View Full Version : Whackin' the Owl's Head 2/4/10

KD Talbot
02-05-2010, 08:05 PM
http://www.ghostflowers.com/forumshots/16aowlshead2410.jpgBondcliff from the summit of Owl's Head

Owl's Head 4025'

Lincoln Woods Trail/Black Pond Bushwhack/Lincoln Brook Trail/Brutus Bushwhack

16+/- Miles 3000' +/- Elevation gain

Kevin, Judy and Emma *

Disclaimer: If you're a person who is easily upset because someone else's personal opinion doesn't match yours, you may not want to read this report. Also, I expect a few of the dreaded Red Squares for our decision to split up in the middle of the Pemi Wilderness. It's cool. I know many would disagree with our methods, but we've weighed our risks before and made similar decisions. I guess you could say we've been lucky, tempting the mountain gods, but it has worked out for us... then there is the argument, "Did he really reach the summit?" As far as I'm concerned, yes, I did.

That said, this is my report on our winter trip to Owl's Head: I decided a while back that I should just go and finish the remaining mountains on my winter 484K list and not drag my wife who has been having some health issues and our ten year old dog along with me. It wasn't fair to either of them. Jude decided a long time ago that she didn't care if she ever finished the winter list, and Emma plain doesn't care, she just wants to be out there with us. After a while I got used to the idea of not doing these winter hikes with them and sought out others to go with, or if need be, I'd go alone.

A couple of weeks ago Jude was feeling better and we decided we'd take a shot at Isolation. It went pretty well. We were all pretty tired afterwards, but managed it. One of the best things about the trip was a well chosen bushwhack through beautiful birch glades that cut some distance off the hike and made for some beautiful scenery along the way. With that in mind we made a plan to head to Owl's Head.

With high winds and wicked wind chills in the forecast for the higher summits, we decided that a trip to the Owl would be a better idea than what we had originally planned, so up at 5am and on the road to Lincoln Woods arriving just as the sun was rising over the trees. It was cold, but not unmanageable, and as we crossed the suspension bridge we could see the moon setting in the west. It looked like a great day for this hike, and everything considered, it was.

Lincoln Woods Trail

After the 2 1/2 mile Lincoln Woods warm up we cut off on the Black Pond Trail and made it to Black Pond in good time. Having read up as much as I could on this bushwhack we quickly found the snowshoe track and began our way through the relatively open woods. Still following the track I soon noticed that we weren't going in exactly the line I would have chosen. We were heading down into the boggy areas I knew we should be avoiding. I looked for tracks that headed in a slightly more northwesterly direction, but found none.

I don't know, but perhaps these tracks were made by someone who couldn't see Owl's Head due to the weather on the day they were hiking, or perhaps they were following the ugly fluorescent orange paint smears which, much to my dismay, we were now following. At any rate, we continued along the track, because it was the only one we could find. There had been some snow and there was an inch or so of powder, but not enough to lose the trail. I remember a report by Big Earl where he described this route as "The Drunken Sailor" route, and I wholeheartedly agreed.

Now here is where I interject my opinion, so you may want to skip this paragraph. I'm not a big fan of bushwhacking, not because I think it sucks, but because I don't like putting my wife and dog through anything that is unenjoyable. It's OK for me to go do it if I want, but to put them through it is a kind of cruelty and abuse in my own opinion. With all the effort and expended energy of winding around downed trees and boulders, around gullies, up and down, no straight line, getting whacked in the face with branches and everything else that goes with a bushwhack, I would have been much happier if we had just taken the Franconia and Lincoln Brook Trails and expended that energy hiking the extra mile or two that this bushwhack saves. On a cold day like this the river crossings would have been easy to deal with. It is my opinion that this was more effort than it was worth.

Owl's Head from Black Pond

Despite all this, we arrived at Lincoln Brook in pretty good time. I made a mental note that whoever put those ugly orange blazes out there should be banned from ever stepping foot in the White Mountain National Forest again, and off we went. I said, "I bet we see another snowshoe track coming out of the woods on our left before very long, and we did. I made a mental note of where it was for our return trip. Jude and Emma seemed happy to be back on a regular trail and I didn't have the heart to tell them it was still a long way to the next bushwhack, the Brutus Bushwhack.

Now we get to the part of the trip where I am not overly proud to say that my poor navigational skills probably cost Jude and Emma the summit on this trip. As we hiked along the Lincoln Brook Trail the powdery snow had become a little deeper and in some places the windblown powder had drifted in and the snowshoe track became harder to follow. We came to the brook crossing which we made easily and followed along for a while, when we began to see tracks heading towards the slope of the mountain. Now, in retrospect, I probably should have continued on until we came to the slide and gone up from there, but that's easy to say now.

We followed a clear track into the woods on the eastern side of the brook and began the ascent. We soon came to the old skidder path that I had read about and we followed that for a bit. It was here that I lost the route. I knew that we had to turn from the southerly direction this was taking us and head in a more northeasterly direction, but at this point the powdery snow had filled in the snowshoe track and I couldn't find it. We were on a very steep line of travel that was leading us into a gully that I knew was the wrong direction, though I thought that we might find the track and a clear path up from there. We crossed the gully and here we got separated. Jude got summit fever and just started heading up, not knowing she was heading in the wrong direction and me thinking she and Emma were following in my tracks.

Luckily, I realized what was happening and back tracked and after a few anxious minutes we were all together again. At this point I realized we had to go back and try to find where we had gone wrong, and hopefully find the track we had been following before. We got back to the skidder path and soon found where the snowshoe track had left the path and headed in the northeasterly direction I had been looking for. The going was very steep and the unconsolidated snow made it even more difficult. I don't know if we were actually on the Brutus Bushwhack, but I knew we were headed in the right direction. At this point Jude needed to stop and rest/eat.

Birch Glades

I never like doing this, but she told me, "You go on, and if we can we'll come up behind you." Well, I weighed my options and forged on in the hopes of reaching the summit and getting back in time to cheer them on to the summit. It has happened in this fashion on several occasions, so we were both good with it. I continued upward at a very steep pitch as the snow got deeper and the track became harder and harder to follow. Eventually I broke out onto the Owl's Head Path. The only way I knew I was on this path is I saw a blue blaze. I thought they had all been removed? You missed one, Ranger whoever. I knew it would still be a struggle to the top and then a struggle to find the "New" summit.

Now, on my two previous trips to this summit I figured out what the "Old" summit was, just a pile of rocks in an open glade. Someone on my first trip had told me to keep going about 2/10ths north and I did and each trip I found a spot in the woods where there was a sign declaring "Owl's Head" in a small clearing. I have never quite figured out if this is the "New" summit or if there is an even "Newer" place, but honestly, I don't really care. On this trip I followed what tracks I could still find through the glade I recognized as the "Old" summit as far north as I could go. To my amazement I was now pushing through waist high drifts and got caught in a spruce trap or two.


KD Talbot
02-05-2010, 08:06 PM
I caught a glimpse of the Bonds to my east and Franconia Ridge to my west, who says Owl's Head has no views? I pushed as far north as I could go and I looked and looked, but could not find a tree with the Owl's Head sign. Oh well, no summit shot of my ugly mug next to the "Illegal" sign. Boo hoo. I turned around and made my way as fast as I could back down the trail, turning off into the woods on the bushwhack route I had come up on. A couple of slips and falls and one nice pitch sideways into a spruce that had a nice sharp broken branch just waiting to poke me in the ear. I thought about how easily you could lose an eye out here and what a long painful hike out it would be.

My anxiety grew in leaps and bounds as I descended. Fear is the real killer and I knew I had to control it. What if something happened? What if she's hurt? What if they took the wrong track again? Why did I leave them and go on? Alright calm down. I found them waiting at the skidder path. They were fine. They had shrugged off making a summit attempt. I wish I could have that kind of will power. They were out, miles into the wilderness, hadn't seen another person except me all day, and were quite content with that. Screw the summit. I really couldn't ask for better hiking partners.

Epilogue: We made good time back to the snowshoe track I had noted on the way in. We followed this out. It made a far better line of travel than the "whack we followed in, however, it eventually rejoined our original track, and it was an annoying whack back to Black Pond. At the pond the setting sun was lighting up Owl's Head and the Bonds with some late day alpenglow, a beautiful scene. We were soon back at the mind-numbing Lincoln Woods Trail and began the slog out. It grew dark around us, but our eyes adjusted and we never really needed the headlamps, though we had several with us along with new batteries. Back at the car we admired the brilliant stars as we quickly pulled off our things and threw them in the back. Long day. We were glad it was done.

Bondcliff from Black Pond

Full set of pics here (http://ghostflowers.smugmug.com/White-Mountain-Hikes/Owls-Head-2410/11150417_CAz52#781505885_vpdoa).


02-06-2010, 08:01 AM
Good TR Kevin. Owls Head is still on my "list" for winter hikes and I have to say I'm not really looking forward to it.

As far as your hike went, while no one goes into these things with prior knowledge of what's going to occur. Situations do crop up where you make decisions about going ahead or turning around. Looking at the day you had weather-wise, the time of day, and your location in regards to the summit moving ahead wasn't really a negligent thing to do. It's not like you left an injured novice behind just to bag a summit.
From reading about your many past hikes Jude is as experienced as they come with good trail smarts and all the right gear. In my eyes for a short amount of time you guys were just a couple of experienced solo hikers on the trail which is something I see all the time out there.

02-06-2010, 09:50 AM
Yup, I agree with Billy. As I said elsewhere - it's all good!

02-07-2010, 07:31 AM
That was a great read, what an adventure and glad that everything worked out ok. The pictures are absolutely beautiful..