Huntington, Sphinx, and Crag…Oh My!

July 18, 2015
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View of the West from Gulfside Trail.

We set out at 8 in the morning eager to climb Mt. Washington’s toughest trail. The Huntington Ravine trail is no easy feat, and without the confidence and experience of my partner, Johannes, I may have not felt comfortable with the undertaking. We took off up the Tuckerman Ravine trail and raced to the junction of the Huntington Ravine trail, 1.2 miles up. The trail is a nice moderate incline so we were able to power through and make it to the Huntington trail in good time. We continued along the wooded path about another 0.75 mi, crossing a small stream and walking up a dry creek bed to reach the floor of the ravine, where we perched upon a rock to plan our route. This is a seriously impressive rock face, even more so when you are sitting at its feet!

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Approaching the headwall.

Climbing up the headwall of Huntington Ravine is hard. The ascent begins climbing between many huge boulders, some even housing some ice that’s been hiding since winter’s end. The next section climbs up a colluvium of loose rock which has been brought down from the ravine after seasons of ice formation and thaw. This section is fairly straight forward, so long as you are comfortable rock hopping and scrambling up boulders. The next section begins the tricky part, as I ascended up large rock slabs, clinging to the face with both feet and hands, a section that would be nearly impossible in wet conditions. Once you get to this point, there’s really no turning back. Fortunately for us, the weather was beautiful; our trail dry. The rest of the ascent of Huntington involves some seriously steep climbing up boulders, rock face, and steep trail. Following the headwall is a short jaunt over Ball Crag peak and up to the Summit of Mt. Washington, about 0.9 mi from the top of the ravine.

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Looking up from the fan.

After refueling with a bowl of chili at the summit I continued down the Gulfside trail over to the Sphinx Col, enjoying some stunning views over the west side of the Presidentials. After skirting around the back side of Mt. Clay, I descended down the Sphinx Trail in the Great Gulf Wilderness. This is a steep trail that descends into the Gulf quickly by the route of a stream, crossing several times over its 1.1 mile course. Be mindful of the trail, as it is easy to lose in its windy course! I hooked up with the Great Gulf Trail and meandered along its mostly flat course to my campsite for the night. I set up my tent quickly and ate dinner just in time to get out of the heavy rains. I spent the night holed up in my tent and slept soundly (and stayed dry!).

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Ascending the slabs; so steep!

The next morning I abandoned my original plan of traversing the Northern Presidential peaks. Since it was still wet and fogged in, I decided to ascend the 1.7 mile Wamsutta Trail to Nelson Crag, and continue back to Pinkham Notch via the Nelson Crag Trail and Old Jackson Road Trail, about a 4.1 mi loop back, but much shorter than the route over the peaks. The Wamsutta Trail was steep in sections and honestly made me a little nervous in the slippery wet conditions.

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The beautiful, winding Nelson Crag Trail.

Under normal conditions, this trail would have fantastic views of the Northern Presidential peaks, but for me on this foggy morning, I was faced with a wall of white cloud and visibility no more than 100 feet. I wandered through clouds for some time, crossing the Auto Road and descending the Nelson Crag trail where the clouds finally lifted and I enjoyed the beautiful views and sunshine on my face. The Nelson Crag trail was not nearly as steep as the Wamsutta, but use caution on these trails when wet (the rocks are sneakily slippery!!). Though I thoroughly enjoyed my trek through the Great Gulf, I was delighted to get back to the comfort of a warm shower and comfy bed after a long, rain-soaked journey back home.

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The Great Gulf Wilderness from Sphinx Col.

This whole hike is an ambitious, challenging, but beautiful hike! 

You can find the trails in the AMC White Mountain Guide and on AMC Map#1 The Presidential Range.

Happy Adventuring!
Ben
AMC Backcountry Information Specialist

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