Thursday, February 21, 2013

W48-in-1: Owl's Head - 2/18/13



Owl's Head is never that "dreaded hike" for me. I find it always exciting to be headed out there which ever season it may be. The main concern, especially going solo, is that such a remote hike has increased risks and they must be properly planned for, and timing is important. Heading out to Owl's Head in the winter is something I haven't done before, so I was really looking forward to this hike and whatever challenges it was going to present to me.

I started at 6AM sharp from Lincoln Woods, just as the sky started to lighten a little. The Lincoln Woods Trail was nicely packed down hard, which made for a really nice 2.6 mile warm-up to the Black Pond Trail. I found the Black Pond Trail nicely broken out, as well, allowing me to continue quickly to Black Pond. When I arrived, the sky was completely overcast, and the wind was blowing snow in circles out over the pond. I took a few pictures, and without much happening, and the sky now light, it was perfect timing for me enter the Black Pond bushwhack.
Overcast and windy morning at Black Pond
I was pleased to see boot tracks leading up the banking to the left into the woods. I felt that the path for the bushwhack could have been broken out in more of a direct route, and not so much up-hill to the left at first, but following the tracks as-is made for a problem-free bare-boot trek through the cold woods. There were a few spots where older boot marks came onto the path from either the left of right, but what I seemed to be following was working great. Near the end of the bushwhack, I came to the familiar sloping hill where the path leads downward and eventually right out to the where the Lincoln Brook Trail crosses the river - Nice!
Black Pond Bushwhack
Lincoln Brook Trail 
Frozen Lincoln Brook
There were visible boot prints left for me on the Lincoln Brook Trail as I continued towards Owl's Head. It was not completely broken out, and at this point, I strapped on my snowshoes for the rest of the way. The snow made for some tricky side-hilling in some spots, but there was never a problem following the trail along the river and across the couple of small crossings. After the second crossing, I started looking for any sign of the Brutus Bushwhack, which is supposed to be about .1 after the last crossing. I saw one spot that looked like a herd path going diagonally up the slope, but I wasn't sure if that was the location - there were no signs of foot traffic heading off trail quickly after the crossing. I continued looking and eventually came to a set of tracks that led into the trees up the slope. Feeling confident, I decided to follow those tracks up the mountain with the hope of being on the Brutus Bushwhack.

After what seemed like a long time following partially drifted in boot prints, they came to an absolute dead-end, and there I was standing somewhere in the trees on the side of Owl's Head. It was probably around 3,000 feet of elevation, which meant that there was still a lot of work to do here to reach the summit.  At times, the snow on the steep, steep terrain felt as if it would all fall out from beneath me and slide down the mountain. I was using trees left and right to pull myself up, and I was even chopping small twigs off here and there with my wrists to push my way through. It was some seriously tough stuff. It is moments like this when things seem to slow down, and I become zoned in. I started to think how crazy it was that I was by myself, 9 miles (or more) from help, off-trail, in the middle of the Pemi Wilderness, and on the side of a steep mountain! While that's awesome (to me), that could spell disaster if the hike wasn't going as planned. As I continued ascending, I attempted to take the path of least resistance. The further I ascended, the more I attempted to bushwhack to the left (north) in hopes of landing on the Owl's Head Path. When it started to open up more, I could sense I was getting closer to the area of the slide, and I grew more confident.  Finally, after nearly falling through some spruce traps much taller than I, I came out onto a super bright Owl's Head path which appeared to be well-broken out! I freakin' knew I should have just ascended the slide, but oh well!
The spot where I came out onto Owl's Head path
After a solid break taking time to pee, drink water, and check in quickly with family on my status, I was on my way up. Now, being up on the ridge and slightly more exposed, the wind was pretty furious through the trees and above them. All day I had been watching and listening for snapping trees. Because of the wind, it was drastically colder at this point than any other point in the hike. I am not sure whether the broken out trail passed the 1/4 to summit sign or not. It's pretty small anyways, but I never saw it, making it a challenge for me to find the summit cairn. I hiked all of the way until there was no more visible footpath, and at that point, I started to get a little worried that I wouldn't find the cairn. However, luck would have it, that I practically stepped on the cairn as I made my way back south along the ridge. I dug it out a little bit to confirm, and yes! I had reached the summit of Owl's Head - my 35th 4000 footer this winter.
Owl's Head summit in winter 
Owl's Head summit - 3rd round, first time in winter
My break here was VERY brief. It was unbearably cold and the wind was sucking any warmth right out of me. It is always a huge relief on a hike like this to know that you will be able to mostly follow your own tracks right out. I was looking forward to that. There was no way in hell I was going down the way I came up, so I passed my entry point onto the path, and continued down to the top of the slide. When I came out at the top of the slide, I was treated to a very beautiful view of Franconia Ridge, particularly Lafayette and Lincoln. The path going down the slide was pretty well broken out, and with careful and slow foot placement, I had no difficulty making my way down. I even carefully did a few butt-slides!
Lafayette and Lincoln from the slide 
Owl's Head slide in winter
The junction for the slide as I came through on the way down and out
Back on the Lincoln Brook Trail, the consistent wind of the day filled all of my tracks about 3/4 of the way from the time I had been on the mountain. That was pretty amazing, but following the trail was easy. Same went for the Black Pond bushwhack in reverse, where the tracks were less filled in from the winds. I thoroughly enjoyed the hike out where I passed Black Pond again to find a crystal clear view of the Bonds, and also along the Lincoln Woods Trail, the sun shone brightly off the streams, providing me with inspiration to keep hauling to my car. It was a fantastic day, and my first winter ascent of Owl's Head was a great success, which left me feeling really good.
Black Pond bushwhack towards Black Pond 
Black Pond 
Stream alongside Lincoln Woods Trail 
Pemi Bridge at Lincoln Woods

Hike Stats
Trails: Lincoln Woods Trail, Black Pond Trail, Black Pond Bushwhack, Lincoln Brook Trail, bushwhack, Owl's Head Path
Distance: 16 miles (approx.)
Elevation Gain: 2,850 ft.
Actual Book Time: 9:45

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