Owl's Head - July 24-25, 2004

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  1. #1

    Owl's Head - July 24-25, 2004

    Date(s) Hiked
    July 24-25, 2004

    Trails(s) Hiked
    Wilderness Trail, Black Pond Trail, Lincoln Brook Trail, Franconia Brook Trail, and about a mile of 'whacking.

    Total Distance
    18 miles

    Difficulty
    Moderate. The trip in is long and requires a lot of endurance. The trip up the slide requires concentration, balance, and is very steep (over 1500' in less than a mile).

    Conditions
    All crossings passable. Some muddy spots, all passable. In wet conditions there could be problems. Bugs were only an issue down low and during the early part of the day. In the evening (got into the 40's) and up high there were no bug problems.

    Special Required Equipment
    Poles very helpful for crossings, descending the slide's scree field, and leaning one's exhausted body on.



    Trip Report
    I woke on the morning of July 24th to the sound of rain battering the roof. It was pouring down hard, and I was dismayed at the thought of the "dangerous at high water" crossings and "dangerous when wet" slide that were planned as a part of hiking Owl's Head. But a look at the radar showed the rain tailing off into Maine, and by the time my friend Poison Ivy and I were on I-93 through Concord, the road was dry and the sky clearing to blue.

    The plan for the weekend was to go 8 miles into the Pemi Wilderness set up camp near the bottom of the Owl's Head Path, climb Owl's Head, then hike out the next day. As we got our gear ready in the Lincoln Woods parking lot, we saw no reason to change that: the river was not high and the trails were dry. We shouldered our overnight packs, crossed the suspension bridge, and at 9:00am started on the wide, flat, former railroad grade that is the Wilderness Trail.

    We made quick work of the 2.6 miles to the Black Pond Trail, arriving in only 50 minutes. We're not fast hikers - the Wilderness Trail is just that easy. At this point we decided to try the infamous "Black Pond Bushwhack", which cuts a mile out of the route and avoids two major brook crossings. The bushwhack begins at the pond, so we turned to head out there. I stepped a few feet into the woods to check out the old ice pond, which is now overgrown. I saw what looked like an old, breached, stone weir and can only assume that the ice pond was man-made.

    The Black Pond Trail arcs around the old ice pond, entering an open area where the trail becomes very indistinct and the blazes a bit confusing. We regained the trail easily, but not without noticing evidence that the trail had been relocated - an older path proceeds forward into brush where the trail is now marked to turn. The bugs were vicious in this area, but we kept moving and soon left them behind. After 20 minutes on this fine woods path, we found ourselves at the outlet of Black Pond, looking up at the conical "true" Owl's Head. The trail curves around to the western bank, with picturesque views of the Bonds. Black Pond is a gem, and I could have stayed there all day just basking on the shore; however, we had miles to go and so after a quick compass bearing we started the bushwhack.

    The first steps are to weave through a number of felled trees directly in the way. This was tricky with our full packs, but once on the other side we picked up a herd path heading along magnetic north. It started out extremely enjoyable, passing easily through open woods. Every so often we'd correct our bearing, and for much of it we could just faintly tell by the ground and leaf patterns that we were on a well-travelled route. After about a half hour, however, it started to get tedious. The footing wasn't bad, but it wasn't great, and after a climb over a small ridge we descended into a clear area rife with mud. From there it was back up onto a crest, the occasional blowdown, then another descent to what we at first thought was a path, but turned out to be a drainage or young stream, with a small amount of flowing water and a large amount of mud. Now we were getting fed up. Fortunately, at almost exactly the one-hour mark, we came down a steep bank and found ourselves on a small path on the shore of Lincoln Brook. We had come down barely a hundred yards east of the Lincoln Brook Trail crossing, and easily followed this path to the trail. It was a lot of effort, and we looked forward to staying on the trails on the way out to compare and see if the bushwhack was worth it. It was fun and not overly difficult, but with our full packs we had our doubts.

    From there, the Lincoln Brook Trail is an incredibly nice walk in the woods. It's never far from the brook, coming west and arcing around the base of Owl's Head to head northward up the valley between Franconia Ridge and Owl's Head. Along the way there are intermittent views of the "real" Owl's Head, the Cliff, and another slide that looked interesting. When we crossed Liberty Brook, in plain view of its confluence into Lincoln Brook, I was amazed to think that the White Mountain Guide suggests that people may not recognize that crossing - it's incredibly obvious.

    But before that, at the "smaller crossing", we encountered HarryK coming back from his ascent. We'd seen his car in the parking lot and knew he was ahead of us, and it was a real treat to see him and share a beer on the trail. From there it was an easy walk past numerous illegal campsites (we saw the ranger and he confirmed their status) then the last crossing (or so we thought) of Lincoln Brook. The water wasn't high, but there was just enough that rather than look for a route across we just went barefoot. That water was cold! Finally, after just over four hours, we were at the cairn marking the base of the Owl's Head Path. This cairn is also unmistakable, along with the series of small cairns heading off to the right, the red blazes, and the blue blazes.

    At this point we had to find a campsite. I had done plenty of 'net research on this trip, and had read that heading off 200' from the trail, across Lincoln Brook, there were legal sites to be had. Well, that's not entirely true. After climbing around and pushing through trees and trying not to step through ankle-breaking gaps in the undergrowth, I found one site. One small, not-quite-level, grassy clearing where we could just fit the tent and a gear/sitting area. I christened this location "Camp Owl's Butt" as we set up.

    I actually shouldn't be that critical; although it was difficult to get to and violated my own self-preservation instincts by being on the other side of the brook, it was a fine location for a real wilderness camping experience. Since Ivy's tent is so light, I brought a small tarp myself to string over the site. Although it would not rain, the tarp still would kept bugs and debris off us, and it helped make for a cozy, comfortable spot.

    There was no time to rest yet - we still had a mountain to climb. Back across the brook and to the cairn and up the Owl's Head Path we went. It gets steep quickly, and before long we were out of the trees and on the slide. It was very reminiscent of the South Slide of Tripyramid - sand, gravel, and loose scree interspersed with ledge and vegetation. It required concentration and patience, but was not difficult. We stayed to the right, followed the blazes as they went off the side of the slide then returned, and continued upward through spots of vegetation to continuing portions of the slide. Near the top of the slide is a spring, and it was bubbling nicely that day. The section below it was wet but none the more difficult for it. The trail then enters the trees and continues to rise steeply; it reminded me of North Hancock.

    I'd known that folks from the AMC bulletin boards were going to be on Owl's Head this weekend finishing their 48, and along the trail I'd been asking people "Are you on the AMC boards?" Finally, I got a yes from the two gentlemen making their way down this section of trail, and was able to congratulate Kancamagus, accompanied by his friend Flume, on his accomplishment. It was a treat to meet them in person while 8-1/2 miles into the wilderness.

    At the ridgecrest there's a level walk for a bit. The forest there is open, green, and very pleasant. While there are no readily apparent views, sunlight comes through the canopy. Ninety minutes from the Lincoln Brook Trail, we enjoyed the peaceful summit, celebrating my 40th, and Ivy's 30-somethingth, 4000-footer.

    The air was chilly and the hour late (4:30) so we didn't stay long on the summit before heading back down the slide. The views from the slide were tremendous. The Lincoln Brook valley was spread out for as far as the eye could see, rising up to the right towards Garfield Ridge and crossing to the left out of sight. Across the cut of the valley was a high, level area, and behind that the gothic spires of Franconia Ridge, reaching up as the ravines and the Lincoln Slide stretch down. Although not the most expansive view I've ever seen in the Whites, there was something about it, perhaps the huge "bowl" it formed, that made it one of the most impressive. Certainly, it was a powerful vista; I stood there on the slide in awe.

    Coming down the slide wasn't bad. In several places I was almost "skiing" the loose scree, grateful that Amy was far enough ahead of me to be safe if any started really moving. Again, it took some concentration and balance but wasn't an ordeal to descend. We easily made it back to the brook, found our campsite, hung our wet clothes to dry, and sat down to enjoy dinner. The cool air (it was in the 40's overnight) kept the bugs nicely away. Once again, Mountain House impressed me - their Turkey Tetrazzini had me scared. The phrase "in a flavorful sauce" could mean a lot things for freeze-dried food. And in fact, it was delicious! So far I can highly recommend the Sweet & Sour Pork, the Beef Stroganoff, the Turkey Tetrazzini, and the delicious Granola & Blueberries breakfast, which I'd have the next morning.

    A great hiking day ended en tente, playing cribbage, reading, then falling asleep to the sounds of the brook and forest. We slept in until almost 7:00am, and were able to take our time with breakfast, taking down our campsite, and packing up. It was a leisurely, fun Sunday morning, and by 8:45 the campsite had no trace we'd ever been there, and we were on the trail starting our 8 mile return trip.

    The Lincoln Brook Trail again made for a fine walk. This time, we navigated all the crossings without getting our feet wet, searching for just the right rock-hopping route. There was the occasional wet or muddy portion, but they were easily passable. Franconia Brook was wide but not high; unfortunately, only the longer-legged of the two of us kept dry when crossing. We cruised down the remaining trails, easily determining that the Black Pond bushwhack was *not* worth it in these fine summer conditions, and were back at the car at 12:15, proud of managing 8 miles in 4-1/2 hours with full packs. We cracked open the cooler, rinsed off our feet, and hopped in the car. After stopping at The Mountain Wanderer and White Mountain Bagel, we still managed to get down I-93 ahead of the NASCAR traffic.

    The full set of photos is available here, as well as a panorama of Lincoln Brook and a movie from the Owl's Head Slide.
    Skiing combines outdoor fun with knocking down trees with your face. - Dave Barry
    Waterville 11/30; Loon 12/7; Cannon 12/13, 1/17, 2/23; Sugarloaf 12/20, 21-22; Bretton Woods 1/3; Jay Peak 1/24-25; Heavenly 2/9; Squaw Valley 2/10-2/11; Wachusett 3/3; Sunday River 3/7-8

  2. #2
    Greg's Avatar
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    Great TR, MichaelJ! I love basecamping and Mountain House is pretty good. I haven't tried many of the new recipes, but the Chicken and Beef Stew have been backpacking staples of mine for close to 20 years. I always enjoy them at camp after a full day of hiking. Nothing quite like a Pemi base camp.
    I ski double black diamonds.

  3. #3
    Your diction brought back vivid memories of my solo long day hike of #48.
    The Black Pond bushwhack is always great to do because you did it and have a bit of the bragging rights that go along with it. Way to go bro', WoW, great hiking, pix, and t.r. Only 8 left!

    btw: I know 3 mountains in a day we can do this weekend!

    ___________________
    Life is great, enjoy !!

  4. #4
    I agree - a Pemi base camp is a fine idea. It's easy enough to get through there with a full pack and not kill yourself.

    I haven't tried the beef stew - does it come in the 13oz size? Most of them only come in 20oz, which is way too much food for me. I love that blueberrys & granola breakfast, though. It would be easy enough to replicate at home with granola and powdered milk, especially with pints of blueberries on sale at Shaw's today buy-one-get-two-free!

    Agreed, Magic, we can definitely say we did it (and I didn't blame the person who suggested it, either!)

    3 this weekend, eh? I'm thinking an NE100 I've been on, an NE100 I haven't been on, and #41 of my NH4K's sound great!
    Skiing combines outdoor fun with knocking down trees with your face. - Dave Barry
    Waterville 11/30; Loon 12/7; Cannon 12/13, 1/17, 2/23; Sugarloaf 12/20, 21-22; Bretton Woods 1/3; Jay Peak 1/24-25; Heavenly 2/9; Squaw Valley 2/10-2/11; Wachusett 3/3; Sunday River 3/7-8

  5. #5
    Ok Michael,

    3 mtns this weekend! Big group, plenty of elevation gain, serious hike, rain does not cancel.

    It doesn't get any better than this!

    We can do it !!

  6. #6
    "Serious" hike? Nah ... FUN hike!
    Skiing combines outdoor fun with knocking down trees with your face. - Dave Barry
    Waterville 11/30; Loon 12/7; Cannon 12/13, 1/17, 2/23; Sugarloaf 12/20, 21-22; Bretton Woods 1/3; Jay Peak 1/24-25; Heavenly 2/9; Squaw Valley 2/10-2/11; Wachusett 3/3; Sunday River 3/7-8

  7. #7
    Greg's Avatar
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    Jul 2001
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    Thomaston, CT
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    31,083
    Quote Originally Posted by MichaelJ
    I haven't tried the beef stew - does it come in the 13oz size? Most of them only come in 20oz, which is way too much food for me.
    I think both the Chicken and Beef Stew only come in the 20 oz package. It's actually meant to be two servings. After a day of hiking though, I normally don't have a problem finishing one myself, but maybe I'm jus ta slob... :P

    Years ago, the beef and chicken stews and the spaghetti (yuck) were the only Mountain House options. The stews have sort of become a staple for me while backpacking so I still get those, mostly exclusively. We used to get them before they had the little preparation puch and the contents were just in the foil bag, but the pouch does make it a little easier. Somewhat expensive stuff, but worth the money for the light weight and good taste!
    I ski double black diamonds.

  8. #8
    That's funny, because the new packaging gets rid of the preparation pouch and just uses the foil bag. It has a zip-loc built into it and folds out at the bottom to be freestanding. I think they're much easier than the separate pouch, on which I would always burn myself or cause a spill.

    Just don't forget, without the separate pouch, to remove the dessicant packet!
    Skiing combines outdoor fun with knocking down trees with your face. - Dave Barry
    Waterville 11/30; Loon 12/7; Cannon 12/13, 1/17, 2/23; Sugarloaf 12/20, 21-22; Bretton Woods 1/3; Jay Peak 1/24-25; Heavenly 2/9; Squaw Valley 2/10-2/11; Wachusett 3/3; Sunday River 3/7-8

  9. #9
    Greg's Avatar
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    Jul 2001
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    Thomaston, CT
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    Funny how things come back around like that. When they first started with the pouches, we would say, "what the hell is this?" and then dump the contents into the foil bag and do it the "normal" way. After a time we came around and started using it. Now you're telling me we have to retrain our brains again...?
    I ski double black diamonds.

  10. #10
    Like our brains are still even on. When I'm finally "nesting" into base camp in the evening I am usually so at peace with the world that I can barely remember how to boil water.
    Skiing combines outdoor fun with knocking down trees with your face. - Dave Barry
    Waterville 11/30; Loon 12/7; Cannon 12/13, 1/17, 2/23; Sugarloaf 12/20, 21-22; Bretton Woods 1/3; Jay Peak 1/24-25; Heavenly 2/9; Squaw Valley 2/10-2/11; Wachusett 3/3; Sunday River 3/7-8

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