Day 121: Zealand Falls Hut / Highland Center

Day 121. These nephews of mine, wow. Wow wow wow wow. If ever there were 3 children under 12 that are better outdoorsman, wilderness explorers, and good sport hikers … I wouldn’t believe it. It is insane to describe what we did today. It would be a grueling and difficult day if I was alone, but it is near impossible to describe what this Berman family did with me today with children. This is a day we will all never forget, this is a day wills were tested, and this was a day of physical and mental accomplishment worthy of the greatest trophy!

After yesterday’s stormy rain day, we were optimistically hopeful for clear skies today. But at breakfast, a member of the hut croo came out to share today’s weather report and, unfortunately, thunderstorms were on the horizon again for the afternoon. Looking outside, it was cloudy and dry … but we knew it was now a race against time.

We quickly got everyone packed up and hiked out around 8:30. Today’s plan had the whole family hiking 7 tough ridgeline miles to Zealand Falls Hut, and then Jonah, Keven and me hiking 5.5 more back to the Highland Center (non-AT side trail). Our first path was a treacherous 0.8 miles straight up 1,200 feet of elevation to the top of South Twin Mountain. It was very slow going as we scrambled up rocks and slippery eroded trails through the clouds to the summit an hour later. But, just as we reached the top … the sun poked out and began quickly burning the clouds away! As clouds shifted and evaporated, stunning views slowly appeared all around us. It was a magical and breathtaking moment! But I’m no sure who appreciates it more, the boys, or their mother (tasked with mental motivation for the day).

We continued along a ridgeline to a couple more small peaks (Mount Guyot and Zealand Mountain) in gorgeous sunny blue skies. We had a great snack break at Mt. Guyot where we rested and chatted with another family hiking through. They took some family photos for us (above) and we continued on further. The pace was slow, as rocks and wet boulders lined most of this section of the path. Zachary needed some assistance/motivation at times, though was mostly great and keeping up well with the others. And Caleb’s feet and positive attitude weren’t deterred by anything!

But then, about 1 mile from the hut … and after a near perfect day with high spirits, great storytelling, and pleasant hiking … doom came in the form of thunder off in the distance. We tried to ignore it, hoping it would go away, and hurried our pace down the final steep stretch as safely and swiftly as we could. With every few steps, another crack of thunder came, just s little bit louder than before.

We were so close. So close!

With 0.5 miles to go, the temperature instantly dropped 10 degrees and a strong gust of wind rushed through the trees. We dropped our packs and threw on our rain gear as quickly as we could (and just in time). Seconds later the skies dumped a waterfall of rain on us as thunder crashed around us. We were right in the eye of the storm. My sister, to her credit, became Supermom and guided the boys quickly down the final stretch in a way that made it a fun challenge instead of a miserable dilemma (“Guys look! A flash flood!”) They laughed and cheered when we finally jumped into the dry safety of the Zealand Falls Hut a few minutes later.

That 7 mile stretch took us 7.5 hours, and although it was finally over for half the group … we unfortunate others could only rest for a few minutes before heading out again. The worst of the storm had now passed, with only light rain now remaining. I hugged my sister and her two youngest goodbye (perhaps forever?) then guided her husband and first born son out into the rain for our what-I-hoped-to-be a quick descent.

Wrong again, as usual. I thought the trail from Zealand Falls to the Highland Center would be a popular trail and well groomed for all the dayhikers that likely use it. Nope, it was pretty barren and in rough shape This yellow-blazed side trail crossed over Mount Tom, through a trail-river of 8″ puddles, and over 7 DEEP river crossings before we were spit out on the road 3.5 hours later. Jonah was an incredible hiker, staying stride for stride with me as we submerged our soaking feet underwater more times than I can count. It was an extremely technical hike, with dangerous water currents and rough bushwhacking through the overgrown trail surroundings.

Finally, with 11 miles under his belt, Jonah saw our last trail sign, marking us 1.3 miles from the parking lot. We hurried down, hoping to make it to the Highland Center before 8pm, to score dinner before it was put away. We got off the trail at 8:00 on the dot, and rushed to the dining room at 8:05. We pleaded with the amazingly nice staff to please wait to finish clearing, and let us dish up 3 plates of food. They were happy to oblige, and we devoured a massive dinner of the hot leftover scraps happily. It was heavenly!

Then wet boots and garments were stripped off in exchange for a hot shower and dry clothes. Jonah was a trooper, as both Kevin and I were completely exhausted! He was tired too, but in a great “Look what I accomplished!” kind of way.

What a day, what a day.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)

  • Start Mile: 1830.8
  • Start Time: 8:20
  • End Mile: 1837.7
  • End Time: 8:05
  • Miles Hiked: 6.9 (+5.5)
  • Miles to Go: 353.2
  • Lodging: Zealand Falls / Highland Center

Day 120: Galehead Hut Zero Day

Day 120. As most of my family and friends can tell you, my favorite place on earth is Granite Park Chalet in Glacier National Park. A hike-up-only lodge that sits atop the continental divide, looking out over beautiful Rocky Mountains and valleys. It’s a 7-mile hike from the famous Going to the Sun Road in Montana, and part of every trip itinerary I’ve taken there since I was 9 years old.

However, I must say. The AMC is challenging them for the title. This hut to hut system is simple incredible, and my day spent at Galehead Hut gave me plenty of time and resources to reflect on it. It rained all day, but in-between games with my nephews, I read up on the history of the huts and the evolution/enhancement to what we see today. I can honestly say these White Mountains are now my 2nd favorite place on earth.

Seeing as it was a Zero Day, I thought it may be fun to have my sister tell her story for these past two days. She agreed to document the Berman side of things in today’s post, so here it is (co-written with me for additional clarity):

I’m not going to lie. When I heard the forecast of thunderstorms with hail and 80 mph winds possible, I considered bailing on our plan and checking into the fancy looking Mt Washington lodge down the road. But Uncle Sharkbait, and the our new friend Steve on duty at the Highland Center, found a great solution win a Zero Day at Galehead. So we were ready to go and prepared the next morning.

Here’s what prepared looks like in the Berman household: Our oldest child (Jonah, 11) carried everyone’s rain gear. Our middle (Caleb, 9) had eight emergency packs of Ramen in case our vegetarian, kid friendly, no-nut meal request proved difficult for the hut staff. And also our daily Berman Family medicine … 3 boxes of Carr’s Table Water crackers. And our youngest (Zachary, 7) carried his morning coffee (I.e. three packs of chocolate milk). Then, to round it all out, my husband Kevin and I carried five people’s worth of clothing, food, toiletries, headlamps, sleeping bag liners, flip flops, water bottles, and Benadryl.

Despite perfect weather, gummy bears and full size candy bars, the going was slow. Or more accurately, straight up. We found our key motivators became ego and fear. Jonah decided he needed to beat Sharkbait to the lodge, because having his uncle hike thirteen miles faster than he hiked 5 was too “embarrassing.” Zachary had to go number two and the fear of pooping in the woods turned his legs into rocket boosters. I could barely keep up with them!

Doing our best oblivious Uncle Sharkbait impression, Jonah and I missed the trail sign and almost turned the wrong way near the end. Fortunately though, a nice couple with a dog set us straight and the kids ran on ahead to the Galehead hut. Zachary made it in time!

What a hut. You enter a bedroom with bunk beds stacked to the ceiling. Nothing says family like sleeping on the bottom bunk with your three children stacked on top of you. Jonah on the fourth level, 20 feet up. Kevin had snagged a bottom bunk too, but nicely gave it to an older couple for a third level bunk instead. Given the amount of peanut butter consumed up here, we thought it was a good insurance policy, as she turned out to be a pediatrician and was also staying both nights like us.

We felt like heroes staying at Galehead for the Zero day, as hikers rolled in soaked from head to toe, shivering all day, while we played endless games and drank bottomless cups of hot chocolate. I couldn’t resist mothering a group of Overland Camp teens, one of whom was wearing his puff jacket OVER his rain gear. I begged him to put it under. As a teenager finally away from his mother should do, he politely declined my advice.

Our day was idyllic. Playing games and reading with no phones, work, or screens to distract us. Luckily they had Settlers of Catan, a family favorite, and the sheep were able to return to Neimantown (an inside joke my kids love to shout when we play together). We enjoyed dinner with our new friends and even managed to eat the ACTUAL meal they served. Homemade bread, soup, lasagna, salad and peas. We hadn’t hiked today, but some very intense card games and bridge building (using Jenga pieces) had worked up our appetites.

As I sit here typing, Sharkbait is being massaged by Manuel and Meatloaf (Zach and Caleb’s trail names). Lights out is in five minutes and we still have to scale two flights of ladder to get to our beds. Still, I’m not complaining. The bathrooms are inside here and the rain is still coming down. Fingers crossed that the weather breaks before tomorrow. We have a bunch of contingencies, but hope we’ll be able to head to Zealand falls hut. It’s tempting to stay here another night. Being woken up by “croo” member Grace’s guitar playing is a great way to start any day!

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)

  • Start Mile: 1830.8
  • Start Time: 0:00
  • End Mile: 1830.8
  • End Time: 0:00
  • Miles Hiked: 0.0
  • Miles to Go: 360.1
  • Lodging: Galehead Hut