Owl’s Head – 3/5/2016

Underwhelmed hiker on viewless summit of Owl's Head, New Hampshire

Owl’s Head.  Ever been there?  Cool.  Never been there?  Cool.

It’s a 9ish mile hike (depending on what bushwhacks you take, if any, and how efficiently you do them) to a miserably steep climb, to a viewless, flat summit.  Then you turn around and do it again to get out.

If you’ve ever been in the woods, you’ve been on Owl’s Head.

Let me say a few things now, so I can get back to pretending to hate Owl’s Head, which is fun for me.

  • I don’t hate it.  I don’t hate any of the mountains I’ve been on.
  • Owl’s Head does have a small number of interesting views – a close look at the east side of Franconia Ridge from the herd paths, and some views of the Bonds and elsewhere if you’re bushwhacking on the east side.
  • Walking 18 miles in remote forest by choice is awesome, it’s not a chore, or boring.

Done.  Back to describing this crap mountain.  Literally a dingleberry hanging on Franconia Ridge’s backside.

Rich and I decided to waste a bluebird winter sky on this hike because I had 2 mountains left on my Winter 48 – this one and Jefferson.  Since I’d like to remember my completion of this list, I didn’t want Owl’s Head to be last.

This was a bit of a gamble.  I couldn’t hike the next day, and I’d be extra busy at work for the next several weeks, so that meant I was rolling the dice on the weather being good for the last weekend of winter to complete my list this season.  Worth it not to finish on Owl’s Head, and we’ll see how it goes.

For the sake of efficiency, I’ll stop typing out “Owl’s Head” now.  I’ll write O.H.  Actually, I’ll refer to it as OH.  But it doesn’t deserve to be capitalized.  I’ll go with oh.  As in:

“This is the summit.”

“…oh.”

Anyway, off we went at 7:30 down the Lincoln Woods Highway Trail.  If you’re taking the Black Pond bushwhack, which we were, this section doesn’t feel that long.  If you’re not… Bring a book or something.  This thing is so level and long you’ll be able to read on it.

Lincoln Woods Trail in winter, New Hampshire
Composite image of thousands of photos taken along the entire Lincoln Woods Trail

Black Pond Trail is quite nice.  Some interesting scenery with small ups and downs to keep the legs loose.  Black Pond is beautiful with the Bonds up there, keeping an eye on things.

The Bonds above Black Pond, New Hampshire
Black Pond, Bonds

To bushwhack from here and meet back up with the trail (at this point the Lincoln Brook Trail), just aim at 345° and start walking.  You’re low here, so the forest is open hardwood.  Boulders and erratics are interesting features and landmarks for your way back.  I’d like to do some bouldering on these.

Typical terrain on the Black Pond Bushwhack to Owl's Head, New Hampshire
Typical terrain on the Black Pond Bushwhack

Congratulations, you’re back on the trail, at the southern end of oh.  Doesn’t it look welcoming?  You cut a mile or so, skipped over at least 2 difficult water crossings and got to keep your navigation skills fresh (I don’t recommend blindly following tracks on bushwhacks).

Don’t forget to take a good look around, make a snowman, set a waypoint, or whatever… make it easy for yourself to pick up the bushwhack again for your way out.

From here, you hike along Franconia Brook, which is nice.  In the winter you traverse a few icy slopes along steep banks – don’t fall.  Or do.  You’d have a good excuse to turn around.

This is a long stretch, but when you finally get to where the trail crosses the brook, you’re there.  And by “there” I mean just over one third of your day.  If things go well from here.  Which they probably won’t.

We had a good crossing today.  Good meaning it was passable, and we didn’t fall through.  It was warm, the snow bridges were just about done for the season, and I was fully expecting a collapse.  Nice.

Hiker crossing icy Franconia Brook on Franconia Brook Trail, New Hampshire
-photo Rich Scioli

The Brutus Bushwhack (which is very herd path-ish now) started immediately after the crossing on this day.  The crampons went on – time to climb.

Three guys caught up with us here.  They hadn’t taken the Black Pond bushwhack and one had fallen in the water at one of the tough crossings on the trail.  Rich and I took a break, and the guys took off at high speed.  As they were leaving sight, an older guy came up behind us.  He yelled up to them to let them know he was stopping to take a drink.  They kept on going.

Rich and I left with the older guy close behind.  He was strong, just slower than us.  We got ahead of him quickly, but never got close to the guys who went ahead.  We’d see him occasionally through the trees, marching along.  At one point we took a long break, and he caught up and passed us.  We sat for another 15 minutes.

After hiking for a few minutes, we found him off the route, staring at an impenetrable wall of trees.  We showed him back to the tracks of the guys he was with.

The whack was icy, steep, and very thick in spots, as the person who broke it out went up higher than usual before cutting back toward the full herd path that goes up the slide.  We saw this guy on his way down… he apologized in advance for the overshoot.

Nothing to be sorry for man, we’re happy to use your broken(ish) trail, and get the altitude out of the way.

We finally met up with the herd path, and yup, it was high up.  But it was worth it, 1 minute later things leveled out and we were on the ridge.  Now to find the true summit.  I can’t pretend this was difficult, he and the 3 speed demons had left a trail in the deep snow.

Broken trail near the summit of Owl's Head, New Hampshire

At the “summit”, which is like a pitcher’s mound in a ball field, but smaller, we met up with the 3 dudes.  2 were brothers, 1 was just a guy who they had coincided with on the trail.  They were nice guys, but I had to wonder why they left their dad so far behind.

“He was right behind us the whole way.”

Nope.  You left him in the dust.  He was way behind us the whole way, and we were way behind you.  I didn’t say it like that, but I did recommend they go find their father, and they did.

Rich and I hung out at the summit for a pretty long time, I truly don’t know why.  Maybe we didn’t want to start into another 8 mile walk just yet.  But it was a long time.  Enough time to eat, drink, rest, and get bored enough to do this:

"Goodbye Owl's Head" written in the snow on the summit of Owl's Head, New Hampshire

And then this:

Goodby Owl's Head, with pee

And then it was time to leave.

I mentioned above that there is an interesting view of Franconia Ridge from near the top of the slide.  Here is Rich, looking at it through the trees, wishing he went there today instead.

Franconia Ridge from Owl's Head, New Hampshire
Franconia Ridge… oh

On the way down, we ran into the 3rd dude, the non-brother.  He had separated from the other guys when they went down the herd path instead of the bushwhack.

He was sliding on his ass down really steep ice.  I asked him if he didn’t have crampons or at least MICROspikes.  I was sure I had seen crampons on his feet on the way up.

“Yeah I do, but I’m not putting them on my feet, because they’ll slow the circulation.”

Ok.  To each their own, and we kept going.  Usually when I have 2 problems at the same time, I address the most pressing issue first, or try to.  I’d rather have circulation problems at the bottom of the steep, icy mountain, and take my crampons off there and rub my feet for a while as opposed to ending up wrapped around a tree 9 miles from anywhere with a healthy flow of blood to my feet (if it was still pumping into my body at all).  Again, to each their own.

End rant.  Actually, one more thing.  Crampons don’t cut off circulation when worn on the type of boots they’re designed to be worn on, you might try a pair.  Now end rant.  My apologies, seriously.  I do dumb things, too.

We retraced our steps the entire way down, I won’t bore you with it, or myself by writing it.  When you see “the Tunnel” on Lincoln Woods Trail, you’re almost (miles from) home.

Trees appear to form a dark tunnel over Lincoln Woods Trail, New Hampshire
The Tunnel – I’ve seen this on every walk out I’ve ever done on this trail

One more thing worth mentioning is the father/daughter team we leapfrogged with throughout the entire day.  She might have been 10?  11?  I don’t know this stuff.  But they were both pretty damn fast, and friendly people to chat with here and there as we passed each other and on the summit.

I saw on FB that they climbed another peak the next day.  I got the sense that this girl might be a contender for a very young finish of the Winter 48.  Good luck!

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