I was in US for a couple of months in the summer of 2015 and had to attend a conference in Boston on the second week of September. Luckily just before the conference dates, a long weekend was coming up because of the labor day holiday. This is a sort of opportunity I rarely miss and so I started planning to make full use of this long weekend.
The hunt started to find a 3 days activity around Boston. Looking at the map, first option seemed to be Maine which is wild and remote bordering Canada and seemed very tempting. However, as I had to rely on the public transport, this option had to be ruled out because of scarcity of public transport options that could timely take me to and from Boston. I started looking at New Jersey and New Hampshire states then as they seemed to offer some interesting trails too. Browsing through the map, one cannot ignore White Mountains in the New Hampshire with Mount Washington as the major highlight and so I started gathering details about it. The famous 2200 miles long Appalachian trail also passes through this national park.
Looking at the site of Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), I found out that they have established a series of huts in the wilderness at day hikes distance away. These huts were established in 1800s to facilitate local hikers who would like to hike here. The concept was borrowed from similar huts in the Alps. This option was too tempting to resist so I tried to go ahead with it.
The challenge was now to find a route keeping in mind all the constraints I had. Googling the internet for transport options, it turned out that there is only one bus that operates between Boston and New Hampshire and that leaves Boston in the evening at 4 PM. Considering the limited time I had, I didn’t want to waste my whole day before the bus departure. So I requested my friend Abdul Rauf who was based in Boston if he could drive me till the starting point of trail. Apparently there were two options to start from, Highland Centre and Pinkham Notch. Abdul Rauf graciously accepted my request and we agreed that I will take flight from Philadelphia to Boston on Friday evening, I will spend the night at a hotel and on Saturday morning after Fajir he will pick me up and drive me off to New Hampshire. It was 3-4 hours drive and a huge favour from him. One problem solved, next task was to book the huts. As Mount Washington was the highest point of this national park, I wanted my trek to include it so I started focusing on huts around it. I selected a route starting from Highland centre, staying at Madison and Lakes of Cloud and end at Pinkham Notch. Once the route was finalised, I tried to book huts online. Here came the problem. To my surprise, the booking site showed most of the huts fully booked during the long weekend. Later I came to know that people get these huts booked months ago and specially for a weekend like this, it becomes really difficult to get. I tried many combinations but it wasn’t going anywhere in the Sat-Mon timeframe. There was space in Madison hut for Saturday and Mizpah on Sunday. Lakes of Cloud had no space for either Saturday or Sunday. There seems to be one way. If I could do two days’ hike in a single day starting from Madison, going through Lakes of Cloud and ending up at Mizpah, this would work. And so I decided to go with this route and got the bookings done.
The day arrived when I said good bye to Pennsylvania after stay of a couple of months. With an uneventful flight to Boston, I checked-in at Hyatt hotel offering amazing views of Downtown from across the sea. Next morning we started our travel at 6 AM, did breakfast on the way and reached Highland centre 10ish in the morning. At the Pinkham Notch visitor centre, they have this beautifully built model of the whole white mountains. One could plan the whole route here before setting off and get free guidance from the friendly AMC staff.
Day1: Pinkham Notch to Madison Spring
This was supposed to be a light day that turned out to be very tough. I took a map from Pinkham Notch centre and started following it by following milestones. After crossing the bridge after a couple of hours hike, it gave me an option to opt for the shorter but steep route and the longer one making longer curve. The shorter one looked tempting so I opted for this one. After a hike of one hour, I realised this trail is not in active use as it was not actively maintained. I didn’t encounter a single soul after taking turn although there were many trekkers on the main trail. There was no point however going back and so I kept moving. At one point there was a dry stream and I started going up. I soon started struggling with finding the route and there I realised I am no more on a trail. I turned back and traced my route to the start of dry stream where I took turn and found out there was a narrow trail going inside the forest on the left side that I missed. It was a relief however the trail kept dodging me again and again. At one point, I even started thinking about spending night somewhere if I don’t find the route. After struggling for a couple of hours, I finally managed to reach the top of ridge to join the main trail and saw an individual sitting on the top of ridge. That was a sight of big relief and I made it to the hut in another 30 minutes. Later, staff at Madison hut told me no one uses this trail any more as it is very steep and was surprised to hear I have done it in such a quick time. I made it right on time when dinner was being served and my vegetarian share was already kept. It was one of the best dinners I have had for quite some time.
These huts offer bunk rooms to the backpackers with 12 bunk-beds per room. You can go and grab your bed and make yourself settled.
Day2: Madison Spring to Mizpah via Lake of Clouds
I had a long day ahead. I was up early and waited for breakfast. It was served right at 6 and was very refreshing. The ascend started quickly. Soon I was above tree line and only after tree line one begins to see the panoramas. I passed through the shoulder of 1917m high Mount Washington – the highest peak of this region. Although the altitude looks childish from our standards, this area received some of the strong winds and heaviest snowfall in East US. This whole area above 1500m is above tree line and offers some excellent trekking. In winters it becomes a tough experience and a population destination for winter survivals. In around 5 hours, I reached Lake of Clouds hut. My body needed some good rest so I decided to stay there for a while. Potato soup helped me restoring my energy. At around 2 PM, I started the hike towards Madison spring. On the way, I met a few through hikers on the Appalachian. They are interesting characters indeed. Through hikers are the ones who complete the 2200 miles stretch of Appalachian from Georgia to Maine in 6-8 months. This is a journey of their lifetime and they do big savings and leave their rat-race to spend this much time in the wilderness. Every week or so, they descend to some town to get supplies and start again. It took me around 10 long hours to reach Mizpah. I was tired but happy to have done it on time. Another three course delicious vegetarian dinner was awaiting me there,
Day3: Mizpah Hut to Highland Center
This was a very light trekking day. The walk to the Highland centre was moderate descend of 2-3 hours. I got the company of two Indian trekkers Himanchu and Raju – childhood friends were from Mumbai. Himanchu was on a trip to Canada from India and came over to US just to do this trek with his friend on the long weekend. It turned out to be a great company as we exchanged our experiences in the Himalayas and Karakorums. At highland centre, I got the chance to take bath and refresh which was very much needed. However, to my shock, the bath was offered against the coins you put in and finishes automatically after few minutes. I was not used to of doing time-bound bath and didn’t like the limitation after 3 days of trekking. However, I managed it somehow and it was still refreshing enough. The bus arrived on time and took me back to Highland centre for a comfortable night in a private room and a delicious dinner.
Next morning, I took the 8 AM bus for a 4-hrs ride to Boston and got back to work the same day after spending some quality time in the wilderness of North America.