A Night in the High Mountain Huts of New Hampshire
If you were to ask me why I love spending my time hauling myself up the rocky staircases of the White Mountains in New Hampshire, my first answer wouldn’t be the high mountain huts. It would more likely be, “the views!”, “just because!”, or “the trail snacks and beers at the bottom!”—if I’m being honest. But on this muggy and overcast August afternoon, with my moisture-wicking tee clinging to my torso and lung capacity at an all-time high, that was exactly the point. At the end of our five mile uphill climb, my husband, a handful of family members, both extended and immediate, and I would arrive at the AMC’s (Appalachian Mountain Club) Mizpah Spring Hut. We had all spent years hiking the Whites and yet, none of us had actually stayed in one of the eight huts that are open to thru-hikers and backcountry trekkers.
Up until this midweek excursion, our working knowledge of the huts was as a stopover point during grueling hikes in the alpine, where you could buy the most delicious homemade baked goods for less than $5 and replenish water supplies. Prior to that, we had an iota of an idea of what the hut system was truly about beyond sugary carbs and rustic lodging. So, it only felt natural that we spend the night and experience even more of the cooking and famous mountain hospitality firsthand.
Our agenda over the next two days was simple but not easy: hike up from the AMC Highland Center Lodge in Crawford Notch five miles to the Mizpah Spring Hut and spend the night. We chose not to redline it from the trailhead, but to swing around for additional mileage and bug bites. The next day, we’d hike nearly eleven miles while checking off some of the 4,000 foot peaks on the southern end of the White’s stunning Presidential Range and loop back down to the lodge. The Mizpah Spring Hut is accessible via the spur trail at the junction of the 200 year-old Crawford Path, the oldest continuously-used trail in America. That’s right. America. It’s a pretty big deal.
While the peaks and their panoramic views would normally be the highlights, this time around it was the Mizpah Spring Hut. New Hampshire is a small state with a lot of backcountry hiking and the huts function as a mediator between hikers and the backcountry. Whether you are a day hiker, weekend warrior, or Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, you can enjoy a night in a warm bed and two home cooked meals here in the rustic high mountain hut. For that reason, the hut system is a major destination point for people of all ages, experience and abilities.
At the time of our arrival, we were sweaty, tired, and hungry—the perfect way to enter the hut. On that day, we were mostly soaked in the clouds, and had been warding off thunderstorms with our sunny dispositions, that is until, mile four when the intense elevation gain caused some of us to hit a wall and not bounce back. The weather and our tired legs ultimately forced us to abandon our plans of catching a sunset at the summit, and suddenly a night tucked away in the boreal forest seemed even more cozy and warm, which is kind of how I like it anyway.
We dropped our wet packs and kicked off our muddy boots with relief before checking in with a member of the hut croo, the official term for the folks who run and oversee all hut duties. As we settled in, we quickly realized just how much of a social experience a stay here would be: shared bunk rooms and baths, family-style dining, plus talks given by the naturalist organically funneled us into the shared space. Here, we ate alongside AT thru-hikers, learned their trail names and heard their stories, encountered a volunteer trail maintenance crew from Vermont, and thoroughly enjoyed the lively hut croo, whose roots as caretakers located within the mountain col and alpine zones run deep.
There is something to be said about the way these lighthearted, happy memories punctuate the hours spent grinding it out on the relentless trails of the White Mountains. Or, even the relentless and demanding pace of our everyday lives. It feels nostalgic and earnest. Free of cell service or modern day amenities, the glow of our screens are exchanged for the warm glow of smiles and the inviting lights of the common area.
I left that next day knowing that what I had already suspected was reaffirmed by our stay, which was this: that a night in the high mountain hut of New Hampshire is a good and necessary thing. It celebrates the simple and sacred act of a job well done and resting your tired limbs in a place that feels like home, even amongst strangers. After all, adventures are always better when shared, especially with good food and good company. Most importantly, we should never underestimate the power of the outdoors to remind us that the basic goods in life are always closer than we think.