One hundred years ago, AMC opened Lakes of the Clouds Hut above treeline on the southern shoulder of Mount Washington, near two glacial tarns for which the hut is named. It was AMC’s third hut, after Madison Spring and Carter Notch, and countless hikers have benefited from the hospitality, shelter, and camaraderie provided within its walls.
Lakes didn’t spring up where it did by chance. The accidental deaths of two hikers foretold its location.
While hiking to Mount Washington’s summit for an AMC meeting in June 1900, William Curtis and Allan Ormsbee were caught in a summer storm and perished: Ormsbee shortly below the summit and Curtis near the two lakes. The following year, AMC erected an emergency refuge near the site where Curtis fell. Fourteen years later, AMC built Lakes of the Clouds Hut nearby, as a more substantial and functional replacement.
AMC huts, now eight in total, continue to serve as shelters from dangerous weather, of course. But they’re also places where AMC’s strengths in recreation, conservation, education, and outdoor leadership all come together.
Each year, tens of thousands of people visit Mount Washington. Some climb; some ride the Mount Washington Cog Railway; others ride or drive up the Mt. Washington Auto Road. All have an opportunity to enjoy the scenery and, perhaps, to learn a bit about the landscape, the weather, and the history of this iconic mountain.
With those who make the hike to Lakes of the Clouds and stay overnight, we have the chance to forge an even closer connection to the outdoors. Our naturalist programs offer a deep understanding of and appreciation for the alpine zone, the geology that forms it, and the work that goes into monitoring and protecting it. Our unique brand of mountain hospitality is evident in shared meals and conversations; in the chance to marvel at multihued sunsets from above treeline; in the enthusiasm of our croo members, as they help guests identify birdcalls heard only above 4,000 feet; and in a youngster’s beaming smile upon earning a Junior Naturalist badge. By forging these deeper connections, we build a broader constituency for trails, conservation, and outdoor stewardship.
For many in the AMC community, a visit to one of our huts may well be their first real and deep experience in the outdoors. Creating these opportunities is one of the most important aspects of our hut croos’ work, and one of our organization’s greatest responsibilities. In this centennial year of Lakes of the Clouds, my hat goes off to all of the staff and volunteers who make our world-renowned hut experiences possible. Here’s to continuing our legacy of helping generations of hikers find their place in the outdoors and at AMC’s huts.
John D. Judge