Sphinx Trail Work

Date of Hike: 8/2/14

Great Gulf Trail: 6.1  /  Sphinx Trail:  2.2 miles  /  Great Gulf Trail: 6.1 miles
Total GPS Miles: 14.4 (3,950 feet elevation gained)

Trip Report: 
-  Spent close to five hours doing trail work on the Sphinx Trail.  The trail is easier to ascend than descend so I will go over the trail description descending from the Gulfside Trail (A.T.) in detail and the 'problem' areas where hikers may have been leaving the trail.
- The Sphinx Trail starts off in the Clay (Sphinx) col and for a few tenths of a mile is above treeline.  The trail is easy to follow and there are medium sized cairns leading the way.  After this the trail enters the scrub and descends steeply, this section of the trail is narrow, I trimmed back a lot of branches creating an open but still narrow path.  The trail then passes by a rock face (on the left) with water streaming and splashing from it.  From here the trail coincides with Clay Brook for a few tenths of a mile over rocks and boulders.  The trail is wet and slippery, however it's a great place to filter for ice cold water.  The trail leaves the brook and descends a rugged dirt, rock, and rooty path.
- Problem Area #1:  As the trail descends it parallels the brook and eventually takes a sharp right and crosses it over a slab that has water rushing over it.  Where the trail takes the sharp right to cross the brook there were faint herd paths to the left and straight ahead leading to an illegal campsite.  Hikers were following this and getting dead-ended.  I blocked out the beginning of the herd paths and put mini cairns on the other side of the brook.
- After the crossing of the brook the trail travels above the cascade and flume over slab then back into the woods.  It descends steeply over more rugged terrain of rocks and roots before coming out to the landslide section of the trail.
- Problem Area #2:  The landslide is to the right of the trail and comes in from an above embankment then goes over the trail.  The landslide wiped out the trail and the surrounding trees and vegetation.  The trail passes straight over the landslide section, over dirt, gravel, and logs for about one hundred feet then back into the woods.
-  Once back in the woods, the grade becomes moderate and the footing becomes better.
- Problem Area #3:  The trail was obstructed by a blowdown.  There seemed to be a start of a herd path going around it but hikers may have become disorientated and gotten lost as there was a water crossing, going left, shortly after the blowdown.  I sawed off all the branches and blocked off the herd path.  The trail is easy to follow again, all that is left is the branchless tree across the trail, you can go under or climb up over the tree.
- The trail crosses left over the brook (marked by cairns), then gradual descends a tenth of a mile or so until taking a right and crossing the brook one last time (marked by cairns).  The trail is now almost level with the brook flowing just off to the left of the trail.  The woods are pretty open and there is another area where it looks like the trail crosses the river, but it doesn't, this may be confusing so I put a cairn up.  Over the last tenth of a mile the trail goes through a rocky flat section, then a dirt section, then along the side of the brook where there is a hop, skip, and a jump along the side of the banks of the Clay Brook a few feet away from the Great Gulf Trail junction.
- The Sphinx Trail is in a designated Wilderness area.  It is a wild, remote, steep, and beautiful trail.  There are no blazes allowed on the trail, although if you look closely you can find three very old and fainted ones!  Some sections are very narrow and a little overgrown, if you find yourself confused at all, STOP, then turn around and go to your last sure spot of being on the trail instead of continuing and doing a bushwhack.  The cairns that I put up below treeline to help may or may not be there.  If a ranger comes through they may knock them down, so do not rely on them being there....Enjoy! 

Collage of a bear that was just hanging out and having breakfast off Route 16. 
 Great Gulf Kiosk
 Great Gulf Trailhead
 Peabody Suspension bridge
 Peabody River
 The Great Gulf Trail is generally level and has soft footing over the first two miles
 Entering the Great Gulf Wilderness (1.5 miles in)
 West Branch Peabody River Bridge
 Approaching the Madison Gulf Trail Split
Clam Rock (around 2.6 miles in) 
 The Great Gulf Trail has a north west feel to it with the old pine and moss covered boulders and roots.
 West Branch with Mount Jefferson in the distance
 The Great Gulf Trail.
Tensite just after the Six Husbands and Wamsutta Trail junction. 
 Site of the old Great Gulf Shelter and the current tensite area.  Great spot to camp!
 Hmm, I spy a remote slide below the knee of Jefferson!
The West Branch has numerous cascades as it approaches the Sphinx Trail Junction 
 Another cascade
 Pretty decent flow for a mid summer day.
 Triple Cascades
 Upper and lower part of the triple cascade
 Upper Cascade
 Looking back at the crossing of the West Branch.  If you're good at rock hopping you'll love figuring out this puzzle to stay dry!
 Another crossing of the West Branch, many end up getting lost here once they cross
 Sphinx Trail Junction
 Lower end of the Sphinx Trail
The Sphinx Trail crosses the Clay Brook numerous times, there are three medium/large ones and one or two very small ones.
 This was the blowdown that obstructed the trail.  I cleared everything but the tree
 The bottom of the landslide.  The trail got wiped out and travels straight across this mess
 Looking back down.  The trail goes over the slide and back into the woods straight ahead
 The flume / gorge part of the trail
 Upper crossing, the trail goes over and to the right
 A nice little cascade just off the trail
 Entering the Alpine Zone, this sigh seems to be lower than it should but it's in better shape than most!
 Traveling over the brook portion of the trail.  Notice the blue blaze, number 1 of 3 left
 The Sphinx Trail, watch your footing or you're going to get wet and maybe twist and ankle and bash a knee!
 One of my favorite spots!
 The trail goes below and to the left where it gets narrow before popping up above treeline.
 A mini chimney that is fun to climb
 Breaking out of the scrub
 The trail is narrow but easy to follow
 Above the trees!
 Medium sized cairns to help lead the way
 Looking to the Sphinx
 A nice little open alpine meadow
 Great place to camp in the winter when there is sufficient snow.  No camping allowed when there is no snow.
 Blue blaze #2
 Glen Boulder's cousin, Clay Boulder
 A short little scramble up to the right
 One last section before gaining the ridge
 Approaching the col
 Sphinx (Clay) Col
 The beginning of the Sphinx Trail
 Hikers heading to Mount Clay
 Great Gulf Wilderness
 Descending as the clouds and rain come moving through.
 It you look real close you can see blaze #3
 The Alpine meadow
 Hikers above me on the A.T.
 Heading back down into the scrub
 The trail was scratchy.  I trimmed back but left it narrow.
 Descending the Sphinx Trail
 Love this trail, this boulder hangs right over the trail and drips water on passing hikers
 This is a good place to cool off
 Back into the brook section of the trail
 Moss covered boulders will test your balance
 Here was the major problem area.  At the bottom of this photo the trail takes a sharp right across the brook.  Hikers were going left and straight and getting lost.
Where the trail crosses the brook.  I cut the trees down to open it up a little.
 On the other side of the crossing.  I set up two mini cairns.  DO NOT rely on these being there.
 The trails skirts along the slab above the cascade.
 Clay Brook Flume Gorge
 Clay Brook Cascade
 Looking down the Clay Brook
 Hurricane Irene Landslide
 Lots of blowdowns
 Go straight and back into the woods
 Obstruction cleared, the trail goes left across the brook right after it, notice the cairn 
 Clay Brook crossing
 The lower end of the Sphinx Trail is pretty tame
 Another Clay Brook crossing
 The Sphinx Trail
 This area can be confusing so I put up a cairn
 A damn created by mother nature
 The Sphinx Trail
 West branch
 West Branch crossing
 The Great Gulf Trail
 West Branch crossing at Chandler Brook Trail junction.
 Clam Rock
 West Branch Suspension bridge
 West Branch bridge
 Trees will do anything to find the sun they need to grow!
 Hikes the ski trail back out.
 Peabody Suspension bridge.
 A nice little pool of water to take a dip in after a long day!
Route for the day, click here for GPS info


  1. Great pics. Thanks for all your hard work on the trail.

    -Jack Downing

  2. What a wonderful photo essay! Thanks, Chris!

    1. Glad you liked the pictures, Boggins. Much appreciated!

  3. Incredible write up Bill. Your pics, prose and trail maintenance efforts are much appreciated!

  4. Thanks for the cairns. They saved us in your major problem area #1 when we had to descend at night and had never been on this trail. It was a relief to spot the cairn across the brook after much searching around to the left by the campsite. The brook was running very strong due to a weeks worth of rain and that crossing just didn't look right so I didn't expect it until I saw the cairn.

    1. Hi Jason. Glad you guys were able to spot the cairn and I'm glad it is still up to help lead the way. I'm thinking of putting up an arrow sign on a tree where that crossing is to help out, hopefully the forest service will take it down. They've left the cairns up which in the past they knocked down leading to people not crossing the brook and wandering around and getting lost. I look forward to reading your trip report. Your website is great and very organized! I am going to add it to my list on my hiking links page so hopefully others will go and view it!

      Have a great rest of the year hiking!


  5. Hi Chris, So glad to find your photos. I used to hike this in the early 70's and hope to go back. I camped at the Clam rock, which I assume is illegal now (sigh). Also slept at the old lean-to, long gone. I found an old photo of it at:https://www.summitpost.org/high-shelter-great-gulf/992658

    We dropped a huge ball of hash off the Peabody suspension bridge during the first 10 minutes in.

    I hiked mostly early Fall, not too many other folks. Quite different now, Right?

    1. Hi Jim!

      Good news, you can still camp at Clam Rock, they even have a bear bin to store your food in too. Great Gulf is still quiet compared to most places in the White Mountains, especially on a weekday in the fall where you may see only a handful of people and sometimes no one at all once you get to the site of the old lean-to.

      Hope you can get back in there soon!