Madison by Moonlight

On Saturday June 14th, my friend and I hiked up to Madison Springs Hut planning to do a traverse of the Northern Presidentials back to Pinkham Notch that night under the light of the moon that had been full the night before. It had not cleared by the time we left but we were hoping it would clear by the time we ventured back. We left at 10:30am from the Great Gulf Trail Head and hiked up to the Osgood Campsite. After a snack and water break, we then continued up the Osgood trail to the summit of Mount Madison (a 6 mile hike from Pinkham Notch) and down to the hut. While it was cloudy when we started out our hike, as we broke above treeline, the clouds began to clear and we were able to catch some amazing views of the Great Gulf Wilderness and the Northern Presidentials to our left (picture above) and the Carter Mountain Range to our backs. We stopped many times along the way to look at the many alpine flowers that were in bloom or fruiting. We came across diapensia, lapland rosebay, alpine azalea, bunchberry, indian cucumber, canada mayflower, rhodora, starflower, lady's slippers, and mountain cranberry. The views of the flowers, mountainside and sky were some of the most beautiful I had seen in the Whites. When we made it to the hut we went in and said hello to the croo. They were very welcoming and very happy we came up to visit. We napped outside near "Moon Rock," a large white quartz rock out near Star Lake by the hut, before dinner. Both Great Gulf and Osgood Trails were clear except for a few trees and only a little bit muddy due to the rain the night before. When we ventured out to sleep on the rocks, we were able to easily navigate the rocky alpine trail to a good sleeping rock. By the time dinner was over and the sun was setting, it still had not cleared. Surprisingly the fog that we so wanted to go away made for a breathtaking sunset. The sun dyed the clouds and foggy sky pink, purple, orange and yellow. The sun looked more like the moon, so muffled that we could look right at it as it dipped below the horizon. Finally at 9:30pm with the wind howling outside and the fog still rolling in, Nick and I decided to go back down the way we came instead of spending the entire night on the ridge. As we ventured up the dark, swirling mountainside, I couldn't help but feel an immense sense of awe for the power of the mountains. When you are hiking in the dark with no headlamp (as it illuminates the fog and sometimes makes it even more difficult to see) and struggling against the wind cairn to cairn, you are aware that when you reach the summit, you never will be "King of the mountain" or ever close to that. It was intensely humbling. You are just another animal attempting to survive under mother nature's temper. In addition to this, I couldn't help but feel scared.  It was cold and dark and windy and I could barely see the next cairn ahead of me. As I was thinking all of this, regretting my decision to do a moonlight hike with no moonlight more and more; the sky cleared! Yes, we saw the moon and the stars and all of the clouds swirling in the mountain air. It was such a treat that the sky opened up for us. We walked the rest of the way to treeline by moonlight, stopping every few minutes just to stare up at the sky. Even in the fog, we were always able to find the next cairn. They were always big and if anything we could always make out their outlines in the fog. We made it back to Pinkham Notch by 1:30am and I managed to get an entire four hours of sleep before work at 6am. It was an adventurous and exciting hike and I highly recommend going up to visit the Madison croo this summer!

For any general questions, conditions information, or trail advice, please feel free to contact us here at the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center front desk. We are available by phone at (603) 466-2721 every day from 6:30 AM to 10:00 PM or by email at To make reservations at AMC Lodges and Huts, please call (603)466-2727 available Monday through Saturday 9am-5pm. Be sure to check weather conditions before you come and call us here with any questions! We'll see you up here!

Happy Excursions!
Backcountry Information Specialist
Pinkham Notch Visitor Center

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