Home » 2009 White Mountains Backpacking Trip

Ethan Pond Shelter, NH

Thursday, June 4, 2009 - 3:45pm by Andrew
15 miles and 8 hours from our last stop - 1 night stay


Galehead HutGalehead HutWe woke up with the alarm at 6:00, after a restful 9 ½ hours of sleep. The daily morning activities once again took us way longer than they should have, and it was almost 8:00 before we had our packs on our backs and were ready to go. We were still one of the first groups out of the campground, and as we passed by still-sleeping campers we noticed an array of dirty plates and miscellaneous food left outside one of their tents. I began to wonder if they were the stupid ones, or we were, and if the entire bear-bagging fiasco that took place last night could have been avoided. We learned about 20 minutes later on the trail when we met a wildlife biologist who was studying songbirds that bears don’t go up to these high elevations and that he never bags his food in these areas. Apparently campsites with frequent bear visits have signs making you aware of this. Oh well, at least now we know.

Nik conquering South TwinNik conquering South TwinWe had a 2.6-mile hike to Galehead Shelter – our first visit to one of the AMC White Mountain Huts. We didn’t really know what to expect, but the whole hut system turned out to be a lot fancier and more involved than we would have thought. They’re basically a series of really nice shelters built within a relatively casual day’s hike that are used for hikers willing to spend $90 a night for a bunk bed and 2 nice meals prepared by the caretakers. Some of the shelters have running water, and they all have a full kitchen that allows for some really intense meals to be prepared for the guests.

Anyway, there was no one staying at Galehead shelter when we passed through, but we did chat with the caretaker who gave us a note to deliver to her caretaker friends at Zealand Shelter when she heard we were headed that direction. We also learned something important from the caretaker here, which is that the AMC shelters don’t usually have camping areas for backpackers and that backpackers can't even camp within 1/4 mile of AMC huts. Since we had planned our trip with overnights at the shelters, we had the feeling that some tweaking would need to be done in the upcoming nights. We did, however, have the treat of filling up our Nalgenes with fresh tap water and using a real bathroom for the first time in a few days. Looking in the mirror, I was surprised at how grimy my appearance had become after such a short time.

South Twin SummitSouth Twin SummitWe sat outside on the shelter porch eating gorp for a while before moving on. We chatted with a middle-aged woman with two cute little dogs who warned us that the climb we had coming up to the summit of South Twin Mountain was one of the harder ones we’d encounter. It was less than a mile to the summit, but generally takes close to 75 minutes to hike. In turns out that this lady was a very serious hiker who was very familiar with the area, and thru-hiked the AT a few years ago with both of her cute little dogs (one of whom remained zipped up in her jacket when he got tired). She also informed us that we had a really nice section upcoming with spectacular views from South Twin, Mt. Guyot, and Zeacliff.

ZeacliffZeacliffThe climb up South Twin was certainly a beast, and both of us were eating it pretty hard at points. However, the view from the top was indeed spectacular and we stopped there for a bit to take some pictures. After South Twin, we descended back under tree line before coming out onto Zeacliff. This was also really cool, as it was a somewhat different and more unique view than we’d seen thus far, with green mountains covered in vegetation rather than the rocky and exposed mountains along Franconia Ridge. We hiked up a bit more until we got to Zealand Mountain. By this point, both of us were pretty tired and about ready to call it a day. We decided that we could muster up enough energy to take the side trail to the peak of Zealand, but this turned out to be quite a disappointment, as the peak was still below treeline and therefore did not have much of a view (see picture). We did, however, reach a clearing a little bit down the trail that was actually really cool. Unfortunately, after this viewpoint, morale started to plummet. We were both exhausted, and Zealand Falls Hut, which was hopefully our endpoint for the day turned out to be a fair amount farther than we’d expected. At one point we both just lied down in the middle of the trail – hungry, tired, and feet sore from the rocky trail. I think we both can agree that this was one of the top 3 “eating its” of the trip.

Finally, the trail widened and we saw some water pumping infrastructure indicating that we had to be close to an AMC Shelter. We crossed the river leading to Zealand Falls and made our way to the hut. Unlike Galehead, this hut was full of guests, so we were able to witness the experience a bit more closely. It was now 6:30 and the guests were being served a 5-course meal provided to them by the caretakers, and this process involved lots of singing, bell-ringing and other fanfare. As we dragged our grimy bodies inside to fill our Nalgenes, we suddenly felt a bit out of place. The guests were being served all sorts of fancy soups, breads, pastas, etc. and Nik and I were passing back and forth a huge block of cheese that we took turns gnawing at. The contrast was huge, but for the most part they seemed to be very impressed to see “real hikers”. I suddenly felt much more hardcore and much more capable than I had 20 minutes earlier sitting in the middle of the trail complaining.

Spectacular view from Zealand Mt.Spectacular view from Zealand Mt.We talked to the caretakers for a bit, who informed us that the nearest established backpacker campsite was unfortunately Ethan Pond Shelter, 4 miles further, but that there were a few places that we could probably backcountry camp along the way. We looked at the map, and saw that the 4 miles to Ethan Pond were very flat, so we toyed with the idea of going all the way, but decided that we’d see how we felt once we got started again. Fortunately, they also informed us that our plan for camping tomorrow night at Mizpah Spring’s shelter would not have to change because there is also the Nauman Tent Platforms there as well. Lucky us.

Lookout after Zealand SummitLookout after Zealand SummitWe decided to hit the trail right away as we wanted to set up camp before nightfall if possible. The trail turned out to not only be very flat, but also a very smooth and easy walking surface allowing us to get moving pretty quickly. Perhaps it was new found strength that came from feeling so hardcore as we walked into the shelter, or perhaps it was just extra energy that came from the block of cheese we’d been wolfing down, but we both felt about 100 times better than we had on the approach to the hut. Morale was high and we were trucking. Conversation was nonexistent as both of us focused simply on moving forward – step after step. We found ourselves walking through a very different kind of terrain than we had been. Rather than the dramatic and steep rocky trails on exposed cliff faces, we were immersed in the woods and passing rivers and swamps. It reminded us more of a hike we’d find in Harriman or Ramapo back in New Jersey. For the time being, we were perfectly happy with the more boring and less dramatic section of trail ahead of us. We made it to the side trail to the shelter in just about an hour and then continued another 1/3 of a mile or so the actual shelter. We walked by Ethan Pond just as the sun was setting and snagged a few pictures overlooking the water. By the time we reached the shelter it was getting dark quickly. We knew we’d be setting up camp and cooking dinner in the dark, but that was fine – we had made it. This brought the day’s grand total to 14.5 miles or so – our highest mileage day of the trip.

Ethan Pond at SunsetEthan Pond at Sunset As we could have guessed just by looking at the lowland terrain we were camping in, this was an area that unlike Garfield Ridge, was frequented by bear. A sign in the shelter confirmed this and informed us that there was a separate cooking area 100 meters from the shelter, and that there were bear-boxes behind the privy that all food should be stored in. Thankfully, this provided storage meant no bear-bagging fiasco would be necessary tonight.

We gathered up cooking equipment, food, and headlamps to make our way in the dark to the designated kitchen area. Dinner tonight was our first sampling of the Knorr’s Rice that we had purchased and it was a great success. We ate 6 servings between the two of us, plus a little extra mixed-in cheese from the block we’d be eating all day. After packing everything up into the bearboxes, we made our way to the shelter, going to bed much later than we have been. I dozed to sleep feeling happy and accomplished.

Ready for bedReady for bedI feel like there is another event that occurred today that cannot go without mention. Today was a big day for a reason far beyond the heavy mileage. It also marked the day that Nik’s Sugoy running shorts finally ripped at the crotch. These are the first running shorts he ever bought, 4 ½ years ago, and they are incredibly short and were worn incredibly often – pretty much every day during high school track. Over the years they’ve become tattered and ripped beyond belief, but they always managed to somehow make an appearance on our backpacking trips. Well anyway, we knew they were going to go soon, but today was the day that the piece of cloth under the crotch ripped, separating the front and back flaps and making the shorts appear like a very small loin cloth more than anything else. Nik could not betray his trusty shorts after all these years and he risked potential claims of indecent exposure and continued to wear them for the rest of the trip. I can only hope that they come back next year as well.

Ethan Pond Shelter location map

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