It's been too long since my last real adventure. The months after Hardrock were kind of aimless, I wasn't really sure what to do with myself. For some reason the motivation just wasn't there for anything really epic in between my new responsibilities as a family man. They say testosterone levels drop significantly in new fathers.Yet even as the athletic doldrums were filled with challenges and joys of an altogether different sort, one intriguing adventure still lingered in the back of my mind; the winter Hut Traverse.
If you're not familiar with it, the Hut Traverse is a 50 mile long link-up of mountain refuges in New Hampshire's White Mountains, entailing 17,000 feet of cumulative elevation gain over the most exposed, windswept terrain in the East. People have been traveling the route in a single day since the Great Depression and summer trips are fairly common. While there are a total of eight huts, most are seasonal and only three are open in the winter. As near as I can tell, a complete single day winter Hut Traverse has never been done before. Back in 2004 Tim Seaver published a very handy history of the route along with an account of his impressive partial winter traverse, which has provided me with quite a bit of inspiration over the years.
I spent a fair amount of time studying the route, practicing segments, testing gear, and just generally obsessing before I made the decision to go for it as soon as conditions were right. The goal would not merely be to make it from Carter Notch to Lonesome Lake in under 24 hours, but to do it safely, efficiently, and without drama. I didn't just want to get away with this monster of a hike by the skin of my teeth, but to do it in the good style that I was confident I could. This is supposed to be fun, after all!
So, with all that out of the way, I found myself standing in the dark with the door of Carter Notch Hut behind me and an ideal weather window in front of me on one of the last calendar winter weekends of the year.
|12:54 AM - Carter Notch Hut|
|5:04 AM - Madison Springs Hut|
|Madison silhouetted by early morning twilight.|
|Dawn breaks over the Wildcat-Carter range|
|The Northern Presidentials|
|For if I am shaven, then my strength will go from me, and I shall become weak and be like any other man.|
|8:06 AM - Lakes of the Clouds Hut|
|Presidential Range from Mt. Pierce|
|10:13 AM - Mitzpah Springs Hut|
|11:11 AM - Crawford Notch|
|Down the A-Z Trail|
|2:15 PM - Zealand Falls Hut|
|Dripping wet Twinway|
|Mounts Carrigain and Hancock looking nice.|
After Guyot, the Twinway took a turn for the worse. Here, I put my snowshoes back on and followed a broken out, meandering path through dense branches. The snowpack being in the neighborhood of 5-6 feet deep made it difficult for whoever broke section out to find the actual trail. Even when you were right on top of it you'd still be in the dense branches that aren't normally trimmed during the summer as they're so high off the ground. Noticing that my pace had begun to slow a bit, I began to get concerned about the remainder of the route. What if the trail was this hard to follow, but unbroken? I'd also have the added disadvantage of trying to navigate in the dark, which I was equipped to do but would likely have to sacrifice my 24 hour time goal. I began to nervously evaluate bailout options and knew that my decision points would come when I reached critical junctions in the Garfield Ridge Trail later.
|Looking back toward the Prezzies from South Twin at sunset.|
|Only two big climbs left; Garfield and Lafayette|
|5:39 PM - Galehead Hut|
|10:08 PM - Greenleaf Hut|
|12:04 AM - Lonesome Lake Hut|
By the time I got there, everyone had long since retired for the night, but I did find a friendly note and care package from the caretaker. After 23 hours and 7 minutes, that PBR sure did hit the spot.