Day 140 – The Race to Lake of the Clouds Hut

I woke up to several groups of hikers talking loudly as they walked passed our stealth site near the trail. It was before 7AM and groups were getting an early start. I think everyone had the same plan. Hike the 13 miles up to Lake of the Clouds Hut near the peak of Mt Washington. Why there?

This hut offers 4 “work for stay” sleeping arrangements and 6 additional bunks in “the dungeon,” below the hut. That’s 10 potential low/no-cost accommodations with the promise of breakfast and dinner leftovers after paying customers have eaten. Thru-hikers are physically unable to pass up deals this good.

The race was on for these 10 coveted spots. I ate breakfast and was 4th to leave camp after Hot Feet, Neo, and Corndog. The hiking for the day took us downhill the first few miles before a long and steady climb up over several 4k peaks and ending around 5k in elevation. I tried to temper my expectations, and say to myself ‘don’t expect one of those spots.’ There’s a ton of people in our bubble (and that’s not even counting potential SOBO hikers).

Despite talking down my expectations, the race was on. My strategy was to hike quick early and carry just enough water to get me through to the next water source. This was to keep the weight I needed to lug uphill at a minimum (water is heavy). Corndog and Neo stopped for water on the downhill and I trudged on passed.

I got my water from a stream on the uphill and chugged 30oz with kook aid and caffeinated Mio. Running a good sugar high and feeling fully caffeinated, I was off again. I attacked the uphill for a good 90 minutes before I started to slow. Along the way I passed Huck Finn, CBS, Thomas, and Toto.

I was feeling fairly parched (a rarity for me) with a few miles still until the first hut for the day (and next water source). Crossing a bog of deep muddy and undrinkable water which only added insult to injury. I was feeling sluggish after 10 miles and 2500ft in elevation gain. A protein bar helped with energy but the dry mouth after was a bold trade off to make.

I made it to Mizpah Spring Hut around 1PM. I immediately downed 24oz of more water with added kool aid and Mio. Hot Feet, Butter, Magpie, Tiger, and Shorty were also at this hut. I rested and snacked for a very quick 20 minutes or so. I felt better about my odds at this point with only 4.7 miles left to the final hut. But I’m not the quickest in the bubble and still needed to work to stay in the running for these 10 spots.

I pushed on ahead after my brief break. My energy tanks not 100% like earlier in the day, but topped off enough to get me through. The first few miles went by quickly. As the elevation gained, the views in all directions got better and better.

First it was views of the mountains we had just hiked. Then mountains we hiked yesterday. Then mountains we hiked this week. Finally we got to a height to see mountains in all directions, stretching off into the distance for what looked like it could have been Virginia.

Hot feet had passed me but I caught up to him around 3:30 at the top of Mt Monroe. We were just 10 minutes from Lake of the Clouds Hut and we could see the lake from up on the peak. The huts don’t pick their “work for stay” people until after 4PM and we didn’t see many thru-hikers milling about  waiting around. Our chances seemed promising.

We headed down to the hut to chat up the “CROO” (Hut Crew workers, which could also be an acronym that I’m ignorant of). Apparently Butter used to work as a CROO member in the past. 4PM rolled around and she was given honorary work for stay, but they would also accept 4 others. Hot feet, Magpie, Shorty and myself were all selected and Tiger offered to stay in the dungeon.

Our duties wouldn’t start until after dinner so we had some time to kill. I jumped (waded) into the lake. It was probably 50 degrees or colder. I stayed in long enough to wash off and for my lower body to go numb (which didn’t take long).  I changed into leggings and warm clothes and we went out behind the hut to eat snacks and have a mini yoga sesh. Then we all sat to watch the sunset.

The sunset was probably the most epic sunset I’ve ever seen. The amalgamation of colors was fascinating to watch as the sun disappeared behind clouds yet it still managed to paint the entire sky. The shifting light, framed above the rolling mountains and hills for as far as the eye could see was mesmerizing. I sat wrapped like a taquito in my foam sleeping mat for warmth and leaned back on the grass to take it all in.

Lost in the sunset I looked around us to see many of the huts paying customers, having finished dinner, were outside to watch as well. Our little group of hiker trash, maybe 10 deep at this point, all huddled on a hill watching Mother Natures best show in town.

After the sunset was over, it was time for ‘work.’ It really was work too. We had to scrub pots and pans that looked like they had baked in burns that dated back to the 80’s. I looked at the pan thinking “this pan has never been clean, ever.” We toiled with steel wool and scrubbers on these pans barely making a dent. It felt like a sick joke. I remarked, “can I just buy the hut a new pan instead of scrubbing this one?”

After an hour or so, the pans were slightly less dirty and my perfectionist brain was unsatisfied. But it was time for free leftovers so I didn’t dwell long on the subpar performance. Our plates towered with leftovers as we ate until our stomachs hurt. Food was enchiladas, turkey, black bean soup and brownies. As it would turn out, other hikers were allowed to pay $10 and stay inside next to us. An option I might have opted for if I’d of known it would have gotten me out of the devils dishwork.

Dinner finished, I helped sweep up and we stacked benches on top of tables. We moved our packs and sleeping pads inside and arranged them on the dining room floor for the night. Overall it was a really enjoyable day and even better evening. This bubble of hikers is a lot of fun to be around.

I expect to be woken up early as breakfast starts around 6:30 for the patrons. I’m looking forward to free breakfast, summiting Mt Washington, and maybe even a zero after a 15 mike day into town.

Stow away in my pack for Day 141 on the Appalachian Trail.

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Comments 4

  • Chris : Sep 4th

    I spent a night once at Mizpah and Lake of the Clouds (paying customer) my brother and I lucked out at Lake of the Clouds, we got a small room that overlooked the Lake. It had 4 bunks, we shared with a newly wed couple. Just a great room and even better sunset. Glad you were able to score a work-for-stay/meal.

  • Rushmore : Sep 4th

    I remember hustling to get to a hut to work for stay! At Lake of the Clouds we were in a big bunk room, full of smelly snoring hikers. Hubby kept opening a door and someone else kept shutting it all night. Lol. No scrubbing for us – just sweeping, etc.

  • tsugasouc : Sep 4th

    Great post! The dungeon looks the exactly the same as I remember. I always wondered what it would be like in there in February with 60mph winds and sub zero temps!

  • CB : Sep 4th

    OK, my face is red again! Bubbling. Coughing. Is anyone out there saying I need to keep up? I read it again and there it was. Yes, I know you’re laughing at me and not with me. Don’t even need a buzz to think that’s funny/stupid.


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