Lakes of the Clouds with Washington behind


  • 7/12 (6.2mi+4549ft, ~6h)
    • 7:30 AM Depart Joe Dodge Lodge
    • 9:30 AM At Hermit Lake Shelter, base of Tuckerman’s Ravine
    • 10:00 AM Start steep ascent of Tuckerman’s Ravine
    • 11:00 AM At the top of the ravine, start trek up Mt. Washington
    • 11:45 AM Summit Mt. Washington
    • 1:15 PM At Lake of the Clouds Hut
    • 2:40 PM Hike Mt. Monroe (30–40 minutes)
  • 7/13 (4.7mi+561ft, ~5h)
    • 8:00 AM Depart Lakes of the Clouds Hut
    • 9:30 AM At Boott Spur, start of steep descent
    • 12:55 PM Back at the car
  • Tracks: AllTrails 1, AllTrails 2
  • Conditions: Mostly clear with occasional clouds, not much wind.

GPS Track of the hike

As you may have noticed, we’re not in the Catskills anymore! Hikers who finish their Catskills 3500 tally sheet tend to start looking for other challenges. Usually the Adirondacks 46ers come next, but the New Hampshire high peaks are also a popular choice. So let’s call this “Dan’s hiking blog”.

Alex and I decided to do a summer road trip up to Acadia. Alex had never been to Maine, and we wanted to see Atlantic Puffins, which can only be seen in this part of the country. Road trips are more fun and more manageable if you can make a few stops on the way. We wanted to visit the beaches on Cape Cod on the way back, but what about on the way up? The Adirondacks weren’t on the route, but the White Mountains in New Hampshire were. We’d heard great things about hut-to-hut hiking here both from my old coworker Jack and my friend and frequent hiking companion John, who’d told us stories about this area from his time through-hiking the Appalachian Trail.

We’d briefly looked at doing some hut hiking last fall but were daunted by the $200-300/night price for the huts. If you compare that to camping, it’s expensive. If you compare it to staying at a Bed and Breakfast, it’s not! So we booked two nights, the first at Joe Dodge Lodge just off the highway below Mt. Washington and the second at Lakes of the Clouds near the summit at 5,000 ft. elevation. We’d heard that Lakes of the Clouds was the most spectacular hut, so it was special that we were able to book it for July 12th, my birthday!

Dan at the Native Plant Garden at Joe Dodge Lodge Alex was a big fan of the native plant garden at Joe Dodge Lodge

Joe Dodge Lodge was a very pleasant place to stay. They served us a hearty breakfast and dinner and had a shop with all sorts of hiking supplies. We picked up a few key items here: new socks for Alex and a belt for Dan. Alex got very interested in the “ten essentials” pamphlets that they had. She bought a paper map but I managed to talk her out of buying an emergency bivy sac. I was worried we were hiking with too much stuff already!

We set out from Joe Dodge Lodge around 7:30 AM. The hike wasn’t long (only ~5 miles) but it was quite steep the whole way and we had lots of gear: sleeping bags, pillowcases and all our toiletries for spending the night, plus water, food and all the usual hiking necessities. I hiked with my climbing crag pack and Alex used our day bag. In retrospect this wasn’t a great choice: we should have gotten her something with a waist belt. There was too much weight in that bag and the straps dug into her shoulders the whole way up.

There’d been huge rainstorms in the area the previous week, so the rivers were raging. We quickly came up on a huge waterfall.

Waterfall near the base of our trail

After what seemed like a long time, we got to Hermit Lake Shelter at the base of Tuckerman’s Ravine. This was the “Alpine Zone”, the part of the hike I was most excited about. The Catskills top out at 4200ft. The trees are shorter and scruffier at that elevation, but there are still trees! I was excited to see what happened as you got even higher. And at 6288ft, there was plenty of elevation left!

We got a taste of the steepness of the ravine that we’d be hiking and the spectacular surroundings from the base:

Looking up at Tuckerman's Ravine

The ravine was steep and rocky and there was lots of water flowing. We took our time and enjoyed the views.

Alex hiking in the Ravine

We sometimes joke that it’s hard to tell whether our photos are in the tropics or upstate New York in the summer. Tuckerman’s Ravine felt like we were in the Andes in Colombia! There was lots of “botanizing” here. Alex was particularly excited to find a rare White Bog Orchid growing by the stream. I was excited to see a tiny patch of snow hanging on in July.

Alex botanizing on the Ravine

White Bog Orchid

We are not the fastest of hikers and we were passed by quite a few groups on the way up, but we finally passed an elderly couple in this section. We weren’t the slowest hikers on the mountain!

Yellow blazes on the Ravine trail

Near the top of the ravine we finally saw our destination: the summit of Mt. Washington! The summit was perfectly clear when we first saw it but clouds and fog rolled in as we approached. The last mile involved hiking on a giant boulder field.

Scramble looking up

There were many, many groups hiking on this section. Everyone seemed to find it slow-going, but this terrain didn’t bother me very much. I think I’m used to it from climbing. What was striking to me was how hard it was to estimate your distance to the summit. It looked so close, but it felt like it kept receding, like we weren’t getting there as quickly as you’d think based on how much ground we were covering.

As we got very close to the summit I started to hear car engines and commotion from all the people. I’d been warned about this but had completely forgotten on the hike up: since you can drive to the top of Mt. Washington, the summit feels more like Disneyland than a mountain peak. After hiking through such a quiet, remote area, this was quite the contrast!

We didn’t linger long here. It was foggy and cold and there weren’t any views. One woman at the summit saw our bags and asked whether we’d hiked up. She was quite impressed!

Looking down the spine towards Lakes of the Clouds

It warmed up quickly as we descended towards Lakes of the Clouds and got out of the fog. Since this entire part of the hike was well above the tree line, we could see our destination nearly the entire way. The views were spectacular and it was nice to get away from the crowds. We saw someone with a net near some alpine grasses. Alex correctly guessed what was going on: she was a biologist studying a rare alpine butterfly (the White Mountain Arctic) that only lives on Mt. Washington.

Farther down we saw a young woman with a very rustic-looking hiking sac sitting on the trail looking at the view and crying her eyes out. Alex asked if she was OK. We learned later that she was on the staff at Lakes of the Clouds. Who knows what drama was going on with the hut “Croo”?

Finally, we arrived at the hut and checked in. We were lucky to be sharing a room with only four other hikers (it could have been 12).

Bestride the bunk beds

We arrived in the nick of time, too: within half an hour it was pouring rain. We sat out the storm and decided to do the short hike up to Mt. Monroe. It was nice to be hiking without our full bags and we were at the summit in no time. Despite being an easy hike from Lakes of the Clouds, Monroe is one of the New Hampshire 4,000 footers. It’s actually the fourth tallest! It only seems small in comparison to Mt. Washington.

Looking down at Lakes of the Clouds from Mt. Monroe

We were expecting to see through hikers at the hut and there were clear signs of them: I overheard a woman introduce herself as “Apple Pie” and saw lots of hikers airing their feet out outside the lodge. The through hikers were older than I was expecting. Many of them looked like retirees. Alex brought up trail names later but misremembered “Apple Pie” as “Corn Flake”. I thought that was pretty funny, so now it’s one of Alex’s trail names!

At dinner, we sat across from a group of three guys who were section hiking the AT: Rolex, Wooly and Rainman. Rolex was from New Jersey and had started through-hiking the AT years ago with his brothers. Due to some interpersonal conflicts, they stopped about a month in and he’d been section hiking ever since. He got the trail name Rolex because he was always keeping the group on a strict schedule. (Wooly had a beard and Rainman liked hiking in the rain.) That made us think that Alex should have a trail name that reflected how she hiked. I came up with “Merlin” since she’s always using the Merlin app to ID birds.

Clear view of Mt. Washington above Lakes of the Clouds

Our evening activity at the hut was a geology tour. We learned that Mt. Washington was mostly schist that had been formed hundreds of millions of years ago deep under the ocean. The Appalachians had once been much taller, at least 20,000ft. What we see now is just a little nub of what they used to be. They formed before the Atlantic Ocean, so there’s actually another half of the Appalachians in Europe and Africa! Unbeknownst to our tour guide, one of our bunkmates was a geology professor at Columbia. He said she’d done a great job. At one point we got to some slightly different-looking rocks and he said they’d driven him crazy on the hike down. “What the hell is going on here?” They were an “igneous intrusion”, a place where a different type of rock had erupted into the surrounding schist.

We heard lots of “spring peepers” (frogs) singing around dusk. At this elevation, spring comes in July!

Ridge Trail on the descent

After breakfast with Rolex, Wooly and Rainman, Alex and I were on the trail by 8 AM. We decided to take a slightly different route down to avoid descending Tuckerman’s Ravine. Instead, we went via the Boott Spur, just south of our route up. It may have been slightly less steep, but there was really no avoiding a tough descent. Hiking down is faster than hiking up, but only up to a certain angle. Then it gets to be slow-going again as you start having to look at every step. Our pace on the way down may have been even slower than it was on the way up!

Scruffy trees Alex on the descent

Once again we got good weather and the hiking was beautiful, especially in the alpine zone. We heard and eventually saw Dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated Sparrows hopping amongst the small, scruffy trees. There were views everywhere and very few people. We only saw two trail runners on their way up until we got down to the waterfall again.

Dark-eyed Junco 1 Dark-eyed Junco White-throated Sparrow 2 White-throated Sparrow

So our first two New Hampshire 4000 footers are in the books. Will I eventually hike all the New Hampshire high peaks? Maybe, but I’m not in any rush. I really enjoyed hiking in the alpine zone, though, which makes me want to spend more time in the Adirondacks.

Airing out at Lakes of the Clouds