1st-known US mountain hut gets makeover in NH
CONCORD, N.H. - At 21, self-described couch potato Gary Gibson took his first hike in 1971 in the White Mountains with his college buddy, Jack. They stayed in the Madison Spring Hut along the Appalachian Trail, the first-known and longest-operating mountain hut for hikers in the country. He loved the views and the hut and knew he'd return.
On later hikes to Madison, Gibson got to know Jack's sister, Ellen. In 1975, Gibson proposed to her after dinner at the hut, which sits at an elevation of 1,460 metres and has 360-degree views of several mountain ranges, including the Presidentials.
In 1996, their 20th anniversary, they brought four of their five children up to Madison from their home in Ann Arbor, Mich. Now, they can't wait to take their grandchildren on a hike to the hut, which is in the home stretch of a makeover. When it reopens June 2, the 270-square-metre hut that once was nothing but a simple stone cabin with dirt floors will offer up to 52 guests more space for dining and sleeping, and use the latest green technologies.
The hut, first built in 1888 and run by the Appalachian Mountain Club, has gone through several incarnations and has sheltered hundreds of thousands of hikers. But as one of eight that's part of a hut-to-hut hiking network in New Hampshire, it hasn't had any major renovations in 70 years.
The Madison improvements include advanced uses of solar and wind energies to power the refrigerator/freezer and fire alarms and to heat groundwater for cooking and washing dishes. The hut's old flush toilets have been replaced with waterless ones.
With the changes, the AMC estimates that it will save 1,420 litres of propane for the season and use only four kilowatt hours daily. The average home consumes 30 kilowatt hours daily.
The $1-million renovation also features larger windows to let in more light. There's more room for the dormitory-style bunk beds, which originally stacked four high; the new configuration has three.
"We'd all fight for who got the top bunk," said Kathy Duffy, of Cambridge, Mass., recalling a childhood hike with her family and friends up to Madison. Duffy, who now has two grown sons, repeated that hike with her girlhood friend just before the hut closed for renovations in September.
The hut, located between Mount Madison and Mount Adams, is surrounded by rocky trails, some outlined by scrappy bushes.
"There's something about Madison that's just very, very striking," Gibson said. "I think it's the isolation of it, and there's no road or railroad up there like there is to (Mount) Washington. It's pristine, and it just has some really great rocky views."
Gibson recalled one Fourth of July hike when he could look down and see fireworks in little villages. "There are times when most of the cloud cover sits at 5,000 feet" (about 1,200 metres), he said. "You get these little holes in the clouds and could see little pieces land down there, little roads and houses and stuff."
The above-treeline trail is not for the beginner. "The first year I did it I thought it was so hard because you're really boulder-hopping all day," said Michele Loos of Dover, N.H. "Now my son and I know the terrain, so every year our time improves."
Renovations have been challenging.
"We are about four miles (6.5 kilometres) from the closest road and at an elevation of 4,800 feet (1,460 metres) ... that means using helicopters to airlift all of the materials up there," said Eric Pedersen, AMC huts manager. Crews able to hike and build in an environment in changeable weather also were needed.
"We started construction in early September last year, but we got our first snow probably just a few weeks after that," Pedersen said. "They're working in snow, 60-70 mph (100-110 km/h) winds, freezing water and just the logistics of being able to manage all that are complicated." Crews stopped their work in mid-November and boarded up the building for the winter. They resumed in early April.
When it's all done, the hut will be palatial compared to the original, primitive stone building with rocky dirt floors that housed up to 12 hikers.
"The thick frost on the rafters over the stove began to melt and drip," AMC member Rosewell Lawrence wrote in 1889, recalling a dedicatory visit to then-new hut that February. "To mitigate this nuisance we took a hoe left by the masons and hoed the frost off in glittering showers. Yet all the afternoon it dripped, dripped, dripped in all parts of the hut." These days, the hut isn't open during the winter.
The AMC, America's oldest conservation and recreation organization founded in 1876, chose to build the hut in the area because there was an existing mountain path and two more trails were being developed, said Nancy Ritger, senior interpretive naturalist for the organization. Members were influenced by similar alpine huts built in Europe.
"It seemed to be a natural attraction," she said. "There were a lot of hikers — they were called 'trampers' at the time — that were seeking adventures, and it became apparent that shelter was needed."
By 1906, it had expanded to host up to 24 hikers and a caretaker was hired. The hut hosted about 450 guests for the season, and each was charged 50 cents a night. Renovations in 1929 added a kitchen, dining room and crew quarters.
A fire destroyed the hut in 1940, leaving just the stone foundation, but it was rebuilt and reopened the following year. The latest project preserves part of the 1929 walls.
Loos, a 43-year-old nurse, has enjoyed her hiking experiences with friends and family so much that she's already reserved space at the hut in June.
"It kind of gets in your blood and you find yourself itching to get back there," she said.
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