Hut-to-Hut Hiking in New Hampshire’s White Mountains with the AMC
In 1876, 39 outdoor enthusiasts met in Boston and formed an organization devoted to exploration of the White Mountains. Several of the members had visited Europe and knew firsthand about Alpine huts, mountain refuges that sheltered hikers. They wanted to build this form of accommodation for the growing legion of avid "trampers." Twelve years later, dreams became reality when the stone Madison Spring cabin was opened in a col between Mount Adams and Mount Madison. The cost was 50 cents and you had to bring your own food. To commemorate the 125th anniversary of the opening of the AMC’s first hut, I spent last week hiking to 4 of the 8 high huts, with my wife Lisa, on assignment for The Washington Post and The Boston Globe.
We started on the Gale River Trail, listening to rapids as we slowly made our ascent through a forest of birches and pines, going from forgiving soil to the unforgiving rock we would grow accustom to over the course of the trek. Thunder serenaded us throughout the day, but the skies didn’t open up until we were at the Galehead Hut. After a hearty dinner of turkey vegetable soup, freshly baked honey-oatmeal bread, and stuffed shells marinara, Lisa and I went outside to see a rainbow and listen to the birdcalls of the white-throated sparrow, black pole warbler, and bicknell’s thrush.
Built in 1932 at an elevation of 3800 feet, Galehead is the most remote hut, 4.6 miles to the nearest trailhead. You’re lost in a panorama of peaks, from Galehead Mountain, perched just above the hut to Stinson Mountain, 25 miles away. Over the course of the next five days, as we hiked over 26 miles with an elevation gain and loss over 15,000 feet, that Japanese silkscreen of ridge upon ridge was never far from view, always luring us to put one step in front of another. We would face adversity from trails flooded with water, humidity, black flies, the threat of thunderstorms on ridge walks, and ascents and descents that at times felt like a Marine Corp obstacle course. But when you arrive at the next AMC hut, each a day hike apart, lemonade in hand, looking at this exquisite view atop the peaks, all is good. You’ve accepted the challenge and this is your just dessert, one of the many reasons why the huts continue to thrive 125 years later. I felt fortunate to be a part of that history.