Home » 2009 White Mountains Backpacking Trip

Madison Hut, NH

Friday, June 5, 2009 - 3:45pm by Andrew
12 miles and 10 hours from our last stop - 1 night stay


Mt. EisenhowerMt. EisenhowerWe woke up with the alarm at 5:30, and I immediately started boiling water for coffee while Nik went to fetch our food, which we had stashed in the hut. We really focused on getting out of camp as fast as possible, and we succeeded to some degree as we were packed up and on the trail by 6:30 or so. It was a nice cool, crisp day, and although the sun was shining it was still a bit hazy. We hoped things would clear up by the time we got to Washington. The day started with a few smaller climbs up and over Clinton, Eisenhower, Franklin, and Monroe. From there we pretty much remained along the ridge, which had a view of Washington in the distance.

Approaching WashingtonApproaching WashingtonWe remained pretty focused on hiking and kept moving pretty quickly. As we were approaching the Lake of the Clouds Hut at the base of Washington we had another experience where we suddenly felt much more “hardcore”. We passed 3 guys heading the opposite direction of us and we briefly stopped to talk to them. They were all decked out in very expensive and somewhat unnecessary hiking gear and apparel, sporting name-brand Arcterx hats and windbreakers. They also all had on incredibly enormous backpacks that made our large packs look like day packs. The contrast between their brand-new, name-brand gear contrasted very nicely with Nik’s increasingly deteriorating Sugoy loin-cloth and found Yankee cap. We figured that it was possible they were really legit hikers, but probably more likely that this was their first time and they felt that purchasing really expensive gear was a necessary part of the experience.Lake of the Clouds HutLake of the Clouds Hut It turned out that the latter was correct. A short conversation revealed that they had paid to stay and hike hut to hut – Lake of the Clouds to Mizpah Springs. We informed them that we were coming from Mizpah Springs, and they couldn’t believe that we had completed their entire day’s hike by 9:30 in the morning. I’m not sure how they managed to fill their enormous backpacks as going hut to hut doesn’t require anything but a sandwich, a nalgene, and a jacket, but hey, they looked good doing it.

Nik at the Base of WashingtonNik at the Base of WashingtonWe stopped at Lake of the Clouds hut and watched one of the caretakers sitting outside on the hut porch playing the fiddle, which was just an awesome scene. We soaked in the music while gazing up at Washington for a bit before heading inside to talk to some of the other caretakers. We learned that Lake of the Clouds hut is probably the most heavily visited, and that they had a full-house of 40 guests tonight. We could understand why, as we walked through the dining area with huge windows overlooking Mt. Washington.

"Worst Weather in America""Worst Weather in America"The skies still looked clear and we pushed on past the warning sign that read, “STOP! THE AREA AHEAD HAS THE WORST WEATHER IN AMERICA”. The climb up Washington turned out not to be too difficult, at least relatively speaking. We were already up on the ridge so we only had another 1200 feet or so to climb, which was not nearly as bad as what we had experienced the previous day climbing out of Crawford Notch. The trail, however, was extremely rocky in this section, as it continued to be for the rest of the time along the Presidential Range, which made getting proper footing a little problematic at times. Summiting "the Big One"Summiting "the Big One"Reaching the top of Washington was somewhat bittersweet, when after all our hard efforts, we faced the unfortunate experience of being immersed in civilization – with tons of cars and overweight tourists waddling to the gift shop looking for one of those tacky “My Car Climbed Mt. Washington” stickers to affix to their minivan. This is another one of those times where the difference between you and the other visitors makes you feel more hardcore, although this time the contrast was even more extreme as some of the tourists on top made the previously lame Hut-to-Hut hikers appear like they were capable of climbing Everest.

Washington SummitWashington SummitBefore we did anything else, we wanted to make sure we made it to the “real” summit, which is a pile of rocks in the parking lot that has a sign that reads “Mt. Washington Summit: 6,288 FT, 1,917 M”. We waited for some "big units" to safely navigate themselves down the pile of rocks before heading up to get our pictures. We really lucked out with the weather today. Despite the warning sign’s indications, we had barely any wind, and it was sunny. We were comfortable walking around in long sleeve shirts and shorts and didn’t need our jackets as we thought we might. Unfortunately, however, it was kind of hazy and the visibility wasn’t spectacular, but we’ll take it.

Natural Beauty on top of Mt. WashingtonNatural Beauty on top of Mt. WashingtonWe wandered around the top for a bit observing all of the man-made objects that seemed so out of place after our primitive living for the past few days. We adjusted quickly, however, as Nik headed towards the bar (which was unfortunately not open at 11:30) and I went to take a dump in real flushing toilet. We eventually made our way to the cafeteria where I was fully prepared to purchase an overpriced and very unhealthy lunch. I killed about 12 bucks on a piece of pizza, cream of turkey soup, Gatorade, milk, and a some sort of desert made of thick fatty cream sandwiched between two cookies, called a “Whoopie”. The Whoopie Cookie turned out to be the biggest bang for the buck as it had a whopping 700 calories. Nik was able to control himself better than I, and got only a hotdog and a whoopie cookie. Healthy Lunch at Mt. Washington CafeteriaHealthy Lunch at Mt. Washington CafeteriaThe lunch was delicious, although I probably ate too much and felt a bit sick afterward. After lunch Nik went to look for Sunscreen as his upper thighs were getting burnt pretty badly (because of lack of coverage from the Sugoys), and I went to look for some sort of Decongestant, as my allergies were still bothering me quite a bit. It turns out that all 3 of the gift shops on top of Mt. Washington were completely useless, failing to sell any practical items, and choosing instead to focus on tourists who are interested in buying completely unnecessary “Mt. Washington” labeled paraphernalia . I eventually talked to a ranger who was able to give me some Nasal Decongestant from a first aid kit that he had.

Jefferson, Adams, MadisonJefferson, Adams, MadisonWe tried to get back on the trail quickly since we still had a pretty big day ahead of us – 5.7 miles going over Clay, Jefferson, Adams, and then hopefully a stay at Madison Hut (at the base of Mt. Madison) if we could sweet talk the caretakers into letting us stay. This section of trail turned out to be one of the hardest sections we encountered – not because of elevation change, but because of the terrain we were hiking, which was more like a jetty at the beach than a trail. On many of the mountains there was no surface change that differentiated the trail from its surroundings. If not paying very carefully attention for cairns and blazes, it was very easy to wander a bit off trail. This section didn't really us to get into the same kind of rhythm as we did on the smooth section approaching Ethan Pond because we were constantly looking down at our feet.

GrimyGrimyAs we descended Washington, we had another somewhat ridiculous encounter with someone else on the trail that warranted much over-analyzing from Nik and me. We passed a middle-aged guy hiking in the opposite direction as us, carrying alpine skis on his back, with 2 younger women following behind him. We noticed he was walking kind of funny, and as we got closer we realized that he was hiking the very rocky terrain described above, in rigid ski boots. This seemed kind of odd to us as it was both very difficult and was destroying his boots, but we assumed that there must be a skiable section right up ahead, and that he was only hiking the 300 meters or so back to the Washington parking lot. Nik, who was thinking about skiing Tuckerman’s at some point, struck up conversation with the guy. We immediately learned that this guy was not only very full of himself, but that he had just had a “killer run” at Airline Ravine. The skier was kind of condescending and didn’t seem too interested in talking to us, so we just pushed onwards. Anxious to see where this skiable section was, we pulled out our map to check it out, and learned that Airline Ravine was another 5 or so miles ahead, at the the northern face of Mt. Adams. To this day I am completely bewildered by this statement and am dying to know what actually took place - is this guy a complete liar, or did he actually somehow manage to hike 5 miles of the Presidential Range in ski boots? Snow between Jefferson and AdamsSnow between Jefferson and Adams

My photos from this section of trail are lacking, indicating that we were eating it pretty hard, but I’ll try and remember as best I can. Besides the miserable rocky trail, the next noteworthy event I can recall is a really snowy section between Jefferson and Adams. There was a guy working from the AMC who was shoveling out a path so that hikers could pass through. He informed us that he had been there shoveling for 7 hours now. That job didn’t seem as appealing. Eventually we reached Mt. Adams, where we decided against taking the side trail over the summit. We were both pretty tired and wanted to get into Madison Hut as early as possible, but in retrospect I wish we had gone for it being that it’s the second highest Mountain in the Presidential Range.

Unpleasant Hiking TerrainUnpleasant Hiking TerrainAfter going around Adams, all we had was another mile descending down to Madison Hut – we hoped. However, this section seemed to take forever, and was probably the hardest both of us ate it all trip. Our ankles, calves, and feet were destroyed from the rough trail and all we wanted to do was lie down (and at one point we actually did just that – in the middle of the trail). At every sign we passed we would guess what the mileage point to Madison Hut would be, and every time it was farther than expected. We desperately needed to stay there, and as we got closer we rehearsed several theoretical conversations with the caretakers hoping they would let us work for stay. Finally, the hut was in sight. We were so excited that we accidentally wandered off trail before realizing it. Hoping none of the caretakers were looking out the window and saw these two assholes walking off-trail, we corrected our mistake and headed into the shelter. We soon identified Hillary, the head caretaker we needed to talk to, because she was, as the caretakers at Mizpah Springs correctly informed us, “really short”. “Let me guess,’” she said, “you guys camped at Mizpah Springs last night and you’re looking to stay here tonight.” Apparently the caretakers talk quite frequently. She also turned out to be really cool, and told us that she could find some chores for us to do in return for a shelter and some food.Visitors at Madison HutVisitors at Madison Hut Morale suddenly took a turn for the better as we realized that we wouldn’t have to drag ourselves back onto the trail again, but could instead get a warm meal and a cozy cabin to stay in.

It turned out that our first chore would be “sifting compost”, which was basically just using a shovel to move food scraps and wood chips back and forth over a grate until all of the pieces that had decomposed enough to fit through the grate separated themselves. Although it was probably the dullest and most boring job I can think of, spirits were high and we wound up having a blast with it, as we took turns coming up with different techniques to push the crap back and forth. Alpine Croquet at Madison HutAlpine Croquet at Madison HutNik's patented "hockey stick" technique seemed to be the most effective. This went on for about 40 minutes before we headed back into the hut to see what we had to do next. As we entered the cabin, the 6 caretakers were doing introductions to the guests, and as we listened in we noticed that we had several connections with them – 4 of them went to NESCAC schools (as Nik and I did), one kid named Meatloaf as his favorite musician (Nik and I have been to a Meatloaf concert), and one of the girls had just finished her study abroad program in Tanzania (it wound up being the very same program that 2 of my best friends from school had done). Small world.

We spent the evening chatting up caretakers and various guests and eventually got to enjoy the leftover soup, bread, and salad that had been prepared. The food was delicious and we certainly ate way more than our fillings. As we were finishing up our meal, the sun, which had been behind clouds most of the afternoon, emerged and gave the guests and us a beautiful sunset to enjoy. We also got the chance to play a game of "Alpine Croquet" with the caretakers (basically just standard croquet set in the Alpine Environment found on Mt. Madison). I somehow managed to have the luckiest shots of my entire life (making it through two wickets in one shot), and coasted to victory.Washing Dishes for StayWashing Dishes for Stay The last of our work involved in the "work for stay" program, included washing the guests' dishes. This took all of about 20 minutes, making our free meal, free shelter, and added croquet recreation well worth the single hour of chores that we did. After the guests all went to bed in their bunk rooms, Nik and I set up our sleeping pads under the tables in the dining room area and hit the sack.

Madison Hut location map

Javascript is required to view this map.