THE HARVARD CABIN
When I first moved up to New Hampshire, I was very excited for many reasons—one of which was proximity to mountains. Growing up in Western Massachusetts, mountains don’t really exist. Mt. Holyoke is the most popular hike in that area, and it stands at a mere 942 feet. You take 3 big steps, and you're on the summit.
So, yeah. I was excited for some mountains.
Which mountains? The White Mountains.
As time went on, we explored more and more.
We hiked in the sunshine, but, more often than not, we hiked in the rain. Stung by bees and by cold. I hit the slopes (and fell down them too). Through lightning strikes, Nor'easters, and raging rivers we trekked. And I signed every log book I could get my hands on, stamping our (mis)adventures into the history books.
But, now it was time to add something new to our repertoire.
So, after not much planning, we hopped in the car and headed up north. The goal was to head up to Mount Washington, hike to Huntington's Ravine, and do some ice climbing up one of the gullies.
But I did have an alternative motive.
Cue the Harvard Cabin.
T H E H A R V A R D C A B I N
Dating back to the 1920s, the Harvard Cabin sits at the base of Huntington Ravine and is used by ice climbers, skiiers, and hikers alike.
We can thank Henry Bradford Washburn for its very existance. American explorer. Mountaineer. Photographer. Cartographer… You name it and he did it. Washburn was one of the leading American mountaineers in the 1920s-1950s, putting up first ascents and new routes on major Alaskan peaks, often with his wife Barbara--one of the pioneers among female mountaineers. On their Alaskan honeymoon, Bradford and Barbara threw aside their swimsuits and pool towels and made the first ascent of Mount Bertha. Barbara is also the first woman in history to summit Denali—the tallest mountain in the Americas, standing at 20,310 feet.
Basically, these two are couple goals.
If that wasn’t enough, Washburn pioneered the use of aerial photography. When planning an expedition, he would hire a pilot (or pilot himself), survey the mountain by air, and use the aerial photographs to plan his routes to the summit. His photos are still the reference standard for route photos of Alaskan climbs. Washburn also created maps of various mountain ranges, including Mount Everest, Denali, and New Hampshire’s Presidential Range.
For good measure, he even established the Boston Museum of Science.
Despite all their climbing (or maybe because of it), Bradford passed away at the age of 96 and Barbara at 99—but not before taking the world up a notch. He discovered the true height of Mount Everest to be seven feet higher than previously estimated.
And in true mountaineering spirit, Washburn left his legacy in the Whites—the Harvard Cabin—to continue to tell his and Barbara’s stories.
Visiting this cabin had been on my list for a while now, and I was going to make a pit stop whether the boys wanted to or not. Washburn somehow persuaded the US Forest Service to issue a permit for the cabin--to be used by the Harvard Mountaineering Club. And with the help of his Model A and plenty of beer, the Harvard Cabin was born.
We arrived at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center later than we had hoped (but that was nothing new). We hit the ground running and started up the trail, only to stop 100 feet later to shed a layer. Then another 100 feet. Then another pitstop.
Two steps forward and one step back. So, we cut the tags off our new snowshoes, strapped them on, and kept on trekking, finally getting some traction in the icy snow.
It was a pretty tame ~2ish miles to the Harvard Cabin. If you're like us, you'll take the more difficult Huntington Ravine Trail (by mistake). Or you could just skip all the water crossings and tight squeezes by sticking to the Tuckerman Ravine Trail (but where's the fun in that?)
We arrived at the Cabin, again, later than we had hoped. But, this little gem did not disappoint. Well, unless you were expecting a 5-star hotel. In that case, it would surely dissapoint. Don't get me wrong, the Harvard Cabin is rustic--and not in the Joanna Gaines, shiplap, and chippy paint kind of way. With plywood floors, handmade furniture, and ye-olde-outhouse, the Cabin is rustic. But, when the alternative is a tent, it's a palace.
Maybe it's just me, but there's something magical about a little log cabin in the snow. Maybe it was that. Or maybe it was the legacy of Bradford Washburn--a legend born out of these little mountains. Or even the history in this place--all the hikers, skiers, climbers, and mountaineers that have passed through. Over the decades. Technology has changed immensely, but the conversations have remained consistent. Weather. Conditions. Snow reports. Disappointment & Eurphoria. Connecting us to the legends that came before us.
Maybe I'm a little sappy. Maybe you assume that hiker/mountaineers/climbers can't be sappy. But, when you see athletes living life on the edge (literally)--hanging off cliffs, climbing up ice, scrambling up rocky faces... Onlookers assume that they're crazy. That they have no fear. No care for their safety. No emotions.
I tend to find that that's the furthest from the truth. They do those things to feel alive. They're more well-versed in safety than probably anyone because they're putting their life on the line. Everything is calculated. A calculated risk. But, not an emotionless one.
I had 15 minutes at the Cabin before the boys tore me away. Enough time to give it a once over, check out some photos of the Cabin's construction, climb into the sleeping loft, and of course sign the log book. Our little adventure was stamped into history.
And then we departed. We headed away from the Cabin and up to the base of Huntington's Ravine--squeezing ourselves up, over, and through icy boulders.
It was 2:00PM. On (almost) the shortest day of the year. In New Hampshire. Where it gets pitch black at 4:30PM.
See where I'm going with this?
Moose and I turned back. Danny and Matt, equipped with crampons and ice tools, decided to go for Odell's Gully. They were determined to get some climbing in.
Moose and I descended quickly. There were no more pitstops on the way down. By 4:00PM, we emerged from the woods and entered the parking lot. (Side Note: If you've never been excited to see a parking lot, you haven't gone on a long enough hike). There, we found a pack scale--mine weighing in at 25lbs and Moose's at 40lb. Clearly, we hadn't packed light.
We proceeded to find our car and offload our gear. I half expected Danny and Matt to already be waiting at the car for us (maybe they found a shortcut?). But, no luck.
We waited. And waited. And waited. 6:00PM came and went. And nothing.
After 6:00, we got word that they had just finished climbing the gully. Just. And to top it all off, they couldn't find the Lions Head trail down the mountain.
But, despite their bad luck (or bad judgement) they made it off the mountain. Their headlamps flickered into the parking lot at 9:00PM.
Would Bradford & Barbara Washburn be proud of our (mis)adventure? Well, we made it out in one peice. A few of us were a little more beaten and worn than others. Maybe it wasn't our greatest endeavor, but we came away from the experience a little older and hopefully wiser.
B O O K Y O U R S T A Y
The Harvard Cabin is open between December 1st and April 1st each year of operation and is maintained by a caretaker who is present most nights. Cost is $15/person/night to stay inside, with max occupancy of 16. Campsites accommodating 2-four person winter tent sites and 12 two person winter tent sites are available nearby for $10/person/night. Campers, unfortunately, may NOT use cabin facilities. In lieu of reservations, visitors are encouraged to sign up in the Pinkham Notch pack room and to see how many people have headed up already.
Please be aware of the following policies:
– Groups of 6 or more are asked to consider camping outside. This is to allow the maximum number of technical climbing teams (typically teams of 2) to utilize the cabin. – An outhouse/latrine is available on-site. Toiletries are not provided. Arrive prepared! – CARRY IN, CARRY OUT – Guests are required to pack out all trash, unused food items, and any unusable/damaged gear items. DO NOT BURY TRASH/UNWANTED ITEMS IN SNOW! – Pets are not allowed inside the cabin.
The cabin is heated with a woodstove (4-9pm), and has permanent propane cooking stoves. A caretaker is present, although he or she is often out during the day. Water from a stream nearby is not treated so use iodine or filter if you desire. The caretaker has a radio to make emergency calls and the weather forecast and avalanche conditions are posted by 8am each morning.