A Lonesome Winter’s Outing

There probably haven’t been many touch football games played on frozen Lonesome Lake. When the temperature is barely higher than zero and the only warmth comes from a wood stove, you can bet ways will be found to keep moving.

So on a winter’s Saturday, yards from a New Hampshire White Mountain hut, a Massachusetts Boy Scout troop was out on the thick ice, kids versus adults.

“It was a great football game,” said trip leader Pete Colgan. “The adults triumphed.”

Anyone might find it triumphant to spend a winter’s night in the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Lonesome Lake Hut. The hut is a longtime fixture on the lakeshore for a summer backpacker to spend the night. Boston’s AMC opened the hut for winter use December 13, 2002, in response to what it saw as an increase in winter activities such as snowshoeing, hiking and backcountry skiing.

A Variety Of Visitors
The hut and bunkhouses are situated near Cannon Mountain and across from the Franconia Range. To get there, hikers navigate a nearly 2-mile-long trail, carrying their precious sleeping bag and other winter gear on their backs.

Caretaker Frankie McCarthy shovels snow off the roof of the Lonesome Lake Hut.

Compared to the two other AMC huts open in winter — a 4-mile snowshoe trip to Carter Notch Hut, and a 6.5-mile ski to Zealand Hut — the Lonesome Lake Hut might seem like an easy reach, but it isn’t. Weather always makes a difference and winter’s cold, snow, ice, and winds always will temper any outdoor excursion.

“We see a variety of individuals,” said hut caretaker Frankie McCarthy. “I’ve seen a family with a 4-year-old son, first-timers and hardcore folks — Army Special Forces types with lots of winter experience.”

Saturday night it is the busiest, according to McCarthy. About 20 hardy souls spend that night while during midweek it is relatively quiet, and at times the caretaker can be the sole occupant.

Heading up on a late Sunday morning — we were snowshoeing against the overnighters coming down. In the Lafayette Place Campground parking lot is where we met the Boy Scouts and got a preview of what was ahead: one cold night. For the troop, 16 in all, it was a majority of first-timers for winter camping and snowshoeing.

Colgan, the trip leader, had hiked the same Lonesome Lake Trail in summer.

“The trail is smoother in winter,” he said. “There aren’t rocks to deal with and it isn’t marshy around the lake.”

The Lonesome Lake Trail leaves the campground amidst the northern hardwoods before ascending through a series of switchbacks to the spruce, balsam fir and mountain ash trees. Clusters of red berries on the ash, with a bell-like topping of snow, made them quite ornamental.

A snowshoer makes her way to the Lonesome Lake Hut. (Photos by Marty Basch)

Climbing about 1,000 feet, the trail comes to a junction by the lake. Both ways lead to the hut, and some opt to cross the lake at their own risk.

Hardy Hikers
At the hut, entrenched with nearly three feet of snow, were members of the Springfield-area based Pioneer Valley Hiking Club. Part family reunion, part club trip, 21 people in that group had spent the night and the last bunch was ready to return, leaving me and my companion as the lone guests that night.

Winter novices and the experienced used the hut for different hikes. Some ventured along a 3/4-mile lake loop trail called Around-Lonesome-Lake, which has thin wooden planks over some boggy sections. Kinsman Pond was the goal of others. Others wanted to gain a 4,000-footer — Cannon Mountain.

“The more experienced of our group headed up to Cannon,” said trip leader John Klebes. “Some other people just stayed at the hut.”

The hut also provides shelter for day-trippers, keeping them out of winter’s fury. The caretaker provides trail information, hot water is on in the kitchen and there’s minor gear and snacks for sale.

Even though the hut has gotten a winter infusion of insulation, a steeper-pitched roof, and an enclosed area for firewood storage, don’t expect much heat. The wood stove doesn’t get going until late afternoon — Saturday being the exception — and even when it does, the mercury is quick to return to the freezing mark.

As the sun sets, clouds obscure the Franconia Range as seen from the shore of Lonesome Lake.

In the bunkhouses, it’s even colder. As for toilets, squatting means a less frosty backside.

The water is hand-pumped from a well, and you cook your own food in the kitchen. Keys to relative comfort include a sleeping bag rated to at least zero degrees Fahrenheit, keeping a hat on at all times, changing out of wet clothes, staying well-fed and hydrated, doing some jumping jacks before getting into the sleeping bag to stay warm, filling some water bottles with hot water to keep in the bag, and — even in the middle of the night when the temps are in the single digits — get up to go to the bathroom if you’ve got to go.

Still, sleeping can come hard for some, and don’t forget about the snorers.

But the rewards are the orange hues of the mountain alpenglow at sunset and a winter’s starry night far from the city lights.

For more information about the mountain huts or the Appalachian Mountain Club, phone 617-523-0636.

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