Trail Adopter: The Sphinx Trail

Since getting back into serious hiking over the past couple of years I have always kept my eye on the AMC Trail Adoptions list hoping some interesting trails in the Pemi Wilderness or the Presidential Range would be available.  A few days ago I checked the list and saw a couple of kick ass choices that were availabe, and although my first two choices ended up being taken (Mount Clay Loop and Mount Eisenhower Loop) my third choice (Sphinx Trail) was still available and I was happy to accept the challenge of trying to maintain this rough and wild trail deep in the Great Gulf Wilderness!

Maintenance Requirements
My duties will be to remove blowdowns, keep any draining structures clear, cut those annoying hanging branches in the trails back, paint blazes where needed, fix cairns, and anything else to keep the trail well maintained, enjoyable, and easy to follow.

Trail Location
The Sphinx Trail branches off from the Great Gulf Trail at 3,619 feet and ascends 1,367 feet in 1.1 miles to the Sphinx Col at 4,975 feet inbetween Mount Clay and Jefferson.  There will be two ways to access this trail, from the east it's a 5.6 mile hike in from Route 16 via the Great Gulf Trail or from Pinkham Notch Visitor Center via Old Jackson Road, Madison Gulf, and Great Gulf Trail.  This will be the easiest way to access the trail with no steep elevation gains, no above treeline hiking, and no high winds to worry about. From the west I can access the Sphinx Trail by hiking up the Jewell Trail and the Gulfside Trail (4.5 miles) a more enjoyable hike on a nice weather day but more strenuous.

Trail Description (From AMC White Mountain Guide Online) :
The trail branches northwest from the Great Gulf Trail near the crossing of the brook that flows down from Sphinx Col through the minor ravine between Mt. Clay and Mt. Jefferson. It soon turns due west and ascends close to the brook, first gradually, then very steeply, crossing the brook four times and passing several attractive cascades and pools. Just before the third crossing the trail runs along the steep edge of a flume-like formation. For about 100 yd. above the fourth crossing it runs directly in the brook bed, where the rocks are extremely slippery. At the foot of a broken ledge with several small streams cascading over it, the trail turns left away from the brook and angles up across two more small brooks with a couple of short tricky scrambles. It climbs a small, fairly difficult chimney where views out from the scrubby slope start to appear, then scrambles up ledges with several rock pitches of some difficulty. About 100 yd. above the chimney, after a slight descent, the trail crosses a small meadow where there is usually water under a rock just downhill to the north of the trail. The trail then climbs steeply up a rocky cleft, ascends easily over the crest of a small rocky ridge, and descends into a slight sag. It finally climbs to the ridge crest and traverses a grassy passage at the base of a rock wall to the Gulfside just north of Sphinx Col.

Sphinx Trail outlined in red (image from google earth)
Sphinx Col


  1. Not sure when you last did any maintenance on Sphinx but I was on it a couple of days ago (6/2/14) and it's in pretty rough shape. The top part is very overgrown and the trail seems to just disappear in some places further down. There is a lot of water coming down there right now which probably isn't helping. It looks like there was a major washout (Hurricane Irene?) a little above where it meets the Great Gulf Trail and I completely lost the trail after that. I ended up bushwhacking along the south side of the brook and eventually found trail again but somehow managed to lose my camera along the way. It was getting late and I didn't have time to search for it after discovering it missing and I will be going back this weekend to search for it. Probably pointless but it was a beautiful day before I started down this trail and I would love to have the photos. Thanks for being a trail adopter, I wish I had more time to adopt one myself. Hopefully one day.

    1. I responded to your email last night, did you get it??

      I haven't been out there since before winter as it's impossible to do trail work on the Sphinx basically between November and late May / early June because of the snow and it's remoteness. The trail is in a wilderness protection area and I am limited to how far I can brush back and what I can do to maintain it. Just like other trails in the middle of nowhere you sometimes have to pay close attention to the trail corridor since it's not blazed, it also doesn't help you came down it in a downpour. Also, the trail actually runs through the brook, so whenever it rains it flows fast and higher. I had cairns up where you lost the trail but unfortunately the rangers take the cairns down since it's a man made structure in a wilderness zone.

      I had an injury last time I was out there doing trail work so I wasn't able to get to the middle section to brush it back, I'm hoping to get out there later this summer. The top part in the Alpine Zone and just below is in decent shape, I need to brush back the middle and the bottom, well, that's a crap shoot!

      Thanks, Chris

  2. Hi, I am planning on hiking the Sphinx Trail via the Great Gulf Trail then summating some peaks in the area. In the description it says that there is a chimney that is "fairly difficult" and I would like to know what this means. How high is it? Will I be able to climb it with a pack on or will I have to pass it up to a buddy? Will I need climbing gear? I am an experienced backpacker and don't mind pushing myself but would just like to be prepared if it is going to be a serious obstacle for me. Thank you.


    1. Hi Dan, you have nothing to worry about. The description above is from the guide book which makes it sound difficult but it's just a steep section. No need for climbing gear, in fact there's no need for climbing gear on any regular hiking trail in the White Mountains.

      The trail is steep but a lot of fun, the lower section had a landslide wipe through it a few years back so it might be hard to follow for a little bit so just pay attention, it also is a little overgrown in spots.

      Have a fun backpack, the Great Gulf is an awesome spot!