The Great Gulf Expedition

Trip Details
Date: September 7th, 2018
Total Distance: 13.42 mi (via Garmin fenix 5X, a mile of this is junk as it was due to GPS drift while we hung out on the summit)
Total Time: 6 hours 12 minutes
Total Elevation: 5039 ft gained
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For one reason or another I just have not had a chance to get back to the mountains in the last few weeks. With the weather and daylight starting to take a turn as summer comes to a close, BishopX and I knew we needed to nab something big and decided to fall back on the Terrifying Twenty-Five list. This list is a mixed bag, but the headwalls around Mt. Washington are no joke. Tuckerman Ravine for some reason is not on the list, but Huntington Ravine is by far the hardest trail in the White Mountains. Climbing up the northern face is the Great Gulf headwall. We decided it was time to return to my arch nemesis, the wicked bitch of the east, one of the worst tourist traps in the northeast, and also the highest point in the northeast…Mt. Washington via the Great Gulf Trail.

These detours would come into play later. Thankfully I went into the Vistor Center and found this.
I got to our car drop-off spot at the AMC Pinkham Notch Visitor Center a few minutes early. For who need cellular service (this area is a huge dead zone for Sprint and I would imagine others) to send out a status message, the visitor center has free Wi-Fi as well as a cafeteria, bathrooms and showers, and even an electric vehicle charging station (that hopefully I will get to use in the near future). BishopX picked me up and we headed off the parking area for the Great Gulf Trail.

Free to use, but they do ask for a donation.
This trail is rather tame for about five and a half miles until you pass the junction with the Sphinx Trail. You then start to gain some slight elevation and also the footing degrades to boulder and rock hoping. There are some nice waterfalls to look at though and some potentially great swimming holes. At about six and a half miles you come to Spaulding Lake at the base of the Great Gulf as you stare up at the rim and realize how steep this pending climb is.

Short little paved section.
Bridge over the Peabody River
Few go into this wildness and even less return to tell the tale...

The trail had pretty decent footing for the first five miles or so.
A wiggly bridge!

Jefferson's knee looming in the background.
There are many waterfalls and potential swimming holes along this trail.

Spaulding Lake

Once you get out on the headwall, it becomes a complete crapshoot. Markings are minimum (I found a few yellow painted rocks). On the lower portion we found ourselves frequently climbing up a brook, which added to the annoyance as the rocks were slick but this appeared the path of least resistance. Further up we continued to try and follow the path of least resistance, but eventually found ourselves to left and the rocks became overgrown with scrub. We had to traverse the scrub to get to what we could see as a small gully on the right. Looking at the GPS that was the real trail. Once we got there we could see a sign up ahead so we knew we were back on track. The biggest challenge is the rocks are quite loose on the headwall. There were real times I was worried that I would knock a rock loose and BishopX behind me might have to make a quick maneuver. Thankfully, this did not happen.

Looking towards Mt. Jefferson, Mt. Adams, and Mt. Madison.

The worst part about this hike is I was clearly not in enough shape to tackle it. I generally have good endurance, but for this hike my quadriceps (especially my left, but eventually both) cramped up right before we crested over the ridge. It settled down after some massaging and stretching, but as we made the final ascent to the summit, it got really bad to the point I considered almost catching a ride off the mountain. The summit sign was free, so first order of business was to get a picture with that. Temperatures in the low 40s with a slight wind kept the tourists away but the view was expansive and the summit was free of clouds so otherwise it was a nice day at 6288 ft.

This was a very welcomed site!
This photo is provided by Matt Boston. Used with permission.
Mt. Clay and Mt. Jefferson

We actually could get to the sign!
Mt. Washington gets the best of me every time. Even when I change clothes to stay warm while on the summit, the sweat that remains on my body dries and brings me to shivers. I hoped that eating warm food, getting my blood sugar up, drinking plenty of water, and eating a banana would help with my cramps and get my energy levels back, but after lunch in the cafeteria I was shivering. We took some quick photos on the lookout platform and then started our descent down Tuckerman Ravine.

Time to get the blood sugar levels up! Wicked Whoopies are da bomb!
The three northern presidentials again.
The towers on the summit.
Webcam is in that building.
The Carter-Moriah ridge.
The Wildcats and the Wild River Wilderness behind it.

I warmed up quickly once we started and got comfortable again. Maybe it is just the lower oxygen that gets to me at that elevation. Tuckerman Ravine is a highway for hikers to get to the summit, but on this day we had it basically to ourselves. We worked our way down the headwall that at times has to cross a flowing stream where a slip could lead to a long fall. For that reason alone I think it belongs on the Terrifying Twenty-Five list. All the food I shoved in my mouth and the pounding on rocks was doing a number to my digestive system though and I had to push through until we got to the Hermit Lake Shelter (which has flushable toilets). After getting some relief we continued down by taking the detour off the Tuckerman Ravine Trail to the John Sherburne Ski Trail. This detour was amazing as the ski trail parallels the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, but is a wide open “road” with great footing. Had our bodies not taken such a beating we could have easily ran down this trail. When the detour ended we stayed on this trail instead of going back to the Tuckerman Ravine Trail just to avoid the onslaught of bad footing and rocks that we remembered on that trail. At the end so that we would end at the Visitor Center we did hook back on to the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, but the less said about that part the better. Just know that there are multiple trail closures between these two trails now due to maintenance and bridge re-building. Even with these detours we made it back to the Visitor Center in about two hours.

Looking down Tuckerman Ravine.
Hermit Lake Shelter
Check out that lens flare!
This photo is provided by Matt Boston. Used with permission.
Here is one of the spots where you have to cross over a stream and if you slipped it would not end well for you.

Now what the hell are we going to do?????

Great Gulf Trail, well the headwall at least, is a worthy addition to the Terrifying Twenty-Five list and I am glad I got a chance to ascend it. If it was easier to get go, I would maybe attempt it again to try to stay more on the trail. As it currently is, though, it is a long journey to get to and I would spend that kind of effort getting to and ascending Huntington Ravine again.

Minus the drift we had at the summit (~1 mile) this trip is pretty dead on.

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