N.H. trails have a range of stop-over places
For New Hampshire hikers, mountain huts are special places. There are those that are high in the White Mountains surrounded by an alpine landscape that varies from thick forest to dramatic tundra-like expanses. After a day on the trail, they are a welcome retreat.
Hikers don't have to travel far to experience a hut, mountain cabin or other off-the-grid shelters like three-sided lean-tos and tent-like yurts. The Granite State has a wide assortment of hike-to (some are steps from parking) accommodations with a wide range of amenities from spartan to lodge-like.
A mountain hut can have a library, wood stove, running water, meal service, showers and even a little shop for supplies and souvenirs. Or it can be a rough and basic experience with no electricity and the closest water a quarter-mile hike away.
Many of the huts like those with the Appalachian Mountain Club and Randolph Mountain Club are accessible only by hiking, complete with backpack, into terrain that requires careful planning and stamina.
"Consider your fitness level and how far it is to the various facilities," says Randolph Mountain Club Vice President Mike Micucci, a former hut caretaker. "If the farthest you've walked is the half-mile to the corner store for the newspaper and a quart of milk, then you might consider a roadside campsite."
There are cabins that are close to the road. Some of those can be found through the Dartmouth Outing Club. There is even one U.S. Forest Service cabin hidden on the Kancamagus Highway. For those who are still on edge about high mountain huts, the New Hampshire State Park system has some accessible gems, too.
Be sure to plan ahead and make reservations where you can. Many of the cabins are inexpensive. Be ready in many instances to share and enjoy the camaraderie.
New Hampshire's highest mountain hut is Lakes of the Clouds on Mount Washington at an elevation of 5,050 feet.
Taking only the necessities is a key to enjoying a mountain hut. The North Face Terra 40 (thenorthface.com, $129) is a nice mid-range pack good for 30 to 50 pounds of gear. There's room for a sleeping bag, side water bottle slips and loops for trekking poles.
The three-season Coromell sleeping bag by Kelty (kelty.com, $150) weighs about three pounds and is rated to 25 degrees. Of course, you hope it never drops that low inside the hut.
Not tired and feel like doing some reading? A light like the Petzl Tikka Plus LED Headlamp (petzl.com, $34.95) can come in handy. Several modes, including a strobe, allows you to choose the lighting intensity you want. You can also adjust the stream to aim it where you want.
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Mike Micucci is the trails chairman and vice president for the Randolph Mountain Club
(randolphmountainclub.org), a hiking organization that maintains more than 100 miles of trails in the northern White Mountains. The RMC has four shelters including two mountain huts (Gray Knob and Crag Camp). He worked as a caretaker at Gray Knob. Micucci has also worked as a Mt. Washington Observatory observer and owned a Gorham outdoor gear store. He is also a board member of a search and rescue group. When not hanging with his wife and small children, Micucci will be found tending his garden or trail running, biking or backcountry skiing near his Randolph home.
What should I bring with me to a hut?
RMC's facilities are spartan, providing very little in the way of amenities. We provide mattresses and toilet facilities but guests must provide their own stoves and fuel, sleeping bags and food. Hikers should also be sure to bring the essential items, such as maps, compass, first aid kit, plenty of snack food and water for the trail and enough extra clothing. Lastly, you must bring enough money to cover the overnight fee.
Some hut systems have a caretaker and seasonal food service while others don't.
What kind of cooking facilities can I expect and what about water?
Guests are completely responsible for the preparation of their meals. Guests need to provide their own stoves and fuel and be prepared to hike up to a 1/4 mile for water. There is a seasonal water line connected to Crag Camp, which provides running water there, but it shouldn't be counted on from year to year.
What are the sleeping arrangements like and what can be done if there is someone who snores?
At Gray Knob, everyone sleeps in a sleeping loft with mattresses. When sleeping in such a shared space you need to be prepared to deal with other guests and their nocturnal peculiarities, quirks and foibles. I suggest earplugs.
What is there to do at a hut in the evening after a day on the trail?
RMC caretakers are generally intelligent, educated, entertaining and interesting but their primary function isn't to entertain guests. The usual post-meal program consists of tall tales, cards, reading, short hikes to viewpoints to catch the sunset and planning the next day's activities in consultation with the caretaker.
Are the huts warm at night?
In the summer, yes. In the winter, an emphatic no.
How can I choose the best hut for me?
Consider your fitness level and how far it is to the various facilities. If you've been hiking regularly in the mountains with a pack and gradually increasing your distance to where you can comfortably hike 3 or 4 miles in a few hours than a mountain cabin is within reach. Self-sufficiency is the order of the day so gauge your fitness level in the context of the undertaking and the equipment and skills necessary to be comfortable and successful.
This article appears in the August 2009 issue of New Hampshire Magazine