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White Mountains

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The greatest organization in the history of American hiking and backpacking has been the Appalachian Mountain Club. Founded in 1876 just as Americans were gaining enough leisure time to hike and backpack for recreation, the AMC exerted a tremendous influence on the development, ideas, vocabulary, equipment and skills of mountain sports.

And its creation of the White Mountain Hut System was an act of genius. It's an idea so obvious and logical that we are left to wonder why it has not been replicated across the Appalachians, Rockies, Sierras, Cascades and other areas.

The first hut was built in 1888. There are eight huts. With the two large lodges (at Crawford and Pinkham Notches) this creates a 10 stop network that allows hikers to mix and match hikes into and back and forth across the entire White Range. The AMC also maintains four other lodges outside the Whites, one in New Hampshire and three in Maine.

The huts are Lonesome Lake, Greenleaf, Galehead, Zealand Falls, Mizpah Spring, Lakes of the Clouds, Madison Spring and Carter Notch.

These huts are not luxurious. Each one contains a dining room, kitchen, rooms of bunkbeds, communal bathrooms, and a commons area. Bunkrooms and bathrooms are divided by sex. There are no showers or hot water. You bring your own sleeping bag and toiletries. Usually you need advance reservations. Your reservation includes hot breakfast and dinner. They can pack a lunch for you but the huts do not serve lunch.

The huts use solar panels for electricity and the bathrooms have composting toilets.

Crews live at the huts and have three days off every 14 days. Each crew member rotates the duty of backpacking down to the trailhead with a load of trash and hauling a load of groceries back in.

There are several ways to use the huts. The simplest is to hike in to a hut, spend one night and hike back down to the trailhead. The next way is to hike in to a hut, spend several nights, each day hike out a different trail, return, then after several days hike back down to the trailhead. Then there's the major trip : hike from hut to hut for a week or more.

The easiest way to begin your hut trekking career is to hike up to one of the huts, spend the night, and hike down the next day.

You could create an interesting trekking vacation by reserving a room at the AMC Crawford Notch Lodge ("Highland Center"). After one night at the Lodge, hike up to Zealand Falls Hut and spend a night. Then hike back down to the Lodge. The next day, hike to Mitzpah Spring Hut and spend the night. Next day, hike back down to the Lodge. After one final night there you could drive home after a five day stay featuring four solid days of hiking.

You could do the same thing over at Joe Dodge Lodge at the Pinkham Notch Center. Spend one night at the Lodge, hike up to Lakes of the Woods Hut, spend a night, hike back down to the Lodge, spend a night, hike up to Carter Notch Hut, spend a night, and hike back down for one final night at the Lodge.

And you could do it at Franconia Inn (not run by AMC), hiking in to Lonesome Lake Hut, back down to the Inn, then up to Greeleaf Hut, and back down to the Inn.

Wuth this preparation you'd be ready to begin at the Crawford Notch Lodge, hike up to Mitzpah Spring Hut, then on to Lakes of the Woods Hut, then hike or ride the cog railway down to the shuttle pickup.

And finally you could begin at Franconia, hike up to Greenlead Hut, on to Galehead Hut, on to Zealand Falls Hut, and down to the Crawford Notch Lodge.

Just remember the greatest value of the huts is the camaraderie found among the guests. At dinners and breakfasts and around the fire you get to meet fellow hikers from not only every state, but from many foreign countries. They all have stories about their adventures. Instead of retiring to your bunk for an early bed, you need to embrace these opportunies to hear their stories.

The classic trip is the White Mountain Traverse, an eight day 50 mile trek from Franconia Notch to Route 2 west of Gorham. You begin at the Old Bridle Path Trailhead in Franconia Notch State Park and hike 3.0 miles into the Greenleaf Hut. Then, on successive days you hike to Galehead Hut (7.7 miles), Zealand Falls Hut (7.0 miles), Crawford Notch Lodge (5.2 miles), Mizpah Springs Hut (6.6 miles), Lakes of the Clouds Hut (5.1 miles), Madison Springs Hut (9.0 miles), and hike down to Route 2 (4.2 miles).

Obviously you won't need to carry a tent, stove or backpacking foods. But you will need to carry heavy duty cold weather and rain gear because you'll encounter ferocious weather on the ridges and mountain tops, even in midSummer. You must make reservations early. We highly suggest joining the Appalachian Mountain Club because members receive various benefits. To make hut reservations go to www.outdoors.org.

The Appalachian Mountain Club runs a shuttle service which picks up and drops off at all the major trailheads. You'll pay $20 to be shuttled either to a trailhead or picked up there and brought back to one of the lodges. So you could spend a night at the Crawford Notch Lodge, ride the shuttle to Franconia Notch and begin your hike, catch the shuttle on Route 302 in mid hike, return to the Lodge for a night, ride the shuttle back to the trail, and then at the end, on Route 2, catch the shuttle back to Crawford Notch Lodge.

Assume for most of your trip you'll be out of cell phone range. You may get a signal occasionally but don't count on it.

You'll want three pair of shoes : hiking boots, water shoes for stream crossings, and slippers or moccasins for wearing around the hut to let your hiking boots breathe and dry out.

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