If you’ve ever been on the summit of Mt. Major in New Hampshire’s Belknap Range (located in Alton, just south of Lake Winnipesaukee), you’ve seen the hut Mr. Phippen built. But you might not have known it was once a hut.
At first glance, it’s a Structure of Unknown Origin.
But the story of those stone walls is a pretty neat one. (I learned about it thanks to a story by Dave Roberts on belknaprangetrails.org.)
Back in the early 1900s, Mr. Phippen owned the summit of Mt. Major. He’d purchased it in 1914 for $125 and was fond of the stunning view of Lake Winnipesaukee and the blueberry picking. Being the sort of guy who wanted others to experience and appreciate Mt. Major’s wonders, he decided to build a hut at the summit. The shelter would be a welcoming shelter for hikers when the weather was awful and the winds were blowing. And hikers could spend the night there and take in the sunrise.
So, in 1925, he built it. The stone structure had a bench, a south-facing window, and a wood stove. The door was left unlocked so that anyone could use it. But that first winter, those aforementioned winds blew the roof right off. Undeterred, the following summer Mr. Phippen built another roof, this time using layers of spruce poles, corrugated iron, and matched boards.
That roof lasted a couple of years before it, too, below off. (I haven’t seen it myself, but apparently it still lies on a rocky slope several hundred yards from the hut.) Then came the Great Depression, and Mr. Phippen wasn’t able to build another roof. The property was eventually reverted to the Town of Alton. And while roof-less, the walls stood strong for several decades and gave hikers what Mr. Phippen had always hoped for: welcome respite from the winds.
But time – and troublemakers – have made their mark. Today, those hut walls are nary chest high – mostly thanks to some jerkface(s) in the 1990s who tore down the stone blocks. There’s still evidence of the doorway, but traces of the window and the wood stove are no longer.
Even still, it’s a neat little space to hunker down in and wonder about. And maybe envision Mr. George Phippen stepping out from his newly built hut in 1925 – his gift to all of Mt. Major’s visitors – to gaze out over the lake and the peaks disappearing into the horizon. And maybe pick a few handfuls of blueberries.
So maybe we should talk about actually getting to the summit.
The Mt. Major parking lot is just off Route 11, not far from Gilford. From the lot, there are two trail options: the Mt. Major Trail (1.5 miles to summit) and the Boulder Loop Trail (1.6 miles to summit). Lots of folks choose to do a loop, taking one trail up and another down.
When we were there a few weeks ago – celebrating a friend’s birthday with a late-winter hike – we chose to start on the Boulder Loop Trail. Not surprising for this time of year, it was icy from the get-go. (Read: microspikes essential!)
It’s a steady incline to start. Temperatures were already fairly mild on the March morning we were there, so it didn’t take but 5 minutes of hiking to start shedding layers.
And then came the boulders – the trail’s namesakes. And things got a bit steeper.
There was a lot of breath-catching on the way up. But Mt. Major is a great hike to shake those hiking legs (and your lungs) awake after a long winter. The scrambling over rocks makes for a nice challenge, but the distance doesn’t take all day. So it’s a perfect blend of “I worked for this summit!” and “I can do this even if I haven’t hiked in months.”
Eventually, the terrain leveled out as we got closer to the summit. And there were a few spots where the trees opened up to offer some pretty great views.
A cairn or two leads the way to the summit and the structure we started talking about in the first place. I suspect this space gets busy on warmer days, but there’s a lot of room to spread out and views in multiple directions. It was pretty quiet up there when we arrived, so we took over the hut for a bit.
Inevitably, the view of Lake Winnipesaukee lured us out from out little lair. We also made some new summit friends, too, and ended up loitering at the summit for a long while. And we took jumping photos, because why not.
Word on the summit was the Mt. Major Trail was icier/slushier/muddier and more challenging than the Boulder Loop, so we opted to go down the same way we came up.
I don’t know if it was the mild late-winter temps, the friendly people we met, or the splendid scenery under overcast skies, but it felt excellent to linger up there as long as we did.
I think Mr. Phippen would understand.
Mt. Major, New Hampshire
We took the 1.6-mile Boulder Loop Trail up and down, but a loop (with the 1.5-mile Mt. Major Trail) is a good option, too. Both trails start from the parking lot off Route 11. Directions.
More on the trails: belknaprangetrails.org/mt-major/blue-trail/
You can also hike the entire Belknap Range Trail, which extends from the Gunstock Mountain Resort to Mt. Major parking area using all or part of several other trails along the way. (It’s 11 miles from Gunstock to the summit of Mt. Major.)