The next morning, we rose at 6:30 to the plucking of a banjo, played by Levi, the hutmaster. The previous day, we'd stirred to Kimball reading a verse from the Mary Oliver poem "Wild Geese." This is how one greets the day at the huts. The jarring sound of an alarm is replaced by pleasant melody and lyrical prose.

The first duty of the day now complete, Levi, Kimball and the other croo members at the huts brought out a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon, pancakes and oatmeal. As we ate, they delivered the all-important weather report. Then the croo came out in costume — dressed, for instance, as Hans and Franz from "Saturday Night Live" — to perform a silly skit that helped get their points across: Hikers must leave with all their belongings, including garbage; should fold their blankets properly; and should remember to tip.

That's merely the beginning of the croo's often-arduous day. Twice a week, members must bring down a full pack of garbage, often in excess of 60 pounds, and come back with a full pack of food. If you happen to be a croo member at the Galehead Hut, the hut most remote from any trailhead, that's a 9.2-mile round-trip hike. Dinner is served promptly at 6 p.m. to a hungry group of hikers, excited to dive into the freshly baked bread, soothing soup, salad and main courses of lasagna or pork loin. Evening programs often include a naturalist-led hike to see alpine wildflowers and other native flora.

During our breakfast at Zealand Falls, Levi presented a young lad, AJ, with a badge for completing his AMC Junior Naturalist workbook. Much to AJ's chagrin, he first had to perform a few more tasks to earn that badge: don a Daniel Boone-style coonskin cap, deliver a long passage on how he'd be a trusty guardian of the land and then toss that cap into the air to truly celebrate like a graduate.

Serving on the croos is a proud tradition that draws stiff competition every year: This summer, more than 120 college students applied for the 12 available spots at the huts, and at the end of it, their experiences, like those of their predecessors, will be recorded in pictures and books that visitors can thumb through in each hut's library. Lisa and I hiked out of Zealand Falls with an older man, Willie, who told us that he'd worked at that same hut in 1964. Evidently, once you've been part of the AMC croo, it never leaves you.

Easy Conversation At Mizpah Spring Hut

On the third day of the trek, the humidity was high, and we learned to truly appreciate the water that was always by our side. We stopped often to dip our bandannas in a cool stream and rub our hot necks and foreheads. That afternoon, we hiked on the historic Crawford Path. Created in 1819, it's the oldest continuously maintained hiking trail in the United States, starting in the picturesque mountain pass called Crawford Notch.

After eight miles of hiking, we made it to Mizpah Spring Hut and had dinner with the same group of people we'd been traveling with for the past three days. Partaking in the same challenges and dining at a long table where it's easy to converse, folks tend to open up and share stories that they might not normally divulge down below.

Kim Gordon of Oxford, Mass., told us that she's a breast cancer survivor who took three years to get her health back. She started hiking with a friend last summer and has already summited 11 4,000-foot peaks in the Whites.

"It becomes addictive, being in nature," she said. "It's spiritual for me."

We went over maps and swapped hiking stories with the two Genevieves from Quebec City, though our French is limited and their English was only a wee bit better. Rachael Katz and her husband, Micah Zimmerman, had come all the way from Beijing to hike, after dropping their two kids off at a summer camp in Maine.

"We needed to breathe some fresh air," said Rachael.

Stunning Vistas From Lakes Of The Clouds

We would hike and share stories and sardines with Rachael and Micah the better part of the next day, easily our favorite part of the trip. From Mizpah Spring, we climbed to the summit of Mount Pierce on a challenging yet fun hike where you reach out for root or rock to help you clamber upward. Then you're above the treeline on the Crawford Path, on a relatively level ridge walk.

At first, we were socked in by a cloud, but soon the layers of mist started to disperse, and we were treated to views of the bald knob atop Mount Eisenhower. It was like walking on a lunar landscape, bordered by velvety green sedge and moss, often staring in awe at alpine wildflowers — bog laurel, white bunchberry, purple fireweed — in bloom.

Then we spotted the Lakes of the Clouds Hut and its lofty perch atop a 5,200-foot ridge with stunning vistas of the Mount Washington Hotel below and the Cog Railroad ambling slowly up to the Mount Washington summit, where we would soon follow.

From Lakes of the Clouds, it's all hardscrabble rock the last 1.4 miles to the top of Mount Washington. The night before our ascent, the wind was pushing hard against the windows of our room at the hut, and when we woke the next morning — to the sweet strains of a violin played by croo member Emily — a thick cloud cover held us in its embrace.

The summit of Mount Washington, the highest point in New England, is legendary for its volatile weather. Until recently, it held the record for the highest recorded surface wind speed, 231 miles per hour. Lisa and I had no idea what to expect on our last stretch of trail, especially with rain in the forecast. We slowly put on our hiking boots, and off we went into the dense sheet of white. Then something quite magical happened. The winds ceased, the sun popped through the clouds, and we joyously arrived at the 6,288-foot apogee. We'd earned our prize, the spectacular vista of Mounts Jefferson, Adams and Madison.

Nestled between Adams and Madison is a stone hut built 125 summers ago, announcing the debut of the Appalachian Mountain Club. For us, Madison Spring Hut would have to wait for another trip.

One that's sure to cost me a diamond or two.

Jermanok blogs at