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Thread: Six Husbands vs Sphinx

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    Senior Member DayTrip's Avatar
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    Six Husbands vs Sphinx

    I've been reading many of the threads on VFTT and other forums about the merits of ascending or descending Six Husbands vs Sphinx and it seems like the general consensus is that you should ASCEND Six Husbands and DESCEND Sphinx for any loops in this area. But every time I read the AMC Guide descriptions it sounds like it should be the other way around. Six Husbands sounds steep and rugged but the only really uncomfortable sounding area is the steep ledges with the ladders. I'd think ladders could be descended as easily as climbed. On the other hand, the Sphinx Trail sounds very wet, tricky to follow in spots and the AMC Guide specifically points out numerous difficult scrambles and a tricky chimney. That doesn't sound like a good route of descent to me.

    Can anyone square me away on specifically why they would not DESCEND one versus the other? I've done most of the "ravine" hikes in the Whites (including Madison Gulf, the Great Gulf headwall and Wamsutta in the Gulf itself) and would like to complete Six Husbands, Sphinx and Buttress to round out my list but I'm having a very hard time deciding how to attack. (I should note I'd be doing as a day hike so this will be a multi-trip undertaking, not one insane day of ravine madness). I like the idea of going up Sphinx cutting across and coming down Six Husbands in a loop but I'm concerned about the descent. The other loop I had in mind was up Six Husbands and then over and down Buttress, which is supposed to have some excellent views of the knee Six Husbands ascends. But then that kind of leaves the Sphinx "orphaned" as a when and how will I do that considering the effort. (Sphinx sounds like a trail people only take when they have to in bad weather.)

    What am I missing or ignoring? My gut tells me to go by the AMC Guide which is generally pretty good and it doesn't specifically warn against descent on either of these trails like it does for Huntington, Madison Gulf and others. Is there a "comparable" trail in the Whites that someone can reference to give me an idea of what Sphinx and Six Husbands is like? I'm just guessing but Sphinx sounds a lot like Madison Gulf and Six Husbands somewhat like Wamsutta (more the lower part with the steep, bouldery climb). Any feedback would be appreciated. Thanks.
    NH 48 4k: 48/48; NH W48k: 48/48; ME 4k: 2/14; VT 4k: 1/5; ADK 46: 6/46; Cat 3.5k 10/35

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    Senior Member dailey7779's Avatar
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    I maintain the Sphinx Trail, it is easier to descend than the Six Husbands Trail. The scrambles are fine to ascend or descend and they're very short and not tough at all unless you are new to hiking. The trail is not that tricky to follow either unless you're not paying attention at one of the water crossings, the landslide section, or at the very bottom. It's wet in one spot below treeline where it follows the Clay brook for a few tenths of a mile. It's a steep, wild, and beautiful trail but not as steep as the Six Husbands which is definitely more difficult to descend.

    Here are some pics from previous trips. Enjoy your hiking in the Great Gulf

    Report / Pics from August 2nd, 2014

    Report / Pics for July 11, 2015

    -Chris

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    A general comment is that this a long day hike from RT 16, some other folks do it from Caps Ridge as a day hike which is still a long day.

    Unlike Huntington's which is recommended as an upclimb, Six Husbands can be down climbed, there is one steep slab with no ladder near the top of steep section that can be a slight challenge going up which could be a controlled butt slide heading down. I think the reason Huntington's is recommended for up only is that the upper section is series of chimneys with loose rock. someone headed down is far more likely to get loose rocks knocked loose then ascending making it more hazardous for those downslope. Six Husbands is mostly jumbled boulders that a hiker will not knock loose.

    Sphinx on the other hand is stream bed up high and after the slide is more of a challenge to follow the trail (despite the effort of the trail maintainer, he still has to work within the constraints of the Wilderness area). It has always been a bad weather escape off the ridge more than a hiking trail, thus its usually a trail taken more for need than by choice although redliners add to the mix. There are no steep spots on the Sphinx anywhere near Six Husbands. One thing to consider is bring spare socks as there is no option but to wade the upper Sphinx and its nice to have dry socks for the long way out

    Most people prefer going up hill on steep stuff. It happens on occasion where hikers will start heading up and at some point lose their nerve and then freeze when they look down. This happens on Caps Ridge trail where people climb up but have difficulty climbing down what they just climbed up a few hours earlier. I have helped a few groups down. On the other hand AMC recommends Ice Gulch to be climbed CCW (uphill) and I always do it CW (down hill) as the views down the Gulch are far more dramatic CW.

    Buttress is problem as a day hike. I think the best option is up Madison Gulf then down Buttress. The trade off is a long walk back down GG trail at the end of two tough sections of trail. I have only done it once from a base camp near six husbands going up six husbands and down Buttress. Oc course if you add in the Adams Slide trail it would make a nice loop with Buttress.

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    Senior Member dailey7779's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by peakbagger View Post
    Sphinx on the other hand is stream bed up high and after the slide is more of a challenge to follow the trail (despite the effort of the trail maintainer, he still has to work within the constraints of the Wilderness area). It has always been a bad weather escape off the ridge more than a hiking trail, thus its usually a trail taken more for need than by choice although redliners add to the mix. There are no steep spots on the Sphinx anywhere near Six Husbands. One thing to consider is bring spare socks as there is no option but to wade the upper Sphinx and its nice to have dry socks for the long way out.
    I'm sorry but there is no wading on the Sphinx Trail, it travels through the Clay brook on boulders well above the water, which, unless there's been a huge downpour is a non-issue. Click here for picture, click here for another picture

    Also, after the slide the trail is pretty easy to follow, the trail corridor and path is well defined until the last one hundred feet which I was just working on last month. The problem areas from last summer have all been dealt with as you can find in the link from my 2014 report.

    -Chris
    Last edited by dailey7779; 08-13-2015 at 04:03 PM.

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    There was no choice but to wade when I did it with a friend last summer. I don't remember any particularly heavy rain in the prior days. That was my first time but my friend with me commented that that wasn't unusual.

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    I've done that loop twice, and definitely prefer up 6H and down Sphinx. IMO there is a lot more exposure (or it feels like it) on 6H, which as others have mentioned, would give me pause coming down it. I personally think Sphinx is a fun scramble down, but that's just me. (or was me 15 years ago) I also think it's a wicked long day--I've done all those fun climbs (Wamsutta, GG MG, Butttress), but from a base camp in the GG. Of course, I am not an uber hiker--never was. I also think the GG is a really lovely place to camp.
    "Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, Champagne in one hand - strawberries in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming WOO HOO - What a Ride!"

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    Quote Originally Posted by DayTrip View Post

    Can anyone square me away on specifically why they would not DESCEND one versus the other?
    I would not worry about descending either trail. That does not mean that you would be comfortable descending either trail.

    Although I've only ascended the Six Husbands trail once and never been on the Sphinx trail, the slab above the upper ladder on Six Husbands seemed to me to be more exposed than a normal hiking trail. A fall from that location might have serious consequences, especially for someone hiking solo.

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    Senior Member HAMTERO's Avatar
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    Those are some of the best trails in the Whites. I've done both several times. I would go up 6H if I had a choice. The last time I did it was last October. There is a new set of ladders that make it a bit tamer. I disagree that Sphinx is mostly a bail out route. It is a fine trail. Thanks Dailey7779 for maintaining it.
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    Senior Member DayTrip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dailey7779 View Post
    I maintain the Sphinx Trail, it is easier to descend than the Six Husbands Trail. The scrambles are fine to ascend or descend and they're very short and not tough at all unless you are new to hiking. The trail is not that tricky to follow either unless you're not paying attention at one of the water crossings, the landslide section, or at the very bottom. It's wet in one spot below treeline where it follows the Clay brook for a few tenths of a mile. It's a steep, wild, and beautiful trail but not as steep as the Six Husbands which is definitely more difficult to descend.

    Here are some pics from previous trips. Enjoy your hiking in the Great Gulf

    Report / Pics from August 2nd, 2014

    Report / Pics for July 11, 2015

    -Chris
    WOW! Outstanding reply. Thank you. I think I read one of your trip reports on the section of Link between Caps Ridge and Castle Trail a few weeks back (and which I recently did as part of a Caps, Link, Castle, Cornice loop). The river crossings higher up in the Gulf are definitely a little vague in spots. Adds to the fun trying to figure things out.
    NH 48 4k: 48/48; NH W48k: 48/48; ME 4k: 2/14; VT 4k: 1/5; ADK 46: 6/46; Cat 3.5k 10/35

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    Senior Member DayTrip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by peakbagger View Post
    A general comment is that this a long day hike from RT 16, some other folks do it from Caps Ridge as a day hike which is still a long day.

    Unlike Huntington's which is recommended as an upclimb, Six Husbands can be down climbed, there is one steep slab with no ladder near the top of steep section that can be a slight challenge going up which could be a controlled butt slide heading down. I think the reason Huntington's is recommended for up only is that the upper section is series of chimneys with loose rock. someone headed down is far more likely to get loose rocks knocked loose then ascending making it more hazardous for those downslope. Six Husbands is mostly jumbled boulders that a hiker will not knock loose.

    Sphinx on the other hand is stream bed up high and after the slide is more of a challenge to follow the trail (despite the effort of the trail maintainer, he still has to work within the constraints of the Wilderness area). It has always been a bad weather escape off the ridge more than a hiking trail, thus its usually a trail taken more for need than by choice although redliners add to the mix. There are no steep spots on the Sphinx anywhere near Six Husbands. One thing to consider is bring spare socks as there is no option but to wade the upper Sphinx and its nice to have dry socks for the long way out

    Most people prefer going up hill on steep stuff. It happens on occasion where hikers will start heading up and at some point lose their nerve and then freeze when they look down. This happens on Caps Ridge trail where people climb up but have difficulty climbing down what they just climbed up a few hours earlier. I have helped a few groups down. On the other hand AMC recommends Ice Gulch to be climbed CCW (uphill) and I always do it CW (down hill) as the views down the Gulch are far more dramatic CW.

    Buttress is problem as a day hike. I think the best option is up Madison Gulf then down Buttress. The trade off is a long walk back down GG trail at the end of two tough sections of trail. I have only done it once from a base camp near six husbands going up six husbands and down Buttress. Oc course if you add in the Adams Slide trail it would make a nice loop with Buttress.
    Definitely a long day. Last June (on a rather warm day) I took the Great Gulf Trail from Rte 16 all the way up to Washington (with Gulfside and Crawford Path) and then came back down on Nelson Crag, Alpine Garden and Wamsutta trails back to Great Gulf. I think it was about 16 miles and 5300' of vertical. To date it has been my longest day hike (I believe 13 hrs 5 min with all my stops) and longest day hiking (I left my house at 3:25 AM and was back in my driveway at 12:35 AM.) It was one of the best hikes I'd ever done (except maybe the roasting alive on the GG headwall with no wind and temps in the 70's). All the variety of terrain, lack of crowds (excluding summit of course) and the Alpine flowers in full bloom everywhere. Once or twice a year I try to "torture" myself with a grand loop such as this.

    I guess I'll have to make the call when I reach that split but it sounds like I would be wise to follow everyone's advice and go up Six Husbands.
    NH 48 4k: 48/48; NH W48k: 48/48; ME 4k: 2/14; VT 4k: 1/5; ADK 46: 6/46; Cat 3.5k 10/35

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    Senior Member DayTrip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by peakbagger View Post
    Buttress is problem as a day hike. I think the best option is up Madison Gulf then down Buttress. The trade off is a long walk back down GG trail at the end of two tough sections of trail. I have only done it once from a base camp near six husbands going up six husbands and down Buttress. Oc course if you add in the Adams Slide trail it would make a nice loop with Buttress.
    I meant to ask about this in prior reply. What is the problem with Buttress? Are you referring to how far you have to travel in order to connect with it or do you find this trail a problem for descending? Photos in other threads and the AMC Guide description make this sound like a reasonable descent option. Did I misunderstand you?
    NH 48 4k: 48/48; NH W48k: 48/48; ME 4k: 2/14; VT 4k: 1/5; ADK 46: 6/46; Cat 3.5k 10/35

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    Yes its the extra distance as a day hike depending on the other trail you decide to loop it with. It is fine trail on a nice day. If an when I get around to hiking Adams Slide trail (abandoned "steepest trail in the whites") I will most likely take Buttress down.

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    Quote Originally Posted by HAMTERO View Post
    There is a new set of ladders that make it a bit tamer.
    Looks like the "new" fifth ladder was installed over the exposed slab. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oFZj_G2lbZo

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    When I did it last summer there may have been a new ladder but there was still a steep slab without one that would cause some folks issues.

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    Senior Member DayTrip's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jfb View Post
    Looks like the "new" fifth ladder was installed over the exposed slab. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oFZj_G2lbZo
    That was my understanding as well but there seemed to be some debate over exactly which ledge this was installed on. I'm planning on at least one freaky ledge scramble.
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