Great Gulf Trail - Mt Washington - October 21, 2017
I'm getting used to 3 am start times by now and this time I'll be going all the way over to the Great Gulf Wilderness side of the Presidential range. The plan is to park at the Great Gulf trail head and take the Great Gulf trail into the ravine and up to Mt Washington. Because this is quite a bit further drive, I get on the trail at 6:15 and have only an hour walk in the dark.
The trail is easy to follow in the beginning, it's long and mostly flat and follows a stream. I pass several campsites on the way in. As I go further the trail becomes less distinguished from the stream and at times it is the stream. It is not easy to follow especially the stream crossings which don't have an obvious exit on the other side, marked only by probably unofficial cairns.
Great Gulf Waterfall
The further you go the more isolated it becomes, I guess the campers where likely using this as the base camp for Adams and Madison instead of Washington. There are many fallen logs on the trail, and more than once I questioned if the log had been intentionally placed to signal that I made a wrong a turn and had gone off path, but no it was in fact the trail. A bit past the Osgood junction (I think) I came to a nice waterfall that was carving a water slide into the rock. It's obvious I'm still walking in a stream bed, but it's high enough and it's fall so there isn't any water. Would be cool to see it raging in the spring, but you would have to be prepared to wade through probably knee deep or more water to get there.
Soon you are in the ravine floor and you pass a small pond which is just before it starts to get really steep. You're still following a stream and I had managed to keep my feet dry up to this point, but it was now unavoidable. I splash through a mud puddle and am relieved that I don't have to worry about my feet getting wet anymore.
Great Gulf Pond
The initial push has you going over some pretty large boulders and slick mossy areas. It feels a lot like King Ravine except there are no people and it's thick with brush and alpine grass. My heart rate stays is going up into the 180 range with each push that I make. And you get some really great views looking up at Jefferson, Adams, and Madison. It gets a bit exposed and the wind makes me put my mittens on, though I'm keeping way too warm to add any layers.
Great Gulf Ravine - The trail is somewhere in this picture
As you go even higher the trail becomes really difficult to follow. I sort of follow along the path of least resistance and just when I think I've lost the path I see a cairn. At some point I see two competing routes marked by cairns, I stay on the one I'm on, but then don't see any more cairns until I reach the top. Probably the last third of the rocky section I'm just moving upwards towards whatever looks easiest to top out on. There's no sense back tracking here. Eventually, just below the ridge, I see the trail head about 100 feet to my right. I have no idea how anyone could follow it down, just aim for the pond I guess. The isolation in this ravine is a very nice change of pace to the feel on the rest of the White Mountains.
Looking down Great Gulf Ravine
My legs had been screaming the whole way up and I was debating going all the way to the summit. Now that it was in sight and the wind was at my back, I basically let the wind blow me all the way up. It was very windy, 40 mph sustained and 60 mph gusts. I hung around the observation deck and took shelter in the wooden house on the summit.
As I made my way down the Nelson Crag trail I really felt the full force of the wind, it hadn't been that bad in the ravine, but here it was hard to walk. Especially as I made my way over a few of the Crag humps the gusts catch you off guard and nearly knocked me over a few times. Unlike the summit you are fully exposed on the crags. I keep making my way down and the wind doesn't let up at all until I'm in the trees.
Nelson Crag Trail Leaving Washington Summit
My knees are getting pretty beat up by this point. And my right knee is starting to really really bother me, every step I feel a stabbing pain. By the time I reach Madison Gulf trail / Appalachian trail, which crosses the auto road, I'm considering walking down the auto road the rest of the way and keeping my thumb out. I decide to tough through it, since I don't really like that the road is there at all I don't want to cheat and use it.
This takes me back to right around the halfway point of the Great Gulf trail and it's relatively steep for about a mile or so and it the pain is becoming almost unbearable. Fortunately the further I go the easier and flatter it becomes.
I'm back at the car under 9 hours and 45 minutes since I started. And I collapse into the back seat and take the load of my legs where I lay and stretch out a bit.
Full loop on google earth satellite view
Time: 9 hours 45 minutes
Cumulative Elevation Gain: 5410'