes and into our happy place. Overall temps in the 50s.

LL Hut layout is like Carter Notch. Main building, but separate bunkhouses and bathroom. Lots of boardwalk and wooden stairs. A very nice place to be. Very well signed, which is key in that area – several trails converge there that can take a hiker in all sorts of directions.

Dinner was chicken parm, bow tie pasta, boreal salad, bread. Banana bread dessert. More croo and croo friends than guests. Very hospitable, all very nice to us and thoughtful.

Josh and I chatted well towards 9:30p solving the problems of the world (or at least our world), then dropped off.

Cell tenuous at LL Hut. 1 bar of 1x on VZW. Could get messsages, but slow. Voice calls worked.

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Josh O’Brien & I are ready to head up to Lonesome Lake Hut.

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View from Cascade Brook Trail.

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Lonesome Lake Hut, westernmost in the AMC high mountain hut chain.

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Overcast at Lonesome Lake as we head out towards Greenleaf Hut.

Day 2 – 6/14/2014 – Greenleaf Hut

Breakfast was pancakes and bacon. Also oatmeal with fixings like dried cranberries, chopped almonds, brown sugar. Josh and I hiked down to Rt.3 via Lonesome Lake Trail, started roughly 8:10am. Still cold and overcast and wet, but not raining. We were drying out. A little windy and raw though. Trail in good shape. Several people going up/down. Kids in ponchos with their Mom, except one drowned rat who had refused to wear one.

Got to the road via Lafayette Campground. Crossed under the highway via tunnel. Then over to Old Bridle Path/Falling Waters trailhead, called Summerset to check in from Josh’s phone, coordinated 1pm pickup. At trailhead, the US Forest Service had a couple of guys in uniform reminding us to stay on trail and tread lightly in the alpine zone. They were very friendly and smiley, but still got their message across. We ascended to lunch rocks area on OBP. Wet, but not boggy. My feet were actually drying. Josh turned around at lunch rocks. He got some clearing in the clouds for views up to Franconia Ridge. We said our goodbyes. I headed up to the hut via “agony ridge”. Quite steep in places, windy and fairly cool. I shed my rain hat and magic rain shell, but still hiked with long sleeves and a different hat for warmth.

Checked into Greenleaf Hut about 12:30p. Claimed bunk, unpacked, hung wet clothes, cleaned up a bit, changed into hut attire. Ate some lunch from my pack. Chatted with a guy from Milford doing the loop over Lincoln/Lafayette. Was resting, on his way down. Napped.

Met a thru hiker on his way south. Chatted about his adventures so far. He was from Skowhegan, Maine. Doing about 15 miles a day average, even in NH. He mentioned a waterfall going through part of the Garfield Ridge trail on the eastern part of the summit cone, IIRC. I guess I’ll know tomorrow.

Many kids here tonight, noisy. Group of 3 or 4 families had planned a trip here. Overall nice noises, though. Not too much arguing. Mostly just excited, happy, exuberant kids being kids. I’m okay with that. Met several other nice folks, including woman who through hiked the AT south to north in 2003. She shared some advice on options for navigating through the Presis, as I’m still undecided as to my route from LotC hut to Maddy. Will probably take the AT (ridgeline) assuming good weather based on her comments.

Dinner was turkey, which was amazing. Moist, delicious. French bread served as round loaves, peas, green salad, mashed (mix) potatoes. Beef and barley soup (also amazing). Mint chocolate cake dessert.

Sun broke under the cloud cover briefly before retreating behind Franconia ridge. Lights out at 9:30p, kids are winding down. Parents cajoling towards toothbrushing, etc. Whee. Looking forward to breakfast.

Cell coverage at Greenleaf Hut flaky but respectable. Able to get hotspot to sync up, so checked mail using iPad. Messages to Summerset delivered quickly for the most part.

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Views to Franconia Ridge from Old Bridle Path. Clouds kept rolling through, so this was a decent clear moment.

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Greenleaf Hut.

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Views to Franconia Ridge from Greenleaf Hut. The day kept improving.

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Greenleaf Hut croo naturalist in a random costume. He was answering questions from the crowd before dinner.

Day 3 – 6/15/2014 – Galehead Hut

Breakfast was egg fritatta, bacon, oatmeal. Day was overcast – completely in a cloud. Also quite windy. It was cold, moist and generally unpleasant. But technically it was not raining. I layered on 2 long sleeve plus 1 short sleeve techwick EMS shirts. Added rain shell. Didn’t want to soak the fleece, but would have worn if required. Stuffed winter hat into hiking pants pocket with velcro flaps.

Left as early as possible, around 7:30a. Ascended towards Lafayette. As soon as above treeline, wind was hard. Blew stiff, estimate 30-50 based on weather predictions. Was enough to move my hiking poles around when I picked them up. Visibility awful. Hiked cairn to cairn. Added winter hat. Then drew hood of shell around tightly. Steep ascent. Wind was evil at the summit. Just not a nice place to be. No sun. Father with his 2 small kids (both middle schoolers to my eye, boys) were hunkered behind a boulder, but said they were fine. A very odd place to bring children.

I got turned around due to the poor visibility and signage and issue with that family at the summit that sort of freaked me out. Ended up following white blazes down, but south instead of north. I realized after a couple of tenths or so that the faint sun I could barely make out was on the wrong side of me, checked GPS to confirm my error, then headed back up. Winds were out of the northwest, so on the other side of Lafayette, it was quite miserable for a while.

Garfield Ridge trail descended in a rough, rocky, moisture laden path over open area for several tenths, I think around a mile. Once below treeline again, the wind died down, but the trail difficulty increased dramatically. A series of steep, technical descents over large boulders and slabs all of which were wet or covered with running water was followed by boggy mud (often with bog bridges in various states of repair) which was followed by steep ascents. In general, GR Trail descends to a point, then ascends steeply back to Mt Garfield, descends to Gale River Trail intersection, then ascends to Galehead Hut. But there were many, many ups and downs populating the trail between those general ups/downs. The greater part of the trail was technical, bouldery, difficult to place feet.

I did summit Garfield, just a short 60 yards or so off trail. No views, still completely in the clouds.

I took my time on this trail, ate as I went. I was carrying almost a gallon of water, and did not run out, But was low when I checked at Galehead Hut.

Sore all over after hike. Upper back, quads, flexors. Feet have minor rub spots on the big toe near the ball of the foot. Just generally raw from being wet nearly all day and fighting grit and sand from muddy trail. (Wore Teva sandals this trip.)

Sun came out in the afternoon, finally I shed shell and winter hat perhaps 2 miles from the hut. Air was not overly warm, retained 3 layers of Techwick shirts. Wind kept up all day. Shirts were amazingly mostly dry when I got to the hut. Moisture around the neck, but about it. Shell almost dry as well. Miracle fabrics starting to make me a believer.

Only 7 guests at the hut, so croo ate dinner with us and chatted. Dinner was stuffed shells, lentil soup, broccoli, salad, honey wheat bread, pumpkin muffins with cheesecake frosting. Croo cook found muffin recipe in Joy of Cooking (that they lugged up the hill) and tried it out. All was great stuff.

I have bunkhouse to myself, got stuff spread all over to dry. Pants have been a frustration – a bit too long. I zipped off the lower legs today. They are the worst today for wetness – hanging to dry, fingers crossed. Everything else mostly good. My hut wear is still dry, which is very nice to have to change into.

Cell coverage is poor at Galehead Hut. Extended service, 1 or 2 bars. Sometimes cycles to Verizon. Then back to extended. Messages to Summerset slow to deliver, if at all.

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Started out the day in a cloud with the wind blowing for the ascent to Lafayette.

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Climb to Lafayette was slightly better than cairn to cairn.

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Things didn’t improve much on the north side of Lafayette heading towards Garfield Ridge. Still windy. Still in a cloud for the most part.

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Beautiful mossy passage along Garfield Ridge Trail.

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View to Galehead Hut from Garfield Ridge trail. See it there in the saddle?

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Almost there. Yes!

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Galehead Hut.

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