Isn’t it great when a plan comes together? For me, I had several things to coordinate for this hike, and it all worked out! Greg YEAH! and I have been talking about a trip to Huntington’s for at least a year or more. I did the hike last year, and knew he’d like it. With a little more free time this summer, he emailed me right away about a trip and with the weather looking good for Friday, the trip was on. Of course, it wasn’t without a little complication. I needed to be done by 2:00p, as I was meeting Ethan at the Great Gulf trailhead to pick him up, hike into Carter Notch Hut and spend the last night and morning of his 8 day hut-to-hut adventure with him. Knowing this, we hatched a plan to do some redlining in the Great Gulf so that we could end up back at one of the cars.
We met a little before 7:00a at Great Gulf, transferred gear for the carspot and were on our way to Pinkham Notch Visitor Center. It was an interesting day weather-wise, cool and breezy. We both had anticipated this, and packed accordingly. Neither of us was too worried as the hardest part of the climbing – on the headwall – would be the most protected from the northwest winds. We did know that as soon as we topped out we would be blasted. We’d both seen that the windchill on Washington that morning was in the low teens, so we brought extra layers plus hats and gloves.
Once we got the headwall itself, we pretty much had it to ourselves, passing only 2 other pairs early on, and we weren’t sure they were even going to try the headwall. Maybe the weather kept most people off the mountain or it was too early in the day. Only one guy came up after us. It was nice to be able to progress up the headwall without waiting on other groups or passing groups with members who we could tell were not having a great time.
The climb was just as fun as the first time I’d done it. The climb comes in sections, with places to stand and check out the next section before scrambling up the rock. In some cases, it took a few minutes to figure out a good route, but it can be done and is part of the challenge. Before long, though, we spotted the first cairn, and then we were at the giant cairn at the top.
As soon as we topped out, we got blasted with the wind and ended up wearing the hats and gloves, plus a layer. I’m guessing the wind was at least in the high 30’s/low 40’s. We were getting blown around a bit, and we know that starts around 40mph. We made it to the top in 3 hours, and since we had 4 more hours that we could hike, we decided to go for the Great Gulf, rather than loop down back to Pinkham Notch – our plan if time was short.
We finished redlining Alpine Garden, crossed the auto road and headed down the Wamsutta Trail. All while hiking into the wind. The descent wasn’t too bad to start with a nice section through a dense and mossy evergreen forest, but then we got to the really steep section. This was the type of steepness where you’d have to sit down, swing your legs over and jump off. We then got to one set of ledges that took a while to figure out how to get down. It took my partner some time to scout out various routes before settling on one to descend. Meanwhile I was looking down from the top, trying to figure out how I was going to make it down. If he had trouble, how was I going to do it?!? I actually did just fine, but I had more time to study it from the top while waiting for him to descend. Thankfully, the grade soon started to ease up, and we made it to the Great Gulf trail. I didn’t get any pictures, but should have, as it was one of those places that if you didn’t know better, you wouldn’t know a trail had been cut through there.
Once on the Great Gulf Trail, it was a long cruise back out to the car. The footing was pretty good, and the grade easy and downhill. The trail mostly follows the river, which made for nice scenery along the way with small cascade and pools formed by all of the water-worn boulders. We made it out at 1:45p, and Ethan was already waiting for us. Perfect timing, thanks to Greg’s ability to lead us out, especially through that small maze of trails in Madison Gulf.
It was quite a trip! I’d actually never been in the Great Gulf, so it was certainly interesting for me. I know I’ll be back, as there is a lot more to explore in that area. I had a great partner and there might be more challenging redlining adventures before the summer is over!
Special thanks to Greg YEAH! for a fun (and fast) day!