Route: White Mountains Hut Traverse (NH)

Location
New Hampshire, US
Description

The White Mountains Hut Traverse is a gnarly 49-mile route that links 8 huts operated by the Applachian Mountain Club (AMC), between Carter Hut and Lonesome Lake Hut. Fast trips on the route go back at least to the 1930s (see below, and this site, and here). Until recently, Matthew Cull was thought to hold the fastest time, 13h9m set in 1993. Cull obtained signatures from the crew at each hut along the way, and his progress was monitored by the hut crews via radio. He published an account of his trip in the Dec. 1993 - Jan. 1994 issue of Running Wild magazine, which is posted at the bottom of this page. Cull believed the previous record to be 14h05m, set by Bob Biddle in 1981.

In 2007 it was reported on the Views From the Top forum that Alex MacPhail had run the Hut-to-Hut in a time of 12h11m, set when he was a hut "croo" person way back in 1963! Later, in 2010, MacPhail wrote a history of the Hut-to-Hut traverse (whitemountainsojourn.blogspot.com/2010_08_01_archive.html), including earlier speed records and a detailed account of his own 1963 trip. However, there are discrepancies in some of the details (splits) reported by MacPhail in 2007 and 2010. In an email exchange with me, MacPhail explained that he never intended to claim a record for the traverse, and had done his run purely as a personal challenge and for training. He explained that some of the details were from memory, which was obviously subject to error after 45+ years. He did indicate that the total time of 12h11m was accurate to the extent that his watch was accurate. Finally, MacPhail said "I do not feel comfortable with anyone using my time as 'the record' ".

On this page, Jeff List discusses some more about the Hut-to-Hut route & times. Importantly, he breaks the Hut Traverse into two variations, the "Standard Hut Traverse", which includes the 8 huts definted by the AMC today (and was the route run by Matt Cull), and the historic "MacPhail Hut Traverse", which includes a 9th destination at Joe Dodge Lodge in Pinkham Notch, and is about 5 miles longer than the Standard route used by most runners and hikers today.

Adam Wilcox wrote a nice trip report on his 13h53m "standard" Hut Traverse of 6/16/2012: http://adamiata.blogspot.com/2012/06/racing-sun-amc-huts-traverse-6162012.html. Wilcox said, "I'll also throw my two cents in and say that yes, "brutal" is the right word for this route. The footing makes it much more difficult than the numbers would suggest. This aint no western trail!"

Jeff Colt made the following comments about support styles on the Hut Traverse, which make a lot of sense to us.  So far, however, we have classified as "unsupported" if you take only water from the Huts.  "Supported" would mean taking support not provided by the huts, but so far no one has done this.  "The Hut Traverse is meant to be a route that connects 8 points in the mountains where hikers can find services. We run this route differently say than another 50 mile backcountry route because of this. The huts offer services to everyone: clean potable water, restrooms, shelter, and if you want food, coffee, or lemonade. Water is the primary service the huts offer. I hope we don't reach a point when folks are doing the Hut Traverse and filtering their own water. But I do advocate for having a single FKT for the Hut Traverse if you take water from the huts."

New Hampshire winters are brutal, and only 3 of the huts are open: Carter Notch Hut, Zealand Hut and Lonesome Lake Hut.  We have a separate category for calendar winter Hut Traverse FKTs.


MacPhail added the following valuable information about historic Hut Traverse trips:

Two years ago I was planing to write a definitive story for the Resusitator on the Hut Traverse from 1936 to 2007. There is a story in the 1936 December Appalachia titled "On Breaking One's Own Record" by an H.L. Malcolm who crystalized the Traverse in my mind when I read his article in 1953 at my summer home on Lake Winnespesaukee. He begins that article by exclaiming that his interest in 24 hour mountain marathons "was aroused in 1931 by the Marshall brothers, and other hikers in the Adirondack Mountains." Malcolm next heard that two AMC croo, Batchelder and Loomis, completed the AMC hut traverse in 1933 in 23 hours, 15 minutes.

Malcolm set out on his own attempt on July 7, 1936. He left Carter at 12:04 am and finished at Lonesome at 10:07 pm, or 22 hours and 3 minutes. Two weeks later on July 22, 1936, he repeated his traverse, leaving Carter at 6 am and hiking first to Pinkham via the Wildcats and then to Madison via Osgood Ridge. He also went over all the summits. He arrived at Lonesome in 21 hours and 43 minutes, hiking 55 miles with a vertical rise of 19,000 feet.

In the late 1950's and early 1960's there were several new records set on the Traverse by some well known hikers including Tom Deans and Chris Goetz. Chris, I believe, did the traverse west to east in just over 16 hours. Tom Deans did not complete his traverse because of jock rash. I have some other names as well.

I completed a traverse on August 16th, 1963, after training for two weeks. I started at Madison at 5:30 am (first light) on that day and ran down Madison Gulf to 19 Mile Brook, up to Carter, over the Wildcats and down the Wildcat Ski Trail to Route 16. I ran to Pinkham on the road and then up to Lakes via the Tuck Trail. I made it from Pinkham to Lakes in 47 minutes but stopped to vomit twice after eating too fast at Pinkham. From Lakes the run was pretty easy. I went via the Mizpah shelter so that my Traverse would include Mizpah after it was built. I got to Lonesome, the old hut, in 12 hours, 11 minutes. I hardly mentioned it to anyone as I was using the traverse pretty much as a training exercise. I have all my hut to hut times documented in a notebook that I kept.

I've heard of others completing the traverse in good times but I think Malcolm and the others before and after him included Pinkham in the Traverse.
-- Alex MacPhail

Alex MacPhail posted a detailed history of the Hut Traverse here:
whitemountainsojourn.blogspot.com/2010_08_01_archive.html

FKTs

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