Member Trip report
Owl's Head Bushwhack (NH)
Trip Report/Photos from shep5
So, my initial plan was to hike Moriah and the Carters on Saturday. I left the house at a little after 3AM, so that I would arrive at the Stoney Brook Trailhead before 6:30. Well, about 35 minutes into the drive, I looked down and noticed, that I had forgotten to put my hiking boots in the car! I drove home and picked them up. Now what! I figured I wouldn't have the time to drive up to Gorham and still do the hike, so I figured I'd just drive up to Lincoln and do Owl's Head. It was a long hike, but I knew the timing would still work! Anyway, best laid plans and all!
I arrived at the Lincoln Woods parking lot at about 6:40AM. It was still on the dark side and I could see a number of other hikers with their headlamps getting ready for the day. I, likewise, got ready and headed out at 6:50...wearing my microspikes and carrying snowshoes just in case. By this time, there was sufficient light that I didn't need the headlamp. It was probably still in the low 10's with partly overcast skies. I immediately crossed the suspension, which crossed the East Branch Pemigewasset River and turned onto the Lincoln Woods Trail. As this followed an old railway bed, it is fairly staight and level. By 7:40 I had warmed up and I reached the junction for the Black Pond Trail. I turned onto this trail and headed for the pond. This trail meandered a bit, but still doesn't climb too much. I made it to Black Pond at 8AM. Even with the overcast skies, it was still a wonderful view across the frozen pond. By this time, I had caught up with the two other groups of hikers, who were going out to Owl's Head, as well.
I took the lead and began the bushwhack to the Lincoln Brook Trail (in the winter, this bushwhack cuts out two significant water crossings). Even though I was in the lead, the track was mostly visible as the bushwhack heads through very open woods. This was pretty easy as the snow on the ground was well packed. I made it where the bushwhack joins the Lincoln Brook and Lincoln Brook Trail at 8:30. I turned northward onto the Lincoln Brook Trail. This trail had a very gentle grade as it paralleled the brook. There were a few slide brooks, which needed to be crossed. Even with some open flowing water, there were sturdy enough ice bridges or small gaps, which allowed them to be crossed. I arrived at the last major crossing...the Lincoln Brook...at 9:30. Again, this was easy enough and once on the other side I began to look for the Brutus Bushwhack. This was within about 200 feet or so from the final water crossing. There was an area where foot prints headed to the east, but these went nowhere. I could see the birch glades above, but didn't want to set the trail. I decided I would just proceed further up the Lincoln Brook and use the slide...possibly bushwhacking around the steeper sections. Well, as I continued north, I was watching the woods to my right (east) and I never saw the two rock cairns or the base of the side (everything was covered in white, so it would be difficult to discern). In any case I continued and I began to climb higher on the bank and I could see the Franconia Ridge (so I knew I had gone past the slide). I went a little further and when I was just below Lincoln Brook Falls and where the Lincoln Slide runs into brook, I decided to just head up towards the summit (10:20). This was steep almost all the way, but the snow was good and packed. There were only a couple of spots that I broke through some bridged over drainage areas. Amazingly, the woods were very open the whole way. I popped out on to the Owl's Head Ridge right where there is a thin spot in the trees with a partial view of the Franconia Ridge. It was 11:35 when I spotted the herd path, which was obvious, but had no current tracks in it. I headed north and arrived at the summit of Owl's Head (4025') at 11:55AM. The summit looked very different, since I was there in June. I didn't find the larger cairn, but a smaller one was just off of the summit. It appeared that there had been a number of trees blown down during last fall's storm and there was now a partial view over towards the Bonds. It made me a little uneasy, so I continued further northward and it was obvious that the terrain only descended from here. I can only assume that the larger summit cairn was under a downed tree, since the tracks/herd path ended at this smaller cairn. In any case, I hung out briefly as the winds were strong at this elevation and I was feeling cold.
I followed the herd path southward towards the "old" summit and continued to follow the faint path down. As I began a steeper descent, I finally met up with other hikers...some of whom I had run into earlier in the day. Oddly enough the three women who were right behind me on the Black Pond Bushwhack were not among them...they must have followed my bushwhack up the western side of Owl's Head. As I continued down, I came to the Brutus Bushwhack at roughly 12:30PM. This was where the winter bushwhack route deviated from the herd path for the slide. It appeared that some had used it (but not that day). I thought about it for a bit, but I knew there were some tricky, steep sections and my microspikes were on the verge of breaking. In any case I proceeded down the traditional Brutus Bushwhack. Having passed other hikers on their way up, their tracks were very easy to follow. This route was somewhat steep and it passed through a nice birch glade along the ay. I reached the bottom and the Lincoln Brook Trail again at a little after 1PM. The bottom of the bushwhack seemed to be in a different spot than the last time I was on it, but I guess it just depends on who sets it after a major snow.
Now back on the trail, in about 100-200 feet I crossed back over the Lincoln Brook and headed south...retracing my steps back. Even though there had been only about a dozen hikers during the day, the path was "well-worn" now. At 2:10, I reached the Black Pond Bushwhack and this was again easy to follow back to the pond, which I made by 2:40. It was much more overcast, so I didn't stick around too long and I almost immediately started back along the Black Pond Trail...reaching the Lincoln Woods Trail at 3PM. The rest of hike took a little over an hour to get back to my car at Lincoln Woods (4:05).
Surprisingly, as much as most hikers seem to dread Owl's Head, I have always enjoyed the relatively easy (but long) walk out into the wilderness and it does make for a nice winter hike. It was cool to bushwhack the mountain directly from the west and it was relatively easy to do so with the packed snow base and very open woods. The odd thing about my times on Owl's Head has been, how the summit changed with each visit. I expect that one of these days, someone (if not the weather) will take down one or two of the trees impeding the view of the Bonds off of the summit.
Total Distance and Elevation Gain: 16.5 miles with approximately 3100 feet in cumulative elevation gain.
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