The White Mountains of Vermont are somewhat of a hidden gem. Although well known in New England, many other people have probably heard little if anything about them. And that's a shame. The hut system is one of the only ones in the US that allows you to string a multi-day hike (like our White Mountain self-guided tour) without carrying a tent. There are many ways to have an adventure in the White Mountain Hut system, however here are a few tips to get the most of a journey to this hiker's paradise.
1) You should know the access trails and which ones are the most difficult.
The White Mountains Hut system is a source of pride for the Appalachian Mountain Club. Each hut is accessible via an access trail, and not all trails are created equal. Most "croo" members (hut staff are called "croo" rather than "crew"), rank the access trails based on the level of difficulty in reaching the hut. The three hardest access trails (beginning with the hardest) are Madison Springs Hut, Galehead Hut, Greenleaf Hut. I found that although the Greenleaf Hut trail is the shorter of the three, the terrain was extremely rocky and the pitch steeper than the others.
2) When to go to see the foliage change - End of September / Beginning of October
One of the most brilliant times to hike the White Mountains Hut to Hut is during the fall. The White Mountains show off its color with golden leaves and wildflowers below the treeline. The trees stretch on endlessly, a sea of colors that is a visual feast. It gets busy during this time of year; you'll find a lot of professional and amateur photographers, but for good reason. Although, there is usually little presence of snow and ice on the peaks, be ready for lower temperatures at the end of the day.
3) Look down before you step - very rare flora
Much of the trekking in the white mountains is done in the Alpine Tundra zone, above the tree line. This is a tough place for plants to thrive, and most are highly specialized to survive in these brutal conditions. The Franconia Ridge in the Pemigewassert range (Greenleaf Hut, Galehead Hut, and Zealand Hut) has particularly strong biodiversity, with quite a few plans endemic to the range. Do not go off-trail, or pick flora; they can survive harsh conditions, but not a human's touch.
Labrador Tea Flower
4) Don't bite off more than you can chew
You'll find that most of the huts in the range are spaced out around five to eight miles from each other. Thus it is tempting to combine some stages together, however, they are spaced that way for a reason. Both the Pemigewassert and the Presidential Range are rocky, while the trails are steep. There are few switchbacks to utilize, so it's not uncommon to average more time per mile hike than you would normally. I normally hike around 2.5 mi to 3.5 mi per hour. In the White Mountains, I averaged 1.5 mi to 2.5 mi per hour.
5) Make time for some peak bagging
Another reason you may wish to rush things is so you can enjoy some side excursions to peaks over 4,000 feet. There are over 48 peaks over 4,000 feet in New Hampshire, and a majority are accessible via the White Mountain Hut system. If you slow down, you'll have a chance to tackle more of them!
6) Zealand Peak is easily bagged, but the view is better a Zealand Cliff
In fact, there is virtually no view at Zealand Peak, so you can cross it off your peak-bagging list, but don't expect a visual reward for your effort. Instead, head to Zealand Cliff, which has views plunging down into the valley and across to a forest laden ridge.
7) Make the Highland Center your first, middle, and last evening stay
In our White Mountains Self-Guided tour, we maximize the number of days you overnight in the Highland's Center, to utilize the ensuite bathrooms and comfortable private rooms. We do this by breaking the hut system in two, as Highland's Center is located in between Pemigewassert and Presidential ranges. Each of the ranges has three huts that can be utilized. You can stay your first evening at the Highland Center, then take a shuttle down to the south to hike up to the Greenleaf Hut on the "Pemis", and then hit the Galehead and Zealand Huts before returning to the Highland Center for your 5th evening. After a hot shower and a cozy bed, you can then take the shuttle north to hit access the Madison Springs Hut. It's then on to Lakes of the Clouds and Mizpah Springs before returning to the Highland Center on your final evening.
8) Know the weather
The White Mountains are known for brutal, high-speed winds and colder weather. Even during the summer, it's important to know the forecast before you set off. If a storm rolls in, you want to get below treeline as quickly as possible. Some of the strongest non-tornado winds in the United States have been recorded at Mt Washington - over 200 mph.
9) That the hut system roughly follows the Appalachian Trail through the White Mountains
You may find a few AT hikers staying overnight as well. Typically, the through-hikers will bag a free place to stay by doing odd jobs and cleaning up. Section-hikers ofter reserve the beds beforehand, so make sure you make your reservations early!
10) That the "Croo" are different than most staff
A whole blog post could be dedicated to the croo of the White Mountain Huts. According to the AMC, the evolution of 'croos' is as follows: "In 1906, the AMC hired a “care-keeper” for the hut, a role that evolved into hutmaster and, eventually, multi-person crews (or croos, in AMC parlance). During the first half of the 20th century, the club built five additional lodges—Carter Notch, Lakes of the Clouds, Greenleaf, Zealand Falls, and Galehead—and acquired Lonesome Lake Hut."
In reality, they are caretakers, cooks, cleaners, and even guides of the hut. Often, they provide educational lectures about the area to guests. Oh, and all of the food, gear, and suppliers... they hiked them up. One tradition is to see who can carry the most weight, in the shortest amount of time. Some of the old school guys have wrecked their back from doing these feats of strength and endurance.