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Madison Spring Hut, Star Lake
July 9, 2011

Route: Valley Way, Star Lake Trail


Madison Spring Hut 4800 ft
Star Lake 4996 ft

Vertical Climb:

3798 ft


8.4 miles

Who Went:

Paul (solo)

This was yet another hike where I didn't have to drive all the way from home since my wife and I were at a Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) camping event near Hebron, Maine, only about an hour's drive from Gorham. Seeing as I am not really into SCA events, I decided to take advantage of the relatively short drive to go on a day hike to see the new Madison Spring Hut and hopefully climb Mt Madison. I didn't plan on anything longer than that because of a sore knee.

The weather forecast was for nice weather, but it was absolutely pouring when I woke up in the tent at 4:00 AM in Hebron, ME. I listened to the forecast again to make sure that it was still supposed to be nice, and then started on my way. It poured most of the way there, but about the time I crossed the state line, it had stopped raining and even began to clear a bit. When I got to the Appalachia Trailhead, the sky had cleared but the peaks were still in the clouds.

I debated as to whether I'd take the Valley Way straight to the hut and then climb Mt Madison via the Osgood Trail, or whether I'd veer off onto the Watson Path and go to Mt Madison first. But by the time I reached the junction with the Watson Path, my knee was more sore than I had hoped, so I elected to continue on the Valley Way and rest at the hut first.

The weather began to deteriorate as I got higher. Somewhere around the Valley Way Tent Site, I entered the clouds and a light mist began to fall. And once I hit treeline, it turned into a cold wind-driven mist, so I was glad to get indoors. The hut was not crowded; there was one croo member (whose name I don't remember) cooking in the kitchen (the rest had headed down for supplies), an informational volunteer named George, and a couple of other hikers.

After changing into a dry shirt, George gave me a tour of the new hut. The dining area, kitchen, and bathroom wings were totally new construction. The old stone structure had been salvaged but was completely remodeled inside, divided into a number of smaller bunkrooms with the bunks separated into cozy and more private nooks. It's definitely a good design, and I look forward to staying there sometime while it's still new.

Back in the dining area, I was drinking some Gatorade when a hiker came in, announcing in a worried voice that his (adult) daughter had slipped and fallen somewhere around the Gulfside and Airline Trail junction. The man's sister had stayed with her, but his vision was poor, so he came on ahead to ask for help. From his description, it didn't sound like a serious accident, but he was clearly worried. The croo member wasn't supposed to leave the hut unattended, but George volunteered to go look for her (and bring blankets and a hot drink) if the girl and her aunt didn't show up within the next few minutes. Being an AMC trail maintainer with Wilderness First Aid training, I told him that I'd go with him if he needed me. He gladly accepted. We didn't end up going out, however, because the two hikers showed up, chilly unhurt, about five minutes later. Thus, gladly, ended my almost first search and rescue.

The weather was not clearing and my knee was still sore, so after a half hour or so, I decided to abandon my summit attempt and just head over to Star Lake, which I had never visited. It's not very far, and the path is mostly level, so I left my pack in the hut and headed back out into the wind and mist. This was am interesting and somewhat magical hike in the thick fog, which shrouded everything in mystery. Without the visible presence of nearby Mts Madison and Adams, the scenery could just as well have been a lonely English moorland. Marble-topped cairns were, by design, like beacons, making it easy to find the path, even in the heavy fog. And one immense squared boulder looked much like a toy block left behind by some forgetful giant. It was also a peaceful and quiet place, the only sound that of the relentless wind buffeting the hood on my jacket.

Back at the hut again, I squared away my pack, including the new commemorative Madison Spring Hut T-shirt I had purchased, and then headed cautiously back down the Valley Way over the wet, slippery rocks.

Later, while stopping at Pinkham Notch to look for a souvenir, I heard that there had been another, more serious accident on the Spur Trail, not too far below Thunderstorm Junction, and that George and the croo member I had met had been dispatched to the scene. I think an RMC member from Crag Camp or Gray Knob had also headed out to help. As I found out later, a helicopter had been called in, and the hiker, who I think had a broken leg, had been flown out. If I had been up there another hour or so, I too would have been enlisted to help out, although I'm not sure how quick I could have been with my sore knee.

The Appalachia Trailhead. A number of trails leave from this spot, including the Valley Way.

Madison Spring Hut. The hut had just been newly-rebuilt, completed for the 2011 season. The stone building was salvaged from the old structure, but it was totally remodeled inside.

View from the hut's dining area into the sleeping quarters beyond, which are in the old stone building.

The opposite view from the sleeping quarters into the dining area. It was a damp foggy chilly day in the higher elevations, and many people lingered inside, including myself.

Sleeping bunks. The building was divided into many smaller bunkrooms with the bunks separated into cozy and more private nooks.

Another bunkroom. They installed many windows and the whole place is well-lit and cheery.

Yet another bunkroom. Note the storage nets above each bunk, in addition to the shelves and numerous hooks.

Star Lake. With the thick fog hiding the surrounding peaks, this could well be an English moorland.

Another view of Star Lake. The scene seemed almost magical, its beauty only tempered somewhat by a strong damp wind.
Junction of the Star Lake and Buttress Trails. From here, the Star Lake Trail continues to Mt Adams, while the Buttress Trail descends steeply into the Great Gulf.
Self-portrait on the Star Lake Trail. The invisible bulk of Mt Adams is behind me.
Mountain sentinel. This marble-topped cairn is like a beacon, making it easy to find the path, even in thick fog.
Huge squared boulder along the Star Lake Trail, looking much like a toy block, left behind by a giant.


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