Climbing the Mt Washington Headwall and the Fantastic Gulf Trail


The Fantastic Gulf is a glacial valley that lies amongst Mt Washington and the Northern Presidential Variety in New Hampshire. It is ground zero for lots of of the toughest and steepest trails in the White Mountains, such as the Fantastic Gulf Trail which climbs the Mt Washington Headwall. The Headwall is a steep cliff that gains 1600′ in the final .five miles of the Fantastic Gulf Trail, ending at the major of the climb. From there it is a quick stroll to the summit of Mt Washington.

Map of the Fantastic Gulf Trail

Fantastic Gulf Trail Map

Level of Work

Prior to you can climb the Mt Washington Headwall, you have to get to its bottom, which is positioned at an alpine pond named Spaulding Lake, deep in the Fantastic Gulf Wilderness Region. That is a six.five-mile hike up a rugged trail from the Fantastic Gulf Trailhead on Rt 16. By the time you truly summit Washington, you will have hiked 7.eight miles with a total of 5000′ of elevation get, which is a quite major day.

From Mt Washington, you nevertheless have to get down and whilst there are lots of routes to pick out from, they also take time to hike. For instance, the Tuckerman Ravine Trail is four.two miles from Mt Washington to Pinkham Notch and requires most men and women about three hours to descend. After at Pinkham, you’d nevertheless need to have to get back to your automobile unless you have dropped a second automobile there.

The Mt Washington Headwall as observed from Spaulding Lake

If you are a quite rapidly hiker, you could climb the Headwall and get back down in one particular day. I know men and women who can do it, but they’re animals, figuratively speaking, of course. I would advise against carrying out the above-treeline portions by headlamp mainly because the terrain is quite rocky and you can get truly hurt if you trap your leg amongst boulders and fall. Cell telephone access is quite spotty and assist will almost certainly not attain you till the subsequent day.

Weetamoo Falls is positioned just above the Sphinx Trail Junction and a quick distance beneath Spaulding Lake.

You can also total the route as a one particular-evening backpacking trip, which is how I’ve climbed the Headwall, the two instances I’ve been up it. There are numerous designated campsites along the Fantastic Gulf Trail with bear boxes that make this relatively easy. Camping is not permitted beyond mile five.six on the Fantastic Gulf Trail, but that nevertheless gets you quite close. For you fly fisherman, there are native brookies in the West Peabody River alongside the trail and it will take you all day to fly fish your way up.

The Climb

The bottom of the Headwall begins just above Spaulding Lake (4228′) and climbs to the Gulf Side Trail Junction (5925′) in .9 miles. Stick to the Fantastic Gulf Trail previous the Lake till you attain a modest stream and turn left onto it. The stream flows down a section of the trail that is been washed out and you will need to have to hike up it (and in it) to get back onto the component of the trail that is nevertheless intact. If you attempt to bushwhack about this stream bed, you will be in for the fight of your life. The vegetation is extremely dense and you will rapidly recognize that the stream bed is the path of least resistance.

As you climb, take a moment to sit down and savor the views of the valley beneath

This is exactly where the enjoyable begins. The climb has two components. The bottom half climbs up, back, and forth more than a stream. The route is wet and slippery, so you truly want to be certain of your footing and handholds. It is a quite critical scramble and there are some exposed regions exactly where a fall would be unsafe.  Final week when I climbed this section (mid-September) I also encountered ice on the rocks, which produced factors twice as thrilling. This half of the trail is marked with faint yellow blazes painted on rocks and modest rock cairns. They’re not terribly apparent and you have to retain eyes peeled for them. They also turn out to be far more infrequent, the greater you climb.

The upper half of the trail becomes increasingly dry but can be quite really hard to comply with considering the fact that the blazes cease and the rock cairns are fewer and farther apart. Carrying a GPS with up-to-date maps or a Smartphone GPS app like, Guthook’s NE England Hiker App, which has maps of the White Mountain Trail Method, is valuable to reacquire the trail if you stray as well far left or suitable as you ascend. I’ve also employed a compass which is even much better for following a bearing.

The grassy reduce close to the rim is visible in the upper suitable-hand corner of this photo.

The trail runs along a rock slide closer to the major exactly where the scree is far more pulverized and much less steady. Just beneath the rim, the trail jogs left and then suitable via a grassy reduce, prior to you crest the major and come to the Wilderness Region sign that marks the Fantastic Gulf boundary. If you have fully lost the trail do not panic. You can scramble all the way to the major with care, despite the fact that I’d stay clear of straying as well far to the suitable and the cliffs beneath Mt Clay.

Cross the Cog Railway Tracks and hike the quick distance to the Mt Washington summit

The Fantastic Gulf Trail ends when it reaches the Gulf Side Trail. Stick to it across the Cog Railway Tracks for .two miles to the Trinity Heights Connector Trail, which climbs to the Mt Washington Summit in .two miles, coming up behind the TipTop Property.

Advisable Guidebooks and Maps:

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About the author

Philip Werner is the 36th particular person to finish hiking all of 630 trails in the White Mountain Guide, a distance of more than 1440 miles. He is also the author of Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 Footers, a free of charge on the net guidebook that anybody can access. Philip has also completed hiking lots of of the region’s peakbagging lists such as the White Mountain 4000 footers, the 4000 footers in Winter, the Terrifying 25, the RMC 100, and the Trailwrights 72 (but nevertheless desires 24 hours of trail operate for the patch). Philip is a four season backpacking leader for the Appalachian Mountain Club, a member of the executive committee for the Random Hikers, a Extended Trail Mentor for Vermont’s Green Mountain Club, and a Leave No Trace Master Educator.

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