Photos & Text by Gale Straub
Gear provided by Polartec
Exploring close to home is important. It’s easy to get caught up dreaming about far off places, especially in the winter. Warm beaches, foggy forests, and “anywhere but here” can be a mental escape that only serves to disconnect you from your life.
My advice? Take a deep breath and walk out your front door with open eyes.
Last week I loaded up my pack and headed to the White Mountains for a guided all-women’s lodge-to-hut trip through the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC). I’ve been backpacking a few times now, but I’ve never stayed in a hut. There are eight “high huts” owned and operated by the AMC in the Whites, and just three are open for the winter. Understandably so, as the White Mountains have some of the worst weather in the country. For a fee, you can stay at a shared bunkhouse at one of the huts – an appealing alternative to setting up camp and carrying a tent on your back. It’s a popular option for hikers of all ages, and it feels like a timeless experience.
I chose the all-women’s trip from the Highland Center Lodge to Lonesome Lake Hut. I wanted to do an all-women’s excursion because I hoped to meet some likeminded women in the New England area. It was a unique experience after the backpacking I’ve done in the past year. The guides provided food and direction, the huts provided shelter. There was even a stocked gear closet you could use to supplement your apparel and outerwear. It was a gentle introduction to hiking in the Whites and sleeping in a hut. I can honestly say that while I didn’t need guides or an itinerary, I really enjoyed the experience. I got to learn about the hut system and what it’s like to be a guide for the AMC. I also met some awesome women!
We were a small group. There were just three other women (Mary Ann, Linda, and Diane), all around my mother’s age. They work for the same hospital and met in the maternity ward. (Boy, do they have some stories!) They live in Western Massachusetts and hike every week with a group of friends. Even better, they plan a yearly trip each August to the White Mountains where they do an epic hike and stay in a hut. Typically they have 10 – 15 people on these outings! This guided trip to Lonesome Lake was a fun way for them to get up to the Whites in the winter. I found them quite inspiring – if I’m as active and community-minded in my 60’s, I’ll be one happy woman.
Katie Burkley and Mitra Karimian were competent and enthusiastic leaders on the two day trip. You could tell they were practiced at accessing each of our skill levels and made sure to set a pace that reflected the slowest of the crew. We were never in the dark about timeline or the route. Mitra has worked for the AMC for five years and is a passionate naturalist. Katie (pictured below) is wrapping up her second season as a guide before moving to Hawaii to work as a horticulture therapist. They both spoke highly of their colleagues and the culture within the AMC.
One of my unfulfilled college dreams was being a caretaker at an AMC hut. I loved the idea of waking up with the sun, cooking food for people, stoking the fire, and hiking all day. Of course, I romanticized it. And of course, I didn’t apply to work with the AMC. It’s actually quite competitive to be a caretaker, so the odds are I wouldn’t have gotten a position. I wish I’d stepped outside of my comfort zone more then, though.
Becky (pictured below) is the biweekly caretaker at the Lonesome Lake Hut. It’s her second winter season. In the summer she works for the Forest Service. There are many responsibilities being a caretaker, but the perks are great – access to hiking trails and an intimate relationship with the mountains.
Day 1: Intros, Dinner, & Gearcheck @ Highland Center Lodge
Shuttle to Lonesome Lake Trailhead; Hike to Lonesome Lake Hut (1.6 mi, 950 ft elevation gain)
Lunch @ Lonesome Lake Hut
Hike to Kinsman Lake (3.8 mi RT, 1,400 ft elevation gain)
Dinner @ Lonesome Lake Hut
Hike back to Shuttle & Goodbyes (1.6 mi)
Late winter in the White Mountains is really variable. The forecast was mild, but I packed conservatively incase the weather turned. Gear is similar to a backpacking trip, but no need for a tent or sleeping pad. The guides divided the food between the six of us.
I left the mountain feeling refreshed and reconnected. Best of all, I was excited to return to the Whites. I took my time heading home and stopped at The Basin in Franconia Notch.
I fell in love with New Hampshire as a child; we’re slowly finding each other again.
Disclaimer: The AMC was nice enough to let She-Explores test out this guided trip, but the writer’s opinions are unbiased and all her own. In addition, this review includes Amazon Affiliate links, which provide a small commission for She-Explores. Learn more here.