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Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Return to Lakes of the Clouds Hut

Sunday, August 15, 2021 

Hi Blog!

The main reason we stayed in Twin Mountain, New Hampshire, was to be close enough to hike in the White Mountains and visit an Appalachian Mountain Club Hut. When we first started hiking and backpacking, we didn't know anything about high mountain huts. When we joined the AMC to take classes in wilderness first aid and map and compass, we learned all about them. Before we retired, we did three different nine hour trips from Philly. The first trip was the Pemigewasset Huts - Greenleaf, Galehead and Zealand. The next trip was the Presidential Huts - Madison, Lakes of Clouds and Mizpah Springs. On our last trip, we strung together all 8 huts starting with Carter Notch and ending with Lonesome Lake. It was after that last nine day trek that we thought "wouldn't it be nice if we had our house at the trailhead." And thus, the idea of becoming full-time RVers was born.

Each time we come back through New Hampshire on our RV travels, we try and visit a different hut. In 2012, we had an overnight at Lonesome Lake. If you are curious, you can click the link to our 2012 blog. We also had a chance to re-visit Galehead Hut as a day hike on our 13 Falls Backpack. It's hard to believe it has been nine years since we've last been in New Hampshire. Unfortunately, we only had a week in the area this time, so we could only squeeze in a visit to one hut. We decided it would be Lakes of the Clouds.

We spent much of the day on Saturday going over weather forecasts, deciding what layers to bring and stuffing our packs. A thunderstorm blew through that afternoon, and Sunday promised to be clear and cooler. We hit the trailhead early to make sure we got a parking spot. As we hit the trail, Kathy was still bundled up against the chilly morning mist.

We began our hike on the Crawford Connector which leads from the White Mountain National Forest parking lot over to the Crawford Path. The Crawford Path is an 8.5-mile-long hiking trail in the White Mountains of New Hampshire that is considered to be the United States' oldest continuously maintained hiking trail. 

The trail travels from Crawford Notch to the summit of Mount Washington. The first iteration of the Crawford Path was cut in 1819 by Ethan Allen Crawford and his father, Abel Crawford. The trail ascends a cumulative 4,900 feet, first through densely wooded forest for about 3.1 miles, then following the exposed southern ridge of the Presidential Range mostly above the treeline. The sounds of Gibbs Brook accompanied us the first couple miles.

There are certain milestones along the trail. The first one is the Cutoff to the Mizpah Spring Hut. By the time we reached it, we had hiked a couple miles, the jackets had come off and morning mist had given way to dappled sunlight.

After three miles, we left the forest behind and entered the Alpine Zone. We got our first good looks at Mt. Eisenhower and Mt. Monroe. Mt. Washington is still hiding in the distance. At this point, we felt good and our destination was only 4 miles away. 

As we made our way through the col between Mt. Pierce and Mt. Eisenhower, the winds were really strong. The cold front that came through the previous day and brought the rain was still working its way through our area.

We had a choice: go over Mt. Eisenhower or go around. Since we knew we would be back this way on Monday, we decided to go around rather than face gale force winds.

With hats and jackets back on, we ducked behind some rocks for a quick snack.

As we continued along the col between Eisenhower and Madison, we came to a short side trail to Mount Franklin. The "mountain" is named after Benjamin Franklin and is part of the Presidential Range of the White Mountains. Although well over 4,000 feet in height, the Appalachian Mountain Club doesn't consider Franklin a "four-thousand footer" because it stands no more than 65 feet above the col on the ridge from Mount Monroe, making it a secondary summit of that peak. However, the open rocky summit makes the perfect place for the helicopter to bring in trail crew supplies.

Off in the distance in the photo below, we finally caught sight of the summit of Mount Washington.  Mount Washington is the highest peak in the Northeastern United States at 6,288.2 feet and the most topographically prominent mountain east of the Mississippi River. The mountain is notorious for its erratic weather. On the afternoon of April 12, 1934, the Mount Washington Observatory recorded a windspeed of 231 miles per hour at the summit, the world record from 1934 until 1996. Mount Washington still holds the record for highest measured wind speed not associated with a tornado or tropical cyclone. The Mount Washington Cog Railway ascends the western slope of the mountain, and the Mount Washington Auto Road climbs to the summit from the east. 

As we reached Mt. Monroe, the winds were still gusty, so we decided to hike around the base. As we came around to the far side, we got our first view of the Lakes of the Clouds Hut:

The Lakes of the Clouds Hut is the highest and largest hut in the AMC hut system. It was built as a shelter in 1901 in response to the deaths of two hikers the previous year who were caught in a storm on their way to an AMC meeting atop Mount Washington. Although it is the highest of the huts, at an elevation of 5,030 feet, it is the most easily accessible due to its proximity to the summit of Mount Washington, accessible both by car and by the Mount Washington Cog Railway. It is located adjacent to its namesake Lakes of the Clouds, two small alpine tarns, and just below the 5,372 ft summit of Mount Monroe. 

We wasted no time masking up, checking in, dropping our packs and tucking into a steaming bowl of soup.

After lunch, we walked up to view the glacial tarns which gave the hut its name.

Kathy couldn't resist dipping her toes in the icy water. After seven miles of up hill hiking, she reports that it felt great!

While the summit of Mount Washington was only 1.4 miles away, we decided "been there, done that" and settled for a short hike up the Crawford Path that would allow us a great view of the Lakes of Clouds and the hut.

We returned to the hut, put on our crocks and grabbed our Happy Hour snack bag complete with box-o-wine, cheese, french bread and olives. We enjoyed greeting a number of thru hikers as they made their way past and on toward the summit.

After dinner, we bundled up and ventured out into the open col to take in the sunset.

The cold north wind had cleared out most of the clouds. We had amazing views as the sun slowly dipped below the horizon.

As we settled in for the night, we realized we had a problem. The overnight lows were expected to be around 40 degrees. We had anticipated sleeping in our zero degree sleeping bags with open windows, so we came prepared. However, several others did not and protested leaving the windows open all night. We were out-voted. We did our best to keep six feet away, wear our masks and hope for the best.  

The best was not to be.  After returning, David tested positive for Covid and caught symptoms resembling a cold.  But that's another story.

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