Presidential Traverse, White Mountains: Lake of the Clouds (5050ft) to Madison Spring Hut (4800ft)
The morning light was brilliant, nary a cloud above us. The air was crisp and cool, making it a perfect day for a hike. It was in stark contrast to the sign at the start of the trail stating this area has the worst weather in the U.S. and if it is looking bad, turn back now… Thankfully, the weather was beautiful so it was onward to Madison Spring Hut!
I’d stuffed my face at the communal breakfast as I knew I’d need the fuel to get over the towering 6288ft Mount Washington. Despite being well fed, however, I never did get my groove that morning. It was hard going – there were lots of boulders and it was steep. As one of the group said, it was definitely “mind over muscle”. I could only shake my head in admiration as I watched several AMC employees (called Da Croo) heading up to the summit or going back down to Lake of the Clouds with a pallet full of supplies or garbage on their backs.
The summit of Mount Washington was a surprise. I wasn’t expecting it to be so very touristy. There were a set of cog train tracks and a road taking people up this mountain. As such, it was quite busy! There was even a cafeteria which I couldn’t exactly complain about since it meant indoor toilets! There were also a little museum and an old weather station (the highest wind gust was recorded here in 1934 – 231 miles per hour). While I enjoyed seeing the old fashioned train, I must admit I didn’t enjoy seeing so many people at the summit.
The views from Mount Washington were marvellous – it was a clear still day so we could see incredibly far and admire the layers upon layers of mountains in the distance. Sunny days make all the difference on a trip like this – it would have seriously sucked both to climb all of this in inclement weather and not have a view! But this sunny day on Mount Washington meant that the tourists were out in droves. To continue my admission, it was a tad annoying that they were able to photograph themselves next to the summit sign. But some would say that I didn’t have to get to that sign the hard way! Fair enough. Still annoying though…
It was here that we lost two in our group as they decided it was best for them not to continue. They hitched a ride down Mount Washington and would spend the next two and a half days at Joe Dodge Lodge. The rest of us, we crossed over the train tracks and continued on our way. We could see the three mountains we needed to walk by in order to get to Madison Spring Hut in the distance. On paper, that would be about four miles, but it seriously looked very far. Over the hill is another hill, as one of the group put it.
The Gulfside Trail to Madison Spring Hut was decently marked – the trail was very obvious, though, so there were no fears about getting lost. The way was very rocky and paying attention was important – but sometimes that was hard as the views remained beautiful all the way. We eventually reached Mount Jefferson but no one wanted to do it with me. I wasn’t put out, however, as the trail up to the summit looked like it would entail quite a bit of scrambling over scree. And since the trail to Madison Spring wasn’t going to end anytime soon, I decided to conserve my remaining energy. Good thing, too, because by the end, I was exhausted and starving.
Speaking of which, this was when I decided that my body cannot handle only power bars and trail mix for lunch. Afternoons were tough as I’d always be low on energy. It didn’t help that AMC says the trails to each hut would take 4-6 hours but really, they take 7-8 hours. Today, one person in our group even ran out of water as it had been a hot day (thankfully, we were near the end) and we passed a few people who were obviously struggling. For the last forty minutes or so, we were all uber tired and just wanted to reach. Seeing Madison Spring Hut was definitely a Hallelujah! moment for all. And as much as I’d wanted to, I was definitely too tired to go star gazing again that night. Ah well.
Trivia: Madison Spring Hut is the oldest hut site in the U.S.!