jump to navigation

The Great Gully to the summit of Adams August 26, 2009

Posted by Jenny in hiking, nature, White Mountains.
Tags: , , ,

Gully from base of ravine. It is the curving one on the right.

Great Gully from base of King Ravine. It is the curving one on the right.

Total hike: nine miles, 4400 vertical

I had been up the Great Gully once before and remembered it as a place seeming very secret in its nature even though it is in the White Mountain Guide right on the next page after the King Ravine trail description.  The trail up the Gully splits off from the King Ravine trail at the upper part of the ravine basin not far before the steepest part of the climb up the headwall.  The trails diverge at 3800 feet, or about 100 vertical feet below the “let’s get down to business” part of the headwall, and they both get to the top of the steeps (5100) in little more than a half mile, though the Great Gully has its stiffest part at a point lower on the headwall.

A tributary of Cold Brook flows down the Great Gully, and that is what transforms the gully into a secluded, protected place that has a dense carpet of flowers and rhodora, dwarf birch and dwarf black spruce, ferns, and moss.  The plants seem woven together in a tapestry of colors and shapes. From across the ravine you can see a deep greenish gash where it emerges above treeline, a moist protected world that contrasts with the monochromatic windblasted tundra.

The Great Gully trail is famous for one spot described in the White Mountain Guide as follows: “The trail then passes under an overhanging rock on a ledge with a high, sheer drop close by on the left, forcing the faint of heart to crawl on their bellies, dragging their packs behind them.”  It had been a long time since I’d been up the trail, so I couldn’t quite remember whether this spot was quite as terrible as described.

I started at the Appalachia parking lot, took the Air Line to the Short Line to the King Ravine trail.  Just before the KR junction, I saw some very pretty moss.  Readers of this blog know that I am obsessed by moss.


I hit the KR trail just below Mossy Falls, which didn’t have as much moss as the rocks above.

Mossy Falls

Mossy Falls

Pretty soon above the falls the scrambling starts.  No big dilemmas, but a lot of boulders that have to be negotiated.  Each one is a puzzle that needs to be solved to figure out the best way up and over.  Before long I emerged on the open floor of the ravine.


After clambering over an entertaining series of boulders, I came to the Great Gully junction.  The lower part of the trail passed between big pillows of moss that were spangled with mountain goldenrod.


Soon the climbing got steeper, and I came to a beautiful cascade.


I was getting to the part where the trail has to do some serious contortions to get around cliffy areas.  Right above the cascade I had a view that confirmed that I was making upward progress.


I knew I was approaching the tricky bit where the WMG talks about the “faint of heart.”  Sure enough, here it was. You have to look at two pictures to get the full story. Here is the hole that you can squeeze through.  It’s tighter than it looks in the picture:


The reason you squeeze through the hole is because this is immediately to the left.


I squirmed through the hole without having to take off my pack, though it wasn’t pretty.  I guess there is a way you can do it without hole-squeezing, but I wasn’t going to venture onto the outward face of the ledge, especially since I was on my own.

I could hear a couple of distant voices wafting over from the King Ravine trail, which churns up the rubble pile under the high rocks seen below.  I’ve been up that way a few times, too.


My route had less rubble and lots of ingenious combinations of rock and plant life.


It’s hard to say exactly where treeline is on the Great Gully, because the plants right in the gully remain taller than just outside it, though you definitely have a sense of being out in the open. I admired the dense mat of plant life.


Eventually the trail works its way onto a scree slide.


Looking back down to the floor of the ravine…


I finally tackled the summit of Adams.


I had a view over to George, the Great Gulf, and the Auto Road. I could see the glimmer of the Peabody River in the Gulf.


Much to my surprise, there was absolutely no one on the summit.  In fact, I had seen a total of zero people on my whole way up the mountain.  It was a Tuesday, but a beautiful day in August, so that was a bit odd.  I took a dorky picture of myself on the summit with the timer.


I had to commemorate the moment because it was my birthday.  After about ten minutes, a few other people straggled in.   One nice guy named Scott gave an interesting lecture to me and a father and son who arrived, all about the evils of corn syrup in Power Bars, but I appreciate the fact that he sang “Happy Birthday” to me.

I decided to descend by the Airline trail, which oddly enough I’d never been on before.  I passed the top of the King Ravine trail, always impressive from that angle.


The view down the Airline ridge:


My hours of seeing few people had come to an end.  All down the Airline I encountered great numbers of humanity, including probably quite a few hutsters (Madison Hut, I mean).  However, I must say that this route seemed better than the Valley Way, which is the main thoroughfare to the hut.  I’m not quite sure why I’d neglected the Airline before.

View toward Great Gully and its neighbor from the Airline

View toward Great Gully and its neighbor from the Airline


1. Kevin Talbot - August 26, 2009

Super trip report and pictures! Looks like a great route and I like the idea of running into zero people! Happy b-day!


2. jack downing - August 26, 2009

Can’t wait to try the KR and Great Gully trails. Looks like a lot of fun bouldering. Happy Birthday. Enjoyed your writing and pictures.

3. Jenny - August 26, 2009

Thanks for the birthday wishes, Kevin and Jack! Definitely try those trails, if you like doing challenging routes. Enjoy!

4. Mike - August 27, 2009

I have made this trip many times but not in the last few years. Your description and pics are much better than mine, it seemed as if I did the hike with you. BTW, its not a dory picture.

Happy Birthday… hope to see you out on the trails some day!!!

5. Jenny - August 27, 2009

Well, Mike, why aren’t you doing this trip every year? (Just kidding!) I seem to have gotten fixated on the northern Presies recently, so I’ll probably be up in the same area again soon. Maybe on the “Chemin des Dames” (never tried that one before –intrigued because it has WWI connotations–Battle of the Aisnes, is that when they named the trail?), or something in Castle Ravine, or maybe something out of Great Gulf. All of those places are fun.

6. Peter Bennett - August 29, 2009

I enjoyed the pictures and your descriptions. Looks like a pretty tough hike. In fact it looks more like an off trail hike to me.

7. mike d - September 2, 2009

Nice photos and a great hike. I did Adams for only the 2nd time ever in 07 and went up Durand Ridge solo for my b-day, fabulous.
I’m anxious to get back out there and I’m just about ready

Happy b-day to you,

Mike D

8. Rick S - May 8, 2010

It’s a rainy May Saturday up here, so reading this was good therapy. I did Great Gully to Adams with Eric in August of 08 after his AT. Your pictures are great… and yeah, I should use the Airline not Valley Way next time I’m in that area.

9. Josh Riley - February 4, 2012

Attempting to decend using this trail at the end of a two-day, near-presidential traverse hike proved to be too daunting.

Jenny - February 4, 2012

Two-day traverse? That sounds like a winter traverse. Great Gully in winter could be technical—especially going down rather than up!

Josh Riley - February 5, 2012

It was early June. We were supposed to continue on the AT to Madison Hut and descend there, but my hiking mate was too exhausted to continue and refused to continue down the AT. Looking for the fastest descent, my buddy insisted we take the Great Gully. Each step down was a 3 to 5 foot drop. With a moderately heavy pack, it was tough, and you could not get enough speed to outrun any blackflies, which had been hungry to say the least. We turned around and took the incredible Lowes Path down, a phenominal descent, but extraordinarily slippery stone slabs line most of the path.

Jenny - February 5, 2012

Yeah, I guess I’m forgetting that people do it as a two- or three-day trip in other seasons. I did the traverse in 15 hours starting up Madison with a headlamp, and it was pretty brutal. Most people are too smart to do that! I sympathize with the blackfly problem. Now that I’ve moved to North Carolina, I don’t have to deal with them any more—just gnats and poisonous snakes. Not many skeeters here either.

10. Barry Kesselman - September 21, 2013

Great thanks Jenny for the photo of the hole to squeeze through and avoid the outer edge of that ledge. I’ve been past the Great Gully trailhead on my way up King Ravine not knowing there was a way to skirt that drop off. Love your picture of Mossy Falls.

Jenny - September 21, 2013

I’m glad it was helpful. That is one of my favorite trails in the Whites. Wonderful place!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s