Monday, August 1, 2011

Owl's Head 7-30-11

Owls Head from Black Pond
I can now at least see why everyone dreads bagging Owl's Head. Despite the challenge it is to get there and the lack of views as a reward, its hard to dislike the experience as a whole. Out of all of my hikes to the 48 peaks, this one provided a unique wilderness experience; after all it's in the heart of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Doing the Black Pond Bushwhack, finding the Lincoln Brook Trail, and then following the trail, which is hardly marked, and is in parts narrow and overgrown, provided to be an orienteering challenge, which I feel that I succeeded with. I gave myself another challenge in anticipation of the dullness of the hike, and that was to do it quickly. Why not? I was planning to meet my family around noon, who were coming up the Franconia Notch Parkway area for the day. I found two trip reports of fast book times. One was 6 hours 58 minutes, and another was 7 hours and 47 minutes. I had set my goal for 8 hours. I knew this was do-able without thinking about it too much.

I started across the suspension bridge at 4:20am, and walked a swift pace to the Black Pond Trail. As I was about halfway down the Black Pond Trail, I paid close attention for animal activity, as the area would be prime for a moose to be out and about. I made it to Black Pond where I had a great view of Owl's Head, and with it's reflection in the early morning light (shown above). Up to this point, the fog was with me from the suspension bridge. Visibility was significantly reduced compared to last weekend's hike along the same trails to the Bonds.

Bonds from Black Pond, right before bushwhack
I continued along the path until it started to disappear. I did not see a first orange marker, but I did see a few out of nowhere on my bushwhack. Just at the corner of the pond, before the trail completely disappeared, I found North and proceeded at the suggested 340 degree bearing. Only after just a few minutes, I believed that I was not on the actual path of the bushwhack, but I always maintained that bearing checking every 5 minutes or so. There seemed to be herd paths all over the place, and a few spots where I crossed some foot prints, but nothing was ever really clear. Since I saw a couple of orange markers early on, I thought I might have been following the bushwhack a bit too far to the left or something, because it wasn't "open woodlands". I went through a couple of spots of some seriously thick stuff, becoming slightly nervous. I even fell head first over a log, which forced me to rest a minute, and then I found myself stuck up to my shins in mud. Towards the end, it seems like it goes up and down over a few hills, and not before long, I heard the river. At that sound, I quickly approached and made my way onto the river to scout the area. I didn't see much, so I started up the river on the south side, mostly along the edge. The path alongside the brook was heavily overgrown, I preferred rock hopping. I passed one section where two brooks seem to meet into one, and then, I would say, after slightly over a quarter mile at the most, I saw the trail cross the river from the north side to the south side. I thought to myself, this worked out great. The only thing was it didn't really save me time, but I was thrilled with the experience and outcome.

Now on the Lincoln Brook Trail (even though there is no sign or anything to easily ID it) I was in good spirits and moving along quickly. The trail follows the brook most of the way. The trail sometimes becomes narrow and overgrown again. It even goes onto the river and back off it. Wondering when I would see something to indicate Owl's Head Path, the trail finally opened up slightly and I did not miss the cairns and sticks indicating the path. It's hard to miss; it is the first area where the woods open up again, and the brook is highly visible to the left.
Lincoln Brook Trail near base of Owl's Head
The start of Owls Head Path
To be honest, I was anticipating a wide open slide with larger boulders. But instead, its mainly loose dirt and small rocks around slabs, and sometimes steep requiring a grip with your hands. That was the bottom half, and then the top part is similar to most other peaks, just very steep footing, and then a gradual climb to the summit. Add to that a blow down every five steps; after all, Owls Head is the only 4000 footer without an official path to the summit. It makes this whole hike feel like a bushwhack.

Me on the summit of Owl's Head, soaked but happy
I passed the old summit clearing, now marked with a sign to continue a quarter mile more to the real summit. Add in about 10 more ducks and jumps over blow downs and I was at the summit cairn, having claimed my 41st peak in 7 months. I made it just a few minutes over 4 hours. Since I was soaked from everything being wet (and the trails so narrow), the thick fog and constant wind prompted me to put on my pant legs and jacket. I put my sahara hat on to keep my head warm because my hair was wet. I had some of my lemonade I brought and an organic energy bar as I sat against the cairn and ducked the wind for a few minutes.

Crossing one of the smaller brooks on the way out
I started down the same path I came up. It's definitely easier going down; there are more options for you. I saw a couple on the way up about half way down, then I saw another guy coming up who was completing his 3rd round of 48. Unbelievable. I must have looked like crazy woodsman to them in my pants, jacket, and hat, but it was only to regulate my body heat, because being wet, it was freezing while I was slowed down, and then sitting at the summit. I made it down pretty quickly and took off my jacket and hat and got myself ready for the long 9 miles out. I ended up taking the trails on the way out, not going back through the bushwhack. I wanted to see the river crossings. All of them were low and easily cross-able.

Since the base of the slide, I ran the trail quite a ways. There were a few pointless up and downs, but nothing crazy. Once I got to the wilderness boundary, the area was bustling with day hikers and families heading out and around Franconia Falls and all along the Lincoln Woods Trail. I continued on along the side of the old railroad bed, and I made it to the suspension bridge 7 hours and 25 minutes after I had started. It was 11:45am.

Kiara and mom holding up Boise Rock
The fun didn't end there. My mother, father, brother and his daughter had left in the morning to come up the Franconia Notch Parkway for the day. I met them at the Basin, and then we stopped at Boise Rock. Next up, we ended up on the summit of Cannon via the Tram. We all stood on the summit, and me and Bill got to show them where we stood earlier this year on several feet of snow one on of the steepest hikes of the 48. Never been on the tram before, and never been to Boise Rock (by the way, what a great story behind Boise Rock), so overall it was a great day, and Bill and I got to share a summit we did with our family.

Hike Stats
Trails: Lincoln Woods Trail, Black Pond Trail, Black Pond Bushwhack, Lincoln Brook Trail, Owl's Head Path
Miles: 18
Elevation Gain: 2850 ft
Book Time: 7:47

To view the album from this hike click on the slide show below.

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