Breakfast was tasty, but the hottest item at the table was the topic of weather. The weather forecast is provided each morning to the huts via radio from the weather observatory on Mt Washington, and the forecast for the next couple of days did not look good. Although we were currently experiencing blue skies, conditions were expected to deteriorate throughout the day. My decision to continue down the trail instead of heading for town at Crawford Notch was beginning to haunt me, but it was too late to turn back now. After breakfast, the hikers that were headed for Mt Washington from the hut, and the adjoining Nauman Tentsite, took off en masse attempting to get over the summit before the thunderstorms materialized.
Following a fairly easy 500-foot climb, I reached the mostly open summit of Mt Pierce, where I had a spectacular view of Mt Eisenhower, Mt Monroe, and the Presidential Range beyond. The clouds were beginning to gather but, so far, the weather conditions remained excellent. Following a brief break at the summit, I continued hiking a short distance to pick up the A.T. following the Crawford Path.
Throughout the Presidential Range, the A.T. circumvents the summit of several of the Presidential peaks. I was carrying a full set of White Mountain maps with the intention of hiking the usually short spur trails to these summits, but the urgency of staying ahead of the bad weather caused me to abandon that plan for today. I continued following the gently climbing trail as I bypassed the peaks of Mt Eisenhower and Mt Monroe.
The longer I hiked, and the higher I climbed, the worse the visibility became as the cloud cover rolled across the ridgeline obscuring the surrounding peaks. By this time, the wind was also picking up with occasional 30-mph gusts. Suddenly there was a break in the clouds that allowed me a brief view of the gorgeous setting around the Lake of the Clouds Hut located at the base of Mt. Washington. Although the summit of Mt Washington was just 1.5 miles away, the summit was concealed by cloud cover as it had been all morning.
The Lake of the Clouds Hut is the largest and most popular hut in the White Mountains, with bunk spaces for 90 people. By the time I reached the hut around 11:00 am, the clouds had returned to decrease visibility to about 100-yards and I struggled to open the door against the wind. It was time to seriously explore my various options. The Croo member assigned to welcome guests to the hut was friendly and extremely helpful, so I began bombarding her with questions.
Q. In your opinion, would it be safe to summit Mt Washington today?
A. Conditions are currently favorable to climb, but I cannot determine how or when conditions will deteriorate as this weather system moves in.
Q. If I make it to the summit, what are my options for getting off the mountain?
A. There is an AMC bus that departs on the hour that stops at the Joe Dodge Lodge in Pinkham Notch. You can also ride the cog train down, but there isn’t an easy way to get from the lower terminus to a place with overnight accommodations.
Q. How can I make a reservation for the bus and the Joe Dodge Lodge?
A. We do not have a land line, but here are the phone numbers if you have enough cell service.
Cell service was marginal, but I got through to the AMC bus office and was told that tickets are sold at the summit snack bar and they couldn’t guarantee a seat without a ticket. Next, I called the Joe Dodge Lodge and was told that the only space available for tonight and tomorrow was in the female bunk room.
Q. I’m running out of options, so now what?
A. You can stay in the “Dungeon” for $10 or I can offer you a work-for-stay if you want to stay here.
A long-standing tradition of the AMC Huts is to offer a work-for-stay option to thru-hikers. In return for a couple of hours of work, hikers get to eat leftovers from the guest meals and sleep on the floor in the dining room. This benefits the Croos because they get help with the cleaning chores and it reduces the amount of garbage that they must carry off the mountain. Typically, work-for-stay is offered to two hikers (four at Lake of the Clouds) and you need to arrive after 3:00 pm to be eligible. I gratefully accepted the work-for-stay offer.
I spent what felt like the longest afternoon of my life hanging out at the Lake of the Clouds Hut and watching the weather change, but at least it gave me the opportunity to get to know some of the other hikers. One time the clouds broke and I could see the cog train making its way up the opposite ridge but, before I could get a picture, the clouds rolled back in reducing the visibility to a few feet. As the afternoon progressed, the weather conditions became increasingly worse with heavy rain driven by 40-mph wind gusts. I was feeling vindicated about my decision to stay put.
There must have been some relaxation of the work-for-stay policy, possibly due to a bad weather incident. By nightfall, there were 25 thru-hikers at the hut (a new record according to the Croo member in charge) with six more in the “Dungeon.” The “Dungeon” is a small bad weather emergency shelter under the hut which is accessed through a heavy steel door and it looks like, well, a dungeon. At dinner time they chased all the thru-hikers out of the dining room so that the capacity crowd of paying guests had a place to eat.
Since Malt, Jukebox, Shiver, and I had been the first to sign up for work-for-stay, we were activated to duty after dinner. Malt and Jukebox chose to clean the ovens while Shiver and I became dishwashers. I would scrape the dishes, Shiver would wash them and place them in the sink of rinse water, I would move them from the rinse through the Clorox bath, and place them on the drying rack to be put away by the Croo. In return for actually doing work for our work-for-stay, we got the first crack at the leftovers. When we were finally called to the kitchen to see what we were being offered to eat, I thought our eyes would pop out of their sockets upon seeing the buffet that was sitting before us. There must have been thirty containers containing everything from pizza to chicken cordon blue with veggies, fruit, bread, and desserts. Jukebox even snagged what was left of a fruit smoothie! I can honestly say that in terms of both variety and quantity, we ate better than the guests.
Around 10:00 pm, the Croos cleared the dining room of guests and, in less than 10 minutes, the thru-hiking crowd prepared their beds and were ready for sleep. This is pretty late by thru-hiker standards and, within minutes, they only sound I could hear was the rain pelting against the windows. The sound of rain is not exactly what I was hoping to hear, but it provides a great soundtrack for sleeping.
Date: August 4, 2017
Starting Location: Mizpah Spring Hut
Ending Location: Lake of the Clouds Hut
AT Miles Today: 4.6
AT Miles To Date: 1,855.4