Mt Clay

August 27, 2017.

I spent the night on the computer reevaluating my plan for different scenarios on finishing these trails I have left. Today wasn't going to be the challenge it was the rest of the week and mostly the northern slopes of the Presi's that concerned me. I still had quite a few trails to do over there and two ravines. Forming an efficient plan has always been the challenge during this redlining adventure. So feeling much better about bailing yesterday I headed back up north ready to hit the Great Gulf again but with a different approach. I have the Clay Loop Trail, Sphinx Trail and the headwall of the Great Gulf Trail left to do for a nice small loop hike. The easiest way to get them is to drive to the top of Mt Washington and begin my trip there.

A stop at the DD in Lincoln and when I pull into the parking spot out of the trash can pops this little fellow. Sorry to disturb your morning meal! I make it to the Auto Road by 7:30 and the gate is already open. It is not suppose to open until eight but turns out they opened early for their sunrise event. Drat...wished I had known that. Oh least the skies are clear although it is a bit nippy as it is in the mid thirties. The winds however are in the single digits which is perfect since I'll be above treeline right from the start. On the drive up I spy where I'll be coming down via the Sphinx Trail where Clay Brook has carved a line through the trees.


It's ten minutes past eight as I walk up from the parking lot to the summit. There are quite a few cars already here as they took advantage of the early morning opening to view the sunrise. A cloud blows slowly through as I look down towards Boott Spur. Passing the summit pile there is noone in line for the usual summit pic.


Behind the summit is the Trinity Heights Connector which will bring me down to the Gulfside Trail. I take my first step on the trail and hidden in the shadows from the sun is one black icy rock. It almost takes me down as my foot slips out from under me. Once again the poles save me from a disaster. Ahead of me is my first destination, Mt Clay, which is dwarfed by Jefferson behind it.


Getting into the sunny rocks is the first objective as I slowly pick my way through the frosty section. Albeit a bit chilly this is the perfect hiking weather. The temps are supposed to be unseasonably cool all week and I couldn't have picked a better week to finish. I reach the Gulfside Trail and remember the last time I was at this spot three years ago with Peaches and Cream. We were trying to pull off a miracle that day starting at Pinkham Notch and make it down to Mizpah when the weather turned so we bailed and had my brother pluck us off the mountain. Across the cog railway tracks and then I pass by the Great Gulf Trail sign which is my exit point at the end of today's hike. Reaching the edge of the Great Gulf and I get a look down to where I'll be coming up out of later this afternoon.


Further down the trail and a look straight down into the whole length of the Great Gulf. At the next junction with the Westside Trail and Clay and its multi hump mass is getting closer.


In less than an hour and I have reached the beginning of the Mt Clay Loop. The pathway leads to the protruding mass ahead. Soon enough I am climbing up the rocks to the first of the bumps.


As I am climbing up I here the distinct whistle of the first cog train coming up the slope. On top of the first bump and I can see the only coal driven train of the day chugging its way up.


I have always bypassed this little loop in favor of the Gulfside Trail not wanting to do the extra elevation gain. Now I wish I had done this more often as it is a great little trail. Just before the last climb there is a fantastic "lawn" section. Just like that I am on top of Mt Clay for the first time making note that I'll definitely be back.


Across the way in the shadows is my exit from the Great Gulf and it is intimidating from this vantage point. Ahead of me is the route down to Sphinx Col where I'll pick up my next trail.


A few more minutes and the whole cairn lined path can be seen right down to the junction with the Gulfside Trail. Passing by four hikers who are taking a rest at the junction and a short climb to the Sphinx Trail where the trail leads through a gateway to the edge of the Great Gulf.


The trail heads down some small scrambles as I take a look back. The trail ahead looks like it drops off the world into the Great Gulf.


It's steep at the beginning but nothing discerning. A small chimney provides some fun as I come down it and take a look back at it.


I can hear water ahead of me and soon enough the rocks of the trail are surrounded with the mysterious water. Reaching a cliff edge and the beginning of Clay Brook is tumbling over a cliff face spraying me as I pass by. On a hot day a welcome relief but today I skirt it quickly to stay dry.


The Sphinx Trail and Clay Brook share the same treadway for a bit making the going slow and tedious but nothing dangerous. We are still in a dry spell so the water levels are manageable. Coming down one steep section and a pool of water is at the end of one drop.


At the bottom a look at the waterfall above the peaceful and remote pool. Shortly after and the first crossing of Clay Brook which is an easy rock hop.


A few minutes down and another cascade complete with a pool also. Then some more brook and trail hiking as the rocks are exposed keeping the feet dry.


The next crossing would be quite dicey on a rain event day. It is nothing I would dream of trying but today it is a piece of cake. Stopping in the middle of the crossing a precipitous drop is revealed as the brook drops quickly at this spot.


On the other side of the brook the trail skirts along the edge of this flume leaving not much room for a slip.


A few more minutes down the trail and a tangled mess awaits. Turns out it is a remnant from Irene back in 2011. A portion of the embankment let go and slid down to the brook leaving an open area devoid of trees.


At the next crossing the first people I see since the Gulfside Trail as they heading up the Sphinx Trail. The trail is much milder through here and soon enough I reach the junction with the Great Gulf Trail where I turned around yesterday.


A peaceful spot for a break as I sit down on a fallen log before continuing up the Great Gulf Trail to tackle the headwall. Refueled and it is time to move along and just up the trail is an easy crossing of the West Branch. Five more minutes up the trail and I see Weetamoo Falls for the first time.


A rugged steep climb beyond the fall and soon enough the trail mellows out again as I get closer to Spaulding Lake.


Crossing a feeder stream and it is a beautiful mossy rock lined brook. I reach Spaulding Lake and am surprised at how small and shallow it is. It's a narrow body of water and a bit long with the debris at the bottom easily visible.


At the far end of the lake the headwall I need to climb comes into view and it is daunting looking. A peek back down the lake with a mirrored reflection along its length.


I'm excited that I am finally at the base of the headwall as I have been putting this off for quite some time. Just waiting for the right moment I guess. The trail winds through the woods before sharing the trail with the stream that feeds Spaulding Lake. At one spot I get a good vantage point of the headwall and where I'll beheading up. I have no idea where the path will take me as I peer at the bouldery face.


My track on Google Earth shows the direction of the trail.

I reach the Alpine Zone sign soon enough and the trail is still in the scrub. A few more minutes and I have yet to break out of the trees but they are getting shorter and more sparse.


I start hitting the boulders but they are still interspersed with the scrubby brush. The trail returns to the brook again and shares the same pathway for a bit.


A nice spot where the brook cascades down the steep incline and yes that is the trail also. I reach the section of behemoth boulders and it has taken me an hour from the lake to get to this spot.


A few minutes later and a great look down to Spaulding Lake and where I have come up from. On the flip side a look ahead to where I still need to get to.


Most of the trail is easily figured out as to where it goes up the rock face. Once in a blue moon there is an old blaze still left over for some reassurance I am on the right path. That is until I hit a section where I recent avalanche occurred and all evidence of where the trail goes is gone.


Off to my right I spot a piece of steel debris and who knows how that ended up here. Off to my left I see something and head over to check it out. Turns out they are two ski poles left standing in the rocks. Not sure what the story is behind those.


Back to the trail as I slowly keep picking my way up. It still seems so far away but I know I am getting closer as I can hear voices of hikers up on the rim hiking the Gulfside Trail. Another piece of debris is along the trail. This time a piece of pressure treated from the cog railway.


A few minutes later and another piece of steel. Hard to believe these ended up over the edge of the wall and an even better story would be how they migrated down here. Near the top one more look back to where I came and almost a mile down is Spaulding Lake.


Ahead of me is the warning sign for camping and a minute later I am back at the junction with the Gulfside Trail. It took ten minutes shy of two hours to climb the headwall but it is done. This side of the Presi's is also done as it was a heck of a way to finish this area. I know I'll be back someday as I found all three trails to hold their own with something different to offer.


Walking up the Gulfside and reaching the tracks is one of the trains heading down. Back at the summit and the once empty summit cairn is now lined up with the tourist picture taking crowd.


I head inside the visitor center for my traditional steamed hot dogs as I sit back and contemplate my plans for tomorrow before heading back home for the night. Just a tad over thirty miles to go!

Final numbers: 5.7 miles, 6 hours 15 minutes.

Redline Miles: 4.2, Total to Date: 1409.8