Finally made an overnight hike to one of the AMC backcountry huts. These huts are maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club along the Appalachian trail for hikers to visit, either on their way along the trail or as a destination all their own. The huts are 100% off the grid, and Zealand Falls has that added benefit of being off any cell phone service at all. I was truly ‘cut off’ from the rest of the world.
The hut crew (or ‘croo’ as they call themselves) was wonderful. They apparently are ‘on’ for 11 days out of 14, preparing meals and helping travellers as they come through. That doesn’t mean it’s a 24hr a day job. A lot of the time for them is spent on the trails themselves. Not much to do between breakfast and dinner!
This hike was the longest one I’ve done so far. 18 miles over 3 days, staying one night at Zealand Falls, and two nights at Highland Lodge. It was also my first ‘backpacking’ trip (in that I was carrying a decent pack. No cooking or overnight gear, but I had all the required bits for backcountry travel). It’s the next logical progression for me learning how to handle myself camping and backpacking again. My first trip to Crawford Notch did not involve overnighting away from the lodge.
So, what did I learn? Well, a couple interesting things.
- That whole thing about “cotton kills” and “use only synthetics?” I’m a believer. I didn’t get actively rained on, but I sweated a bunch and on Saturday morning had to hike through some wet brush. I was wearing all synthetic fabrics, and never got chilled, even though I was pretty damp.
- Never. Ever. forget the bugspray. I brought it, wondering if I’d need it. 2 mosquito bites inside 4 minutes of hitting the trailhead had me hosing myself down with Cutter bugspray.
- Bring something to relax with. I didn’t have a book with me, and my cell phone was useless (as well as having poor battery life. Remember, no power at the huts other than 2-3 hrs of light in the early evening). I own a solar charger, so I could have worked on charging up the phone, but solar chargers / external batteries are heavy.
- Gear needs to be good. In this day and age where you can buy anything ‘on the cheap’ or ‘stupidly expensive because it has some famous persons name on it’, buy things that are high quality and dependable. My waterbag (which fit into my pack) broke on the second day. It was a cheapo knockoff. I fortunately had a spare stainless steel bottle, but that was irritating.
- Hiking socks are gods gift to feet.
- When they say ‘bring earplugs’ for sleeping in the huts, they ain’t kidding. One guy in my area was like the sleep apnea poster child. *shudder*
- I continue to be impressed at the quality of AMC’s food and offerings. Breakfast and dinner were excellent.
- Chocolate chip Clif bars are the best lunchtime backpacking food ever.
- Hiking / Trekking poles. First time I’ve used them for any extended period of time. I sort of surprised myself finding that carrying them both in one hand during the flat / open trails worked just fine (and I saw several other hikers do this). But having them for the clambering up and down climbs, as well as crossing water and mud? Totally worth it. I also had NONE of the ‘numb / bloated hands’ problems I’ve had in the past. Worth it.
- I wrestled hard about whether to bring my Canon camera with me, and in the end decided against it. If things got super-wet, I couldn’t guarantee I’d keep it dry, and it was just too much weight. I took photos with my cell phone while on the trail, and then hauled out the SLR when I got back on Saturday.
I’m ready to go back. There’s a few more hut trips planned with friends through the summer. I’m really looking forward to it.