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New Hampshire, United States
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Saturday, November 16, 2013

#44 Owl's Head Mountain, New Hampshire

#44 Owl's Head Mountain (4,025') via Lincoln Woods, Franconia Brook and Lincoln Brook trails, and Owl's Head Path, July 31, 2010.

Mileage:  18 miles (RT) 

Elevation gain:  2,850'

Trailhead:  
Lincoln Woods trailhead on Rt 112, the Kancamagus Highway (Latitude :44.063906 Longitude : -71.588274). Parking area is approx 5 miles east of I-93 on the left just after crossing the Pemigewasset River. A WMNF parking pass is needed, sold at the ranger station. There are bathroom facilities.
Lesson learned: Weeks of research pays off.

Hiked with Rich, Sandy, Joe and Jen. We hiked the traditional route without bushwhacks: Lincoln Woods Trail to Franconia Brook Trail to Lincoln Brook Trail across both Franconia and Lincoln Brooks, and then Owl's Head Path to the summit and back.  18.4 miles round trip (to the true summit,which is north of the old summit). 
Weeks of planning went into this hike to determine how to find Owl's Head Path to the summit, and if the bushwhacks were the way to go (and if so, how to find them). Sandy and I tried to get friends who'd hike it to go with us but no takers.  We had so many questions and wanted so much detail - we thank those who helped us out (particularly Bob J who gave us detailed directions to the start of the unmaintained trail).  

Why such a fuss over finding Owl's Head Path?  It's an unmaintained trail which means the US Forest Service routinely removes cairns and signs in the Pemi Wilderness in an effort to maintain the.. ah...wilderness.  Reports indicate a cairn, and a sign, and then no cairn - we were not about to leave anything to chance 8 miles in! 

After talking with hiking buddies Pam and Norm, our group decided not to bushwhack but to take on the two extra miles in favor of a smooth path. It was a good move, particularly since we were in the middle of a dry weather pattern. 

We had a nice day, sunny with some clouds by the summit.  The weather was mid 70s and dry, unlike the hot humid weather Pam had the weekend before.  I think this made a big difference for us.

We got to the Lincoln Woods trailhead around 6:15 (waking around 3:00 and heading out the door by 4 that morning!). We started up the wide path (old road) toward Franconia Brook trail.  I'd brought water purifying pills and an extra pair of shoes, just in case. We all brought our headlamps and some extra batteries (which we now carry on all our hikes). 

Quite simply we didn't know what to expect on such a long hike.  We'd never gone this distance.  


Turn here.

We had water shoes for the crossings but only needed them on the first one. We could see where the first bushwhack meets the trail just after this crossing.

The trails to and from the Owlshead slide path (8 miles each way) were flat and for all but about two miles, rootless and rockless. (When was the last time you hiked a path like that?)

It was a wonderful walk - like those pictures of old carriage roads, straight and flat so you can see way down them, with the green droopy trees on either side meeting in the middle like a canopy over the trail.

Some mud here and there but relatively dry ground – very few bugs. One of the big water crossings was a rock hop; the other we used our flip flops (mid calf in the deepest parts). It felt good to be in the water, especially on the way back.

Finding the Owl's Head Path.  We were fortunate that Bob J and Pam had done this hike the weekend before.  He was able to give a very good description and good thing too - no cairn or sign at the junction on this day.  Bob wrote:

"Just before you reach the slide you will pass the last stream crossing and the trail will take on the appearance of small broken up gravel for about fifty to sixty feet (around 8 miles in). Keep looking to your right and you will see the path up marked by two parallel logs about four feet apart. There is also a crudely blazed arrow carved into a small tree trunk and a rock cairn. (We found it without a problem.)

The trail up the slide is a free-for-all but once you get closer to the top it becomes a regular trail. You will reach the original summit first but if you continue on you'll drop down a little and then back up to a higher 'new summit'".
And that's just what we did. 

The slide.  This was a fun and challenging hike up, a bit unnerving at times because of the scree. There were a few ledges and it was steep and exposed but not too bad.  Rich did well both up and down – but it took time for all of us as it was steep.  Nice views, though.

Hiking up the slide.

The hike down, in my view, was quite treacherous but since I never knew of anyone being injured or having to be rescued from the slide I figured we would get down okay.  To turn, twist, break, wrench, pull, or sprain anything there would have been trouble – we had a long hike back.
 
I used every muscle in my body to get down – I hiked up and down close to the side of the slide, grabbing trees like Pam had advised but still it was all arm strength keeping me from going down farther than I wanted to with each step. 

I am assuming this part of the hike is easier in winter as most take the Brutus Bushwhack and not this route.  (Going down the slide is really the only iffy part of the hike.) 
 The rest of the trail after the slide was muddy and rooty, quite inhospitable. We got to the old summit (well marked) and used the GPS, heading north, to get to the new summit (both summits qualify for the AMC Four Thousand Footer Club).   
At the top of the slide is the old summit, with an arrow sending you north.
The new (true) summit is located at the end of a gnarly, rooty path; Rich used the GPS to find it. On top we celebrated Sandy’s #48 peak!
Not convinced we were there 'til I looked waay up in this tree!
At the cairn on the summit.
Since this was Sandy’s 48th we celebrated a little longer than we should have up there. We had lots of company too, many hikers out yesterday. 
Headed down the slide about 1:30  and then out to the maintained trails – got back to our cars at 6:59.  18.4 miles  2895’ 12 hours and 23 minutes.  We were not fast, not slow – and we stopped a lot, actually went for a swimming in Franconia Brook!.  Flat trails make a big difference!
Glad it is done. #44 for me; 38 for Rich (who is icing his knee but otherwise is fine). I brought back a rock from the slide. The only other time I have done that is on Mt. Washington with the Mommas. 

The distance of the this hike is easily doable if the weather is good and water crossings low. The only complaint I had was that we had to leave the house at 4 a.m. to get to the trailhead. 

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