Monday, July 21, 2014

Madison Gulf and more 7/18/14

Working title: Glutton for punishment

Peaks: Mt. John Quincy Adams (5394'), Mt. Adams (5774'), Mt. Madison (5367')

Trails: Great Gulf Link, Great Gulf Trail, Madison Gulf Trail, Parapet Trail, Star Lake Trail, bushwhack, Airline, Gulfside, Osgood Trail, Daniel Webster Scout Trail, roadwalk

Mileage/time: ~13.4 miles, ~5600' of gain, book time of 9:30, actual time of 9:43

New red-lining miles: 9.8

Wednesday, I had hatched a plan with Jake, to do a hike on Friday. What I didn't expect, was that my hike Thursday would take so long, and that I wouldn't get to bed until nearly midnight. Four hours of restless sleep later, I awoke, eyes tired and bloodshot, and got headed to his place. I was uncharacteristically late, but Jake had a coffee ready to go for me, and we managed to get on our way at a decent (just after 5am) hour.

Breezing into Conway, we hazarded a stop at Bagels Plus, which wasn't open when we showed up at 6:15. An employee was pulling up as we did, and on her way in said to hold on a second. Moments later, she opened the door for us, and we were able to get fresh from the oven bagels to munch on while we drove through Pinkham. Thank you Bagels Plus!

Turning into the Dolly Copp Campground, we passed our exit trail, and a bit more than 1/10th of a mile later, pulled into the lot for the Great Gulf Link. Starting out on the well graded, wide, pathway, we moved quickly to warm up, as the nights coolness lingered. Before we knew it, the junction with Great Gulf Trail was reached, and we turned left to check out the suspension bridge over the Peabody River. This, of course, led to us going out to the parking lot (for red-lining purposes).

Great Gulf Link

Peabody River suspension bridge

A fungus in the sun

Returning to the junction, we headed up Great Gulf Trail. The lower miles are fairly pleasant, climbing near the river at decent grades, with good footing. I didn't bother taking pictures on this section, as we were determined to get to the good parts! We soon entered the Great Gulf Wilderness, the first (and smallest) wilderness area in the White Mountain National Forest, being designated in 1964. Surprisingly, this is the only wilderness area in the White Mountains that I had not yet been to. At a campsite on the right side of the trail, a large boulder begged to be climbed for a view. This is referred to as The Bluff, and bears a metal pin, likely from Bradford Washburn's survey of the White Mountains.

Looking toward Jefferson from The Bluff

Adams in the clouds from The Bluff

A few steps later, now on the A.T., we came to our first quarry of the day, Madison Gulf Trail. Saying goodbye to the A.T. we headed up. Initially, the trail climbs moderately up a narrow ridge, then pulls up along Parapet Brook. It got rougher, with many rocks and roots, as we climbed. Some gorgeous little cascades flowed in the brook, and with some views through the trees, it made our climb into the floor of the gulf very enjoyable.

Adams is still WAY up there

Sylvan Cascade

An old red blaze

We decided that we'd take a break before the trail started climbing in earnest, and upon finding an appropriate spot, we sat down and settled in for a few. Sadly, if we had continued a minute further along, we would have been treated to a great ledge viewpoint. After our break, we headed up the steeps, and steep they were. In its steepest section (from the floor of the gulf), the trail gains 1000' in about 0.4 miles, that's reach out and touch the trail in front of you steep! In a few spots, water ran in and beside the trail, then was beneath it, percolating down from above. It was a spectacular climb, one of the best I've had so far in the Whites. That being said, I wouldn't want to descend it, or be on it at all in wet weather.

Here's a link to a report from last year about some thru-hikers who were directed DOWN this trail. [LINK]

The beginning

Where we should have eaten lunch

The cliffs of Madison Gulf

Washington from Madison Gulf

Approaching the Parapet

Topping out on the Parapet Trail, we went along until we reached the rock formation called (can you guess?) The Parapet. The views were similar to what we'd seen while climbing, so I don't think either of us took pictures. Continuing along, we turned briefly onto Star Lake Trail, and checked out the quartz outcropping known as Moon Rock, as we considered our best plan of attack. John Quincy Adams looms above the Adams/Madison col, and while we planned on scooting along up to the ridge and following it up, we took a more direct route.

Skirting around the fragile alpine plants, sticking to the rocks, we started up. Bear in mind, that our route to the top was about 0.25 miles long, and gained a solid 600'. The nearer we got to the top, the steeper it got. Dry rocks helped matters, but there were still some pretty airy scrambles, though hand and footholds were fairly plentiful. Really super fun, with a better backdrop than one could hope for. The highpoint itself is a pyramidal rock with a survey pin. Knock another Trailwrights peak off the list!

Star Lake

Moon Rock



Looking down what we just came up

Looking into King Ravine

Leaving the summit of J.Q. Adams, we spied the Airline coming up from Gulfside, and instead of "rockwhacking" to Adams, we decided to take the trail. Just before the summit, we came upon our first person of the day, and there were a couple of others on the summit itself. Not seeing anyone until then was great, especially on a beautiful late Friday morning in the summer. The wind was blowing pretty well, so we hunkered down on the lee side of the summit for lunch.

J.Q. Adams

Washington and Clay over the Great Gulf




Rock-hopping down from Adams, we started to run into more and more groups making their way to the top. The hut was fairly busy by the time we got there, and they had some delicious buttermilk/chocolate/fruit bars... of which I bought two, and gave one to Jake. We had only Madison to go over, and Jake said, "I'll say, we'll be out by 4 o'clock", to which I responded, "I'll take that action". Out of the hut, and up we climbed. Thankfully, the trail up to Madison is mercifully short, and when we arrived, there was no one around.

Washington from Madison

North to the Mahoosucs

Adamses from Madison

Now for our exit. Hopping down to Osgood Junction, we passed a guy in a bright orange shirt, who was descending the same way, having started up Caps Ridge on Jefferson that morning. Daniel Webster Scout Trail starts out steep, descending a large boulder field, mostly slabbing, toward the valley of Culhane Brook. To be honest, it was pretty torturous, my legs tired, my mind reeling from lack of sleep. It's not that it wasn't scenic, because it was, but it just lacked something. All in all, it was kind of ho-hum. Dropping below treeline, the steepness continued for a bit, then abated. There were even some soft sections! We readjusted our time estimate, I said 4:45 at the latest.

Howker Ridge from Daniel Webster Scout Trail

About a mile from the trailhead, we ran into a guy wearing cotton shorts and a t-shirt, carrying nothing. He asked us how far it was to the top. Our response was that it was a long way off, and there was a lot of climbing in between. He thanked us and kept going. Passing the guy in the orange shirt again, we found that he had asked him the same question. I really hope he'd be screwing with us. Sadly, when we reached the trailhead, there was a woman there, asking us if we had seen the guy. She told us that he wasn't from around here, and was unfamiliar with the area. We told her where we had last seen him, and she thanked us and took off. Hope he made it out alright!

A short walk on the campground road, led us back to Jake's car. The time was 4:46, so close! We had a quick ride back to Maine, and I soon found myself in the shower, then hobbling downtown for some Thai curry. A delicious end to a delicious day in the northern Presidentials. Thanks Jake, for another good one!


  1. When i did my hike up the Great Gulf Trail to Washington few weeks ago i took some of the trails u guys did, starting and finishing at the same spot. Having nobody on the trails until i reached Washington, it was nice feeling being on your own in the wilderness and hiking along the brook was a great addition to already amazing scenery. i hated going down Daniel Webster being tired and miserable at that time, it was too steep for me after long day.
    I wanna try Madison gulf badly!
    Great read, as always!

    1. Thanks Marta! Daniel Webster was probably a one and done for me. I highly recommend Madison Gulf, and can't wait to get back into the Great Gulf to check out the other trails in there!

  2. Can't wait to do Six Husbands. Have heard lots of great stuff about that one!

    1. Same here! I'll probably try and do a backpack sometime in October, to see if I can't finish off the trails in the Great Gulf. Sounds like a good time!

  3. A much better way to go (up) than down. Beautiful views!

    1. Thanks! Your experience sounded downright terrifying, glad you made it through to tell the tale.