Hut-to-Hut Hiking in the Presidential Range (Part 1)

Hiking from hut to hut in the Presidential Range in central New Hampshire is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This area of the White ...

Hiking from hut to hut in the Presidential Range in central New Hampshire is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This area of the White Mountains is remarkable in many ways. Its scenery rivals that of national parks in the Western North America and its treeless alpine tundra seems world away from hustle and bustle of the nearest big cities such as Boston or Montreal. Mount Washington, the tallest peak of the Presidential Range, is known to be the most dangerous small mountain in the world due its strong winds and unpredictable weather. Come explore the Presidential Range of the White Mountains, and your memories will certainly last for the rest of your life.

Hut-to-hut hiking in the White Mountains means trekking the mountain range and spending nights at one of the mountain huts as opposed to sleeping in a tent. It is physically less demanding than a traditional backpacking as there is no need to carry hefty backpacks with a tent, food supplies and camping dishware. 
The huts, operated by Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) for almost 100 years, provide delicious dinners and breakfasts as well as comfy yet rustic and a bit dusty bunkbeds. The first hut in the White Mountains was built by the club as a response to a few fatalities due to hypothermia, and no hiker has been left sleeping outside since then unless they have adequate camping gear weather permitting. 
The price tag for an overnight stay at AMC huts is quite heavy (about $120-140 per person), but it does not scare people out. In order to get a bed on weekends during the peak travel time in July and August, you really should be booking it 3-6 months in advance. 
We got lucky that we could book two huts - Lakes of the Clouds and Mizpah Spring - only one month in advance. Apparently, someone cancelled their reservation and I was quick enough to take advantage of it.
Huts are located relatively close to each other which earns them popularity among hikers of different skill levels. Each hut provides their facilities such as restrooms and dining tables to any thru-hiker during the day. On top of that, overnight guests can also enjoy a refreshing lemonade. 
Dinner time is probably the best time to be in a hut as staff, comprised of adventurous young people in their 20s, always ensure they treat their guests with delicious meals as well as personal stories and plays. 
Part of why food tastes so good at a hut is because staff literally carry it in on their shoulders for a few miles as there are no roads to get it delivered by motorized vehicles. At the beginning of each season, a helicopter takes all heavy supplies - fuel, detergents, napkins, toilet paper, etc. - to each hut. However staff replenish supplies of fresh food such as meat, eggs, fruits and vegetables daily or a few times per week depending on a number of guests. Staff also carry out all garbage that cannot be composed at a hut by using these wooden packboards. 
When planning a hut-to-hut hiking trip to the Presidential Range I highly relied on the AMC's White Mountains Guide. It turned out to be a very comprehensive book with very detailed and precise maps that equip you with all information you could possibly need when hiking in the White Mountains. 
As we only had one car, we parked it at the end of a three-day hiking route, and took a shuttle bus to the toe of Mount Washington. The shuttle service was quite pricey (a bit over $20 per person), but there was no alternative for us. 
The entire hiking route was about 13.7 miles / 22 km which Google suggests can be done in five hours. Well, maybe, however since we didn't want to rush but rather enjoy being in the mountains, it took us three days to complete the entire trek.
The most challenging part of the route was on the first day as we were supposed to do about 4,000 ft / 1,200 m of elevation gain. We took the Ammonoosuc Ravine trail that follows Ammonoosuc river, the shortest yet the steepest trail to the summit of Mount Washington (only 4.7 miles / 7.5 km from one-way). 
It does not seem difficult at all for the first hour or so until you reach the pool with a beautiful waterfall. 
For the next few hours, you'll realize why this trail is rated strenuous as you'll be climbing up a steep mountain where this water is falling from. Take pauses to rest and enjoy a great scenery.  
Same Ammonoosuc River, but now in a form of a giant cascaded waterfall.
As you gain elevation, you'll notice that trees are becoming shorter and shorter until they become dwarfs or almost disappear. 
The sweet smell of a balsam fir everywhere was just mind-blowing. We even purchased a small pillow with it that still smells after almost two years.
The tree line roughly marks 4,000 ft / 1,220 m above the sea level. From here, it's very clear where Mount Washington is (a summit with antennas).
Ammonoosuc Ravine trail terminates at the Lakes of the Clouds hut where we stayed on our first night. From there, the easiest way to get to the summit of Mount Washington is to take Crawford Path. By the way, it is the oldest continuously used trail in the US (since 1819). 
The ecosystem above the tree line is called Alpine Tundra. For its climate, vegetation, etc., it resembles Northern Labrador. 
It's very rare and fragile ecosystem, so hikers are encouraged to stay on trail and only step on stones as opposed to grass or soil.
I fell in love with Alpine Tundra, it's so beautiful!
At some point, the slopes of Mount Washington become a field of rocks. To avoid getting lost in a fog or a storm, frequent cairns were built along the trail. White quartz rocks help the most as they are easily recognizable in poor weather conditions.
View to the northern Presidential Range. Almost each summit carries a name of a president of the US.
View to the southern Presidential Range.
Last effort and we are at the summit of Mount Washington.
To be honest with you, there is not much to do or see except crowds of tourists. Also a strong wind makes it uncomfortable staying there. It's not uncommon to witness snowfall in the middle of July and August, so snowplows are always ready.
The sign informing that the highest wind ever observed by man was recorded here - 231 mph / 372 km/h. Can you believe it?! The new record was set since then by an Australian cyclone in 1996. 
The easiest and the cheapest way to get to the summit of Mount Washington is by car. My humble opinion - you won't fully appreciate this mountain unless you hike it up.
Another way to get to the summit which is older than any automobile ever existed is by Mount Washington Cog Railway. It's been bringing visitors here since 1868! 
According to Wikipedia, Mount Washington Cog Railway is the second steepest rack railway in the world after the Pilatus railway in Switzerland, with an average grade of over 25% and a maximum grade of 37.41%.
This concludes our first day of the hut-to-hut hiking in the Presidential Range of the White Mountains. Here the second part!

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