The Great Gulf to Mount Washington

Date of Hike: 6/21/14

Great Gulf: 7.8 miles  /  Nelson Crag: 1.0 miles  / Alpine Garden: 1.1 miles  /  Lion Head: 1.1 miles  /  Tuckerman Ravine: 2.3 miles
Total Miles: 13.3 miles (5,140 feet elevation gained)

Trip Report:
- The Great Gulf Trail, and more specifically the headwall is one of my favorite spots in the White Mountains, it's a wild and beautiful hike up to the summit of Mount Washington that is seldom used.  Each year I try to hike up the headwall and when Denise and Marc invited me to join in I jumped at the opportunity.
- Saturday was one of the busiest days on Mount Washington.  The annual road race was on Saturday, it was bike week, and the invasion of the mini coopers was also taking place.  We spotted a car at Pinkham Notch Visitor's Center, where we picked up Julia and Sean who would also be coming along on the hike.  It was 7:30 in the morning and as we drove up Route 16 to the Great Gulf trailhead there was already a line of cars full of runners going to the auto road entrance.  Luckily, we were able to sneak around them in the breakdown lane passing about 100 cars.
- We started hiking just before 8 a.m.  The Great Gulf Trail travels southwest deep into the Great Gulf Wilderness.  It is six miles of in the woods hiking over gradual grades with good footing for the first few miles followed by rugged footing once past the trail junction for the Six Husbands Trail.  It's a pretty hike as the trail follows the West Branch of the Peabody River by some really attractive cascades and small waterfalls.  Usually, the trail is a muddy wet mess the two miles leading up to Spaulding Lake but it seems as though it's in much better shape than ever.
- We had a great time hiking over to Spaulding Lake, where we took a break before popping above treeline and attacking the steep Great Gulf Headwall.  The headwall gains 1,600 feet of elevation in less than a mile and the views keep getting bigger and bigger as you gain the ridge above the headwall.  The trail is marked with yellow painted blazes and small cairns, there was a big slide that swept through the trail during Hurricane Irene which has made parts of it tricky to follow but it doesn't matter if you're off the trail, all the boulders lead you to the same place.
- Once above the headwall we headed to the summit and retreated to the pack room to avoid the circus that was the upstairs cafeteria.  We had lunch and warmed up before dropping down to the Alpine Garden to check out the flowers.  The Alpine Garden is a beautiful section of trail that cuts below the summit cone on the eastern slope of Mount Washington.  It's relatively flat and in June tiny flowers of all colors (yellow, white, purple, red) bloom.
- From here we headed down the Lion Head Trail then hooked onto the lower section of the Tuckerman Ravine Trail.  Along the way we were treated to great views of the Wildcat and Carter range and close up views down into Tuckerman Ravine.  There is still snow on the slopes of the bowl leading to the headwall which might last until August!  There were no crazy skiers out and about attempting to ski a patch of snow here and there, probably too much of a risk of falling through into the rushing water beneath the snow.
- It was a great day on Mount Washington and we lucked out as the trails on the descent were less crowded than I though they'd be.  It was a lot of fun to hike with Denise, Marc, Sean, and Julia, they are a great group to hike with.  After, we headed to Gorham to grab a bite to eat at the Boott Spur Grille.  A nice way to end a fun day on the biggest peak in the northeast!
 Peabody River Suspension Bridge
Parapet Brook 
 West Branch Suspension Bridge
 Clam Rock
 Mount Jefferson from the West Branch
 Nice little swimming hole
The Great Gulf Trail 
 Denise at one of the cascades
 Small waterfall along the Great gulf Trail
 Close up of the waterfall in the previous picture
 Another little 'shelf' waterfall
 Dual waterfall / cascade
 Marc crosses the west branch
 Weetamoo Falls
 Weetamoo falls
 The Great Gulf Trail
 Alpine zone, just past the Spaulding Lake
 Heading up the Great Gulf headwall
 Marc leads the way
 Spaulding Lake
 Denise leads the way
 Sean gets a good grip as he navigates the brook section of the trail
 Marc taking a break
 Julia and Denise head up the loose talus
 Looking up to the top of the headwall, it's steep!
 The gang makes their way up
 Denise, Julia, and Sean head back over to the trail
 Looking back down
 A little cave
 Slowly making our way up
 Marc, takes a break to take in the views
 Mount Clay and Jefferson
 Denise on the final section of the headwall
 Hikers making there way up the Gulfside Trail to our west
 Gaining the ridge, the summit is in the clouds, as usual!
 Julia gains the ridge
 Two beautiful dogs enjoying the cool weather and high winds
 The Cog!
 Lizzie Bourne Memorial
 The cog
 On the way down the clouds cleared off
 The Cog with Ball Crag behind it
 Bike Week!
 Looking down the tracks, Mount Clay in view
 Nelson Crag terminus
 Descending Ball Crag
 Looking back up to the summit
 Wildcat Ridge and Ski Area
 Nelson Crag Trail
 Look at all those cairns!
 Dogs on Washington!
 Alpine Garden
 Alpine Garden Trail
 The beautiful and flat Alpine Garden Trail
 Boott Spur
 Alpine Garden Trail
 Hiking along the Alpine Garden Trail
 The Boott Spur rising above Tuckerman Ravine
 Tuckerman Ravine
 Tuckerman Ravine snow waterfall
 Upper Falls in Tuckerman Ravine
 Hermit Lake
Hermit Lake and slide formed from Hurricane Irene 
 Descending Lion Head Trail
 Froggy Rock!
 Boott Spur Slide
 Tuckerman Headwall
 Wildcat and Carter Range
Dropping back to treeline 
 Hermit Lake
 Crystal Cascade
 Crystal Cascade
 Denise, Marc. Sean, and Julia (L to R) 
 Ravine Info
Tuckerman Ravine Trailhead
Route for the day, click here for more details


  1. Outstanding photography! And an impressive day hike. I've been trying to figure out how best to get to the Great Gulf headwall in a single day ... at present 13+ miles and 5000+ feet is out of my league :-).

    VFFT: Trailbagger

    1. Hi Trailbagger, glad you liked the pics, thanks!

      If you have a good weather day you should consider it, the walk to Spaulding lake is gradual and beautiful. Even if you just head there it's a really nice hike to do. After the lake that's where all the climbing starts, it's steep but not technical and the views are phenomenal. You can always turn around at Spaulding lake if you don't feel like heading up.

      Hope you get out to it one of these days


  2. Nice! Can you believe until last week I'd never been in the Great Gulf?!? Now that I've been, I'll be going back at sometime - the headwall looks like a neat hike. Your pictures definitely make me want to hike that. Maybe I can suggest to Greg YEAH! that we should do that for the hike after our trip up Great Gully. ;)

    1. Haha! I bet Greg would love that! Yeah, the Great Gulf headwall is such a fun hike with amazing views. Enjoy your hike up it when you get out there! :)

  3. Another great one. I was one in the crowd for the road race. Looks like you were up to a bit later than me, it was cold, windy and in the clouds the entire time I was there.

    1. It's pretty cool you got to see the runners finish, I was able to do that once while hiking over the summit and it was a neat experience. It was a zoo at the top all day, we had to escape down to the pack room. We lucked out on our descent as the clouds cleared off!

  4. Hi Chris! Was just reading your Washington blog and viewing pics--great as usual---I even use your pics as my background now and then--currently the one of Galehead hut--so clear with ridges in the background---anyway the reason for my mail here is to ask you --if you know-- the average elevation from col to summit of the mts on the presidential range--just if you know---like from Clay to Jefferson looks pretty steep. We will be heading up to the Whites soon to do our usual Boote Spur hike----views are second to none!! Enjoy the summer hiking!!! Ginny and Mike Small from Lunenburg, MA

    1. Hi Ginny and Mike! Thank you for liking my report and pics, it's so cool that you've used pics for your background, I give all the credit to my camera!

      As far as the elevation gained from cols to summits: This is the best I could come up with from the guide book for Monroe through Madison. Clay to Jefferson is pretty gradual, actually. Jefferson is much steeper from the Edmands Col side. If you have any other questions you can email me Have a great hike on the Boott Spur, it's one of my favorites, too!

      Madison Springs Hut to Mount Madison: 566 feet
      Madison Springs Hut to Mount Adams: 1,000 feet

      Edmands Col to Mount Adams: 850 feet
      Edmands Col to Mount Jefferson: 778 feet
      Sphinx/Clay Col to Mount Jefferson: 740 feet
      Sphinx/Clay Col to Mount Clay: 550 Feet

      Mount Clay to Mount Washington 900 feet

      Lakes of the Clouds to Mount Washington: 1,200 feet
      Lakes of the Clouds to Mount Monroe: 350 feet

    2. Where are my manners?? Thanx so much, chris for the info re: cols to summits in the presies---you are an inspiration for sure---I have the guide book also, and could have looked this info up myself, but oh well! Have a great summer--can't wait to get up to Pinkham notch in a couple of weeks!! Ginny small, lunenburg, ma

    3. Ginny, Hope you guys get great weather and get in some really nice hiking in the Presidential Range! Have a great summer to you too!

  5. Hi Chris! Thanks so much for posting such an awesome report. Beautiful photos. I was wondering, do you have a GPX file of the route you took? Looking to head up there myself in February, and was hoping for some GPS backing in case of bad weather.