Location: Madison Springs Hut, White Mountains
Snake and Grizzly woke up around 5:00am and they woke me up while packing their bags. It was warm inside the ski patrol hut, but I didn’t want to get off the couch or out of my sleeping bag. Finally I climbed out as Snake and Grizzly left for their 20 mile hike to Gorham. It didn’t take me long to pack my things because I figured that any minute the gondola would turn on and the crew would be coming up the mountain. I ate the pop-tart in the cold morning as I walked across the wet grass at the top of the ski slopes.
The descent from the Wildcat Ridge was slick and dangerous. I slipped several times, falling hard on the flat rock faces. There were few footholds and handholds, though some group had tried to drill holes in the rocks for rebar rungs or chipped away at the flat surface with a pick axe so boots could grip the rocks. Obviously someone had put a lot of time and effort into making the trail more manageable, but the rain had made the trail a game of chutes and ladders. It took over two hours, but I finally reached Pinkham Notch where the AMC visitor center is located. I ate a delicious meatball sub at the cafeteria. I think I’d consider it delicious even if it were cold and crunchy, but I was starving for a hot meal having only had a pop-tart for breakfast and a Snickers for a snack. Unfortunately, the all you can eat breakfast closed at 8:30.
I met a northbound thru-hiker at the cafeteria. I never got his name, but he had planned on resupplying at the visitor center. There was, however, no hiker food or supplies at the center, only candy bars and Power bars. Since I was entering the Presidentials today and won’t need much food for a few days, I gave him four packs of tuna. He accepted them graciously, but I offered them with similar graciousness because it cut 2 lbs from my pack.
I began my ascent into the Presidentials just before noon. I planned to hike to Madison Spring Hut and work for stay. The climb up Mt. Madison took several hours just to get above tree line. It rained while I was still in the trees, but the rain fell softly and didn’t bother me too much. When I got above tree line however, the weather turned brutal. A 30 mph crosswind with gusts in the upper 40’s pounded against my body. The rain no longer fell straight down from the sky, but rushed up the steep slope of the mountain and pelted my face. The temperatures felt like they dropped into the 30’s and I was sure that ice would soon form on my beard. I tried to keep my balance as I advanced up the mountain of jagged, wobbly rocks, but the wind blew me onto all fours several times. Visibility was limited to about fifty feet. I could barely make out the shapes of the peaks in front of me.
As I pushed through the driving rain, with screaming red thighs, white knuckles and teary eyes, I caught up to a father and son on the trail. After a momentary greeting, I pushed past them. They were poorly dressed and wearing day packs. No doubt they were heading to Madison Hut. Shortly after passing them, I had a strange feeling in my stomach about the two. Something didn’t feel right, so I turned around and backtracked until I found them. The father walked well ahead of his adolescent son and was crouched behind a rock. I offered to carry the boy’s pack on mine, but the father refused and said that they were fine. We screamed into each other’s faces because the wind blew so loudly. I turned and continued to the cabin, still uneasy about the father and son. They arrived at the hut an hour or so after I did, wet and shivering.
I was able to get work for stay at Madison Hut. Because the weather was so bad, the hut master allowed more than two thru-hikers, the usual limit, to stay at the hut for work for stay. The hut was small. It had a kitchen, 8 picnic tables in the dining area and two bunkrooms with bunks stacked four beds high. At 6:00pm, the crew, composed mainly of college students from New England universities, served the paying guests’ dinners. The four thru-hikers at the hut retreated to the bunkroom to remain quiet and out of sight until we were allowed back into the dining hall at the conclusion of the regular dinner. We were allowed the leftovers from the pots and pans. As we began filling out plates though, three more guests arrived at the hut. The leftovers were quickly snatched from our reach and served to the three guests that arrived late. The crew, in what I suppose to be an act of generosity, boiled us a pot of noodles and allowed us to eat as many noodles as we wanted. This sequence of events angered the other thru-hikers. I didn’t have any other experiences to compare tonight’s, but the three northbounders had been fed well at the other huts at which they had stayed and expected the same from this hut.
After filling up on plain pasta, I began my chore. I washed the dishes of the crew and other hikers, including the pots, pans, and serving bowls, and then I proceeded to scrub the eight iron stovetop brackets and the four stovetop frames that held the brackets. The work took about an hour. While I didn’t particularly care for the work or crew, especially those members of the crew that continued to pile dishes next to my sink, my work certainly wasn’t worth 80 dollars, which is the usual weekend rate for a night in the hut.
Once my chore was complete, the crew called lights out. All the lights in the hut were turned off to conserve the solar batteries that hadn’t been charged in several days. The paying guests retired to their bunks. The thru-hikers each chose a picnic table in the dining hall and slept there. The wind howled against the stone and wood walls of the hut, but I fell asleep quickly, having hiked ten miles across high ranges, through miserable weather, and rocky trail.