Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Zealand Falls Trip Report - October 24 & 25, 2014

Amanda and I really enjoyed our off-season stay at the Carter Notch Hut last October and we booked another Friday evening stay this year at the Zealand Falls Hut.  The last few days had been rainy but I was optimistic that the weather would have moved on by the time we arrived at the Zealand Trail on Friday afternoon.  Perhaps too optimistic.  As we drove through Franconia Notch the visibility dropped and a steady misty rain began.  We arrived at the trailhead prepared for a wet three mile hike up to the hut.

The hike up to Zealand Falls Hut is very easy, the only serious climb coming at the very end.  The misty rain continued throughout but the manageable grade helped.  There were a couple tricky water crossings thanks to the last few days of rain - we had to bushwack a bit to find the best place to cross.  After about two hours we reached the hut, wet, ready to unpack and warm up.  The hut itself is very cool.  The wood stove was heating the main room and the kitchen boasted another massive propane stove which Amanda made great use of.  Unlike Carter Notch where the bunkhouses were separated by a short walk, here they were part of the main building.  Not only did it keep them warmer but they featured some awesome triple bunk beds, the tops of which were their own little room.

A wet and slippery hike

The final steep trudge up to the hut

The recent rains made Zealand Falls extra impressive


It's a little cheaper staying at the hut on Friday as opposed to Saturday.  And less crowded as well.  But unlike Carter Notch where we were the only guests, it was much busier this time.  A couple guys showed up not long after us, identified a mushroom they had found and then set off to locate more before dark.  Two older men also turned up looking for room and over the next couple hours about 10 "hut kids" showed up to throw a birthday party (most of them had just closed up some of the other huts for the year and were about to head back to civilization for the off-season.)  The theme was BYOBeets and every croo kid had to bring a beet dish - I sampled a beet falafel which was solid.

Dry and cozy in Zealand Falls Hut

Why don't all public bathrooms have these?!?

A delightful reminder that the full-season experience just ended

It was a fun night with lots of drinks and conversation.  Too many drinks.  I awoke feeling less than stellar but by the time we set out for our morning hike I had perked up.  Our goal was the summit of Mount Zealand so that I could check it off my 4000 Footer list.  Thankfully during the night the nasty weather had finally moved - it was cool, clear and beautiful on the trails.  All the climbing happened in the first mile, after which we were rewarded with incredible views from the Zeacliff. The trail was very moderate after that, crossing over some cool swamp and shrub regions.



A brief steep section required a ladder

Marshy areas along the ridge

The summit of Mount Zealand is completely wooded and quite unremarkable, save for a pair of Grey Jays who took a keen interest in us and our trail mix.  These large birds had no fear and perched on the branches within two feet of us.  Research showed that they eat almost anything and are used to pestering friendly hikers for food.  They were very polite.

"Food please."

As we made our way back down to the hut we encountered a goodly number of people making their way up - some were peakbaggers like me who wanted to check Zealand off their list.  Others were continuing on to camp at the Bonds.  The last mile of steep downhill terrain finally began to irritate my janky knee, a reminder that it's going to take a while before I can run in earnest again.

When we left the hut at 9 AM it was empty save the caretaker and a couple of her friends.  When we returned at 12:30 it was a completely different scene, packed with people in all manner of gear.  Some looked ready for several nights in the backcountry.  Others wore regular clothes and carried only a bottle of water for the trip.  The caretaker was selling cream cheese brownies at $2 a pop and they were going fast - we snagged two to eat with lunch.  A large contingent of boy scouts arrived (the hut was at capacity that night) as we donned our packs and made our way back down to the car.

Scenic beaver ponds on the Zealand Trail

Long bridge

Stream crossings were more manageable on the return trip

It was easier to appreciate the ponds and beaver dams on the return trip with clear skies and lighter packs.  We definitely misjudged our arrival back in Rhode Island but luckily Amanda and I both have wonderful mothers who looked after our girls.  I would definitely recommend staying at the Zealand Falls Hut in the off-season for anyone who likes outdoor adventures.  The hike up to the hut is not difficult and the laidback people and surroundings make for an excellent time.