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  1. #1
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    Default Hiking the Whites

    I'm hiking hut to hut from Pinkham Notch to Franconia this summer as part of a longer section hike. I would like to shed the weight and just take a day pack through the whites. I know I can get someone to shuttle the rest of my gear. What are your comments on this plan? I haven't been able to find much info other than on the Presidential traverse.

  2. #2
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    Quote Originally Posted by dalekeppley View Post
    I'm hiking hut to hut from Pinkham Notch to Franconia this summer as part of a longer section hike. I would like to shed the weight and just take a day pack through the whites. I know I can get someone to shuttle the rest of my gear. What are your comments on this plan? I haven't been able to find much info other than on the Presidential traverse.
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  3. #3

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    Folks do it all the time. AMC even offers guided versions of at least part of the trip, they usually have the guided trips and deals early in the season when the huts get bit less use. You will pay for an AMC membership in savings you get on the huts. The huts book early and fill up August through September. Be aware that there are no refunds for bad weather and if you get caught at a hut with a bad weather forecast for the next day, you cant just hang there an extra day. About the only option is head down a side trail, catch the shuttle and then hike back up to the next hut if conditions are dangerous on the ridge. You do need extra gear in your day pack as there are some extended sections of above tree line with no shelter. It has snowed every month of the year in the whites and people routinely get hypothermia even in summer. The huts have no heat and its hard to get warm if you have been out in cold wet weather all day. Plan on wool or synthetic gear to cover every inch of skin plus an insulating layer. This includes hat and preferably mittens. I carry a lightweight balaclava year round and do on occasion use it in summer in the whites.

    If you have not been to AMC hut, its crowded noisy experience for most outdoor folks. They are in big demand for much of the season so they pack them full. Meals are group and with a full house the seating is "cheek to cheek". The crews expect tips and do what they can to guilt folks into giving them one. The bunk rooms vary hut to hut but generally its bunks 3 high. There is constant shuffle of folks back and fourth to the restrooms and plenty of background noise all night. Bring earplugs and some folks bring sleep masks. With Corona Virus in the news I expect they are going to have tough time managing the huts as they are packed tighter than a cruise ship. The spacing between huts is pretty standard and set up so that most folks get there before supper with time to stop along the way but those unfamiliar with the steep and rocky White Mountain trails will still get beat up. and possibly wish they planned in a rest day early on. The huts do not serve lunch but do sell snacks and usually have soup mid day. Most of the huts are in small patches of space and they try to keep guests in small area outside to prevent impact to the surroundings. There are no organized activities prior to supper so its best to time your arrival so you don't have lot of downtime or get there early and grab a bunk space then go for hike.

    The most spectacular huts by far are Greenleaf, Lake of the Clouds (AKA Lake of the Crowds) and Madison Hut as they are all above treeline. Hard to beat on a nice day or night, definitely pretty wild during thunderstorm. Mitzpah is probably the least spectacular, not much for views, just a side spot in the woods. If you arrange a shuttle make sure you don't need to leave a car at Lafayette Place in Franconia Notch. There is limited parking and if you don't get a space you need to get shuttle from a remote lot 3 miles away. The shuttle timing varies and it not 24/7.
    Last edited by peakbagger; 03-09-2020 at 14:17.

  4. #4

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    BTW, The hike from Pinkham to Madison hut is a steep one The hike along the old Jackson road to the Great Gulf bridge is real easy but once you get on the Osgood trail its steep with zero switchbacks. plan an easy pace and plenty of breaks. Day two to LOC is about as Rocky as it gets. Note the AT skips Mt Adams and Jefferson, if you are white blazer then you need to take spur trail to both. Both have great views. Mt Clay also has great views but the AT skips it. Mt Washington is a zoo. If you want to get your picture taken at the top it can be 1 hour wait in line. The walk down to Lake of Cloud is bit less rough on the feet. Day 3 is still bony but a bit less so until you come down off of Eisenhower and drop in the woods. You will pop out at Pierce and then its woods down to Mitzpah, The AT skips Eisenhower and Monroe so if you want to visit these summits you need to take blue blaze. The AT skips the summits in case the weather is bad, there are blue blazed trails up and over them.

    Day 4 starts out a wooded ridge walk with Mt Jackson a nice summit for a break, then its back in the woods to Webster Cliff. The trail sits back from the cliff but great views followed by steep down and then shorter steep up to Ethan Pond trail. Its them flat and level woods walk to Zealand hut. Day 5 starts out with a climb up to Zeacliff which is worth the short walk off the AT. Then its wooded ridge walk past Guyot and then over South Twin which is above treeline then a steep drop down to Galehead hut. Day 6 is series of PUDS and then step climb up Garfield with good views then steep down and steep up Lafayette and then down a 1000 feet and a mile of trail to Greenleaf Shelter. Day 7 is 3/4 day to the crossing of I93 (the Franconia Parkway). The actual parkway crossing is not accessible and not marked, the parking is just south on RT3 accessed by short spur trail.
    Last edited by peakbagger; 03-09-2020 at 14:19.

  5. #5

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    This is great advice from Peakbagger. I'm going to bookmark it to share it with some folks I know in real life.

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    Ditto to Peakbagger. Thanks much

  7. #7
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    My husband and I did this exact same section July 1-10, 2016. This summit post trip report was the most helpful I could find.

    We bought the AMC membership and spent 8 nights in their facilities. We got maximum benefit from the membership with the standard discount, plus a 5-night discount, and maybe another discount. July 1 - Joe Dodge Lodge, July 2 - Madison Hut, July 3 - Lakes of the Clouds (after a side trip down + shuttle + steep climb back up due to very strong winds on the ridge), July 4 - Mizpah (how nice to be in the Presidentials on Independence Day), July 5 - Highland Center, July 6 - Zealand Hut (very nice stream with plenty of sunny pools), July 7 - Garfield, July 8 - Greenleaf, July9 - Motel, July 10 - fly home. I don't remember the price anymore, but it was expensive. Still, it was nice not having to carry all the extra food, sleeping bags, tent, etc. We had a rental car at Highland Center, and were able to swap out to fresh clothes when we got there.

    Early July temperatures were pleasant for hiking, and nighttime temperatures were chilly enough that the wool blankets provided at the huts were appreciated. Bugs weren't much of an issue, especially at elevation. Winds were very strong at Madison Hut, with more of the same forecast for the next day. The croo strongly advised that we NOT proceed to Mt Washington. As mentioned by Peakbagger, our only option was to descend, $huttle, and climb back up (Ammonoosuc Ravine Trail is very steep!) At Madison, we were told that very few hikers had come north that day from Washington because of the winds. We met one big guy with a big pack who said the wind pinned him to the ground three times. So it's no joke. When we got up above treeline on the ascent to Madison, the wind forced us to brace ourselves with our poles at a steep angle to keep from being blown over. The AT goes over the crest of Madison, but we opted to take the slightly less exposed Parapet Trail that we hoped would be safer. It did seem to have a little less wind, but the word "trail" is not what you think. It's a jumble of boulders at all kinds of angles and you have to be careful of your footing. It's not a dirt path for sure!

    We had no rain until the last day. The Greenleaf croo kindly allowed us to eat some oatmeal by ourselves and depart early to get ahead of the weather. By the time we got up to Lafayette and started the descent, the rain/sleet began. We hurried hurried as quick as we could down into the cover of the trees.

    Food was more than adequate. We had generous servings - hikers have appetites after all! The camaraderie at mealtime was kinda nice. We didn't have any complaints about nighttime noise or people moving around. If you're tired, you can usually sleep.

    Hope you enjoy your trip, and hoping you have excellent weather!

  8. #8
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    Forgot to mention, we took umbrellas for shade, but weren't able to use them a lot because of the wind and because of close vegetation. They were helpful though. I remember using them on the Lafayette ascent and being very glad. Several people commented about how "smart" we were for bringing them. By the way, Lafayette going southbound is a series of false summits. I remember climbing up one spot and seeing a new part of the mountain further ahead. There's more??? Yep, that's a big mountain.

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by illabelle View Post
    Forgot to mention, we took umbrellas for shade, but weren't able to use them a lot because of the wind and because of close vegetation. They were helpful though. I remember using them on the Lafayette ascent and being very glad. Several people commented about how "smart" we were for bringing them. By the way, Lafayette going southbound is a series of false summits. I remember climbing up one spot and seeing a new part of the mountain further ahead. There's more??? Yep, that's a big mountain.
    +1 on the umbrella Even for all the situations you can't use them I find it worth carrying for all the situations where I do use them.
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  10. #10

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    FYI, the summit post link that illabelle linked is useful but realize it definitely not a traditional "follow the white blaze" trip. They skipped some sections of the AT and smoothed out some of the bumps while adding some bumps. They appeared to skip the summit of Mt Washington by taking the Westside trail (A underused favorite of mine that has some of the greatest rock work on the mountain). There is lot to be said for skipping the summit of Washington as it is a jarring sign of the most commercial exploitation of a summit as there is on the entire AT. There can be 1000 plus tourists jamming every spot of the state park, most wanting their picture to be taken at the summit sign. The Westside trail conveniently skirts around the top of the summit cone, but I expect I would have a tough time convincing most first timers to skip the summit of Mt Washington Many thru hikers also skip white blazes so they can hit the summits but its best to make the decision on how much of a purist you want to be after the first day of hiking. Adding in the summits adds to daily elevation and distance but that is factored into the spacing of the huts. Unless the conditions are nasty or the hikers out of shape or uncomfortable with rock hopping there is plenty of time between all the huts. I expect many folk regret niot taking their time along the way when they get to the huts early in the afternoon.

    I do get a chuckle about the first day in the linked report. Madison Gulf trail has a specific warning in the trail guide about it not being a short cut to the hut. It is darn close to vertical in the upper section and as its in a Wilderness area, its not blazed, it doesn't get much sun and its frequently wet. Its a fun challenging day hike for those in shape for it but definitely not a shortcut or recommended for someone out for multiple days especially on the first day.

    Notice the AT elevation gain from Pinkham is 4000 feet and the vast majority of it is one steep uphill on the south face of the Madison, it is thankfully in the woods until the final mile but once it pops out at treeline its still a long but spectacular introduction to above treeline hiking in the whites, its effectively a rock footbed for the next two days. The mistake they made is common, like many trail junctions in the whites its important to get the map out and check that you are going in the correct direction on the correct trail More than few folks get turned around in this area in particular due to the Wilderness status (the AT stays just outside of Wilderness areas for the rest of the whites). I know of three junctions within a less than quarter of mile of the Madison Gulf junction that thruhikers get turned around on and end up going the wrong direction (I am a local and I have). Unlike other areas, there are no blazes so a hiker does not realize they are on a blue blaze side trail. The big thing to keep in mind is that AT hikers are minority of the hikers in the whites, long before the AT was run through the whites, folks have been dayhiking to the summits from the valleys and in some cases, the AT is not the main trail at a junction. The other odd thing on the AT going through the whites is as a general guideline, if heading south if you need to escape off the ridgeline and the AT with rare exceptions if in doubt go right (obviously reverse this for northbound). The trails heading down to the right usually drop down to civilization and trail heads, while the left turns usually lead into Wilderness areas where trails are harder to follow and a lot longer to civilization. The downside with going right is the predominate weather comes from the west or northwest so you are heading into it. The shelter of treeline is usually less than an hour.

    FYI the only safe water sources along the ridge are at the AMC Huts and the top of Mt Washington. The AMC shelters and campsites have water sources but they are usually surface water and need to be treated. There are also springs in some areas but in most cases they are just surface water that runs under the rocks for awhile before being exposed again. You can easily carry enough water between huts but if its very hot weather its advisable to carry something to treat it water if you need it. There is lot of traffic about and some people and their pets may contaminate the springs and campsite sources. The huts have drilled wells but on occasion they have to treat the water. I don't know what they use but it can have very strong chemical taste.

    Bring sunblock and sunglasses walking above treeline on a sunny or even overcast day will end your trip quickly if you don't factor in the sun. Most folks wear a ball cap with visor. Umbrellas are definitely a luxury item that rarely are of much use due to wind. The ridgeline makes it own weather so even its is calm in the AM there is usually wind that forms during the day.

    BTW, there is no place to charge cell phones at the huts. They do have minimal power systems for communications and running the kitchen and life safety systems but are mostly DC systems. The huts request that if you must use a cellphone use it outside away from the hut. There is now service all the way along the ridgeline but non existent down in the various notches you will cross (Crawford, Zealand and Franconia). The lack of cell coverage in Franconia Notch is an issue for some folks who think they can call someone at the trailhead. If you do need to make arrangements for Franconia Notch make them when you are on top of Mt Liberty. At some point as you drop down into the notch the signal will fade and go away entirely. If its truly a real emergency the huts have radios they can use

  11. #11
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    I suggest you bring a sheet and pillowcase for the huts. A little bit of weight, but it's nice to separate your funk from everybody else's.

  12. #12
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    I did this last fall in the opposite direction...hardest hike I'd ever done. It was hard but I had a great time. Peakbagger nailed it...(hut experience and weather) be prepared for bad, wet, and/or cold weather. Like others have said, it is some hard steep trail. After doing this, my opinion is that NOBO offers the advantage of being able to hit Mount Washington after LOC early in the AM and no one will be up there...and if you are quick you'll also get to see the steam cog go by where the trail crosses the tracks. Note, there is NO cell service at Crawford Notch - if you plan to stay at the Highland Center, you'll need to pre-plan your ride or hitch. In addition to your favorite 10 essentials, you will want a light quilt and rain gear...yes, you could easily do this with a day pack. I did a bunch of video - (YouTube KrizAkoni) - the 1st of 8 of which is still on the top of the little used Journal section of WhiteBlaze. Oh, AMC discounts the rate for 5 consecutive stays "5-Night Extended Stay Rate" - definitely pays to be a member if your doing hut to hut.
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