Sep
09
2016
0

The Dreaded Hike: Owl’s Head

Owl’s Head. The one NH48 hike that almost no one wants to do. Why? It’s the longest hike for a summit that has no view – just woods, no sky. It’s also one of the only ones without a maintained trail to the summit.

Located in Franconia, NH at an elevation of 4,025 feet, Owl’s Head is an easy to moderate 18.2-mile hike in and out of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Chris, Milo and I are no strangers to this hike as we did a majority of it for the Bonds (Bondcliff, Mount Bond, and West Bond). Being as it was a holiday weekend, we decided to hike the least exciting of our last NH48 hikes as an overnight. This hike (like the Bonds) starts off at the Lincoln Woods Visitor Center. It wasn’t even 8:30 a.m. when we arrived and found that the parking lot was already full with cars spilling onto the sides of the road. We snagged a spot on the road and made our way to the Lincoln Woods Visitor Center where we were stopped by a park ranger and his pop up tent. He gave us the basic rules of camping – no camping within 200 yards of water or trail, no fire rings, hang your food up at night because of bear country. We haven’t been stopped by a park ranger ever. We think it’s because we had our brand new (matching might I add) Osprey packs on and it made us look like newbies. Don’t be fooled though, we have plenty of overnight hikes under our belt!

Once our impromptu park ranger lesson was over, we headed out on Lincoln Woods Trail – 2.9 miles of flat, old railroad beds. There are still old railroad planks from the old East Branch and Lincoln Railroad that are still there. Along the way we passed by Black Pond Trail and took a detour on Franconia Falls Trail for a short break. Retracing our steps, we veered left at the junction of Franconia Brook Trail and Wilderness Trail to stay on Franconia Brook Trail for 1.7 miles and veered left again to take the Lincoln Brook Trail. Once on Lincoln Brook Trail, we decided to start looking out for camping spots so that we could unload some of our weight before hitting Owl’s Head summit. We found a great one off the trail and down a hill but still near Lincoln Brook. It was flat and used plenty of times before us. It was illegal-ish but we did make an effort to find a legal camping spot. (The spot was well over 200 feet from the trail, but we couldn’t find one 200 feet from the water.) It’s a lot better than the ten campers we passed on our way back to camp who were parked right next to the trail (and water). Once settled, we enjoyed a short break. Sitting on the rocks in the middle of the brook, we couldn’t help but people watch. We were astounded as to how many hikers were passing through as we didn’t see many on the trail towards Owl’s Head. Guess they might’ve gone a different route or were a bit speedier than us. [Some of the hikers we encountered included the Good To-Go founders who wore matching company shirts – good marketing!]

img_1827

The family who matches together, stays together.

After the break, we continued 3.4 miles on Lincoln Brook Trail towards Owl’s Head Path. As the trail isn’t maintained, hence not marked, we went past the junction for Owl’s Head Path for about 5 – 10 minutes. After realizing we were continuing on the loop that goes to the Bonds, we turned around and asked a fellow hiker where the path was. We knew we may have missed it as it is only marked with a large cairn and some hikers left their packs before embarking to the summit.

Once on the correct route, it’s 1.1 miles to the summit. The trail is very steep with very loose rocks so I recommend not hiking behind one another in case rocks get kicked your way. I almost had that happen where a female hiker was in front of me and knocked a loose rock my way. Good thing I chose to veer right on a different path. It took us some time to get up the rock slide. After what seems forever, you eventually get to flat terrain where it’s another 0.2 – 0.4 miles to the summit cairn. Like I said earlier, a long hike for a summit that has no view. We took a quick nap on top and made our way down. To our surprise, we encountered a hiker ascending – we thought we were the last ones. He told us he got a late start – 2:00 p.m. to be exact. We told him what to expect at the summit and made our way down, albeit slowly, on the rock slide. Not going to lie, we were slow back to camp – so slow that dusk crept up on us. (The fast hiker also crept up on us and scared the crap out of me.) We were a little lost back to camp as we couldn’t recall how many water crossings there were before camp. Chris had made a big cairn in the middle of the brook as well as a small one on the side of the trail and we were on the lookout for those but our headlamps could only shine so far down the brook. It got to a point where we had to stop and turn around to see if we missed our spot. Turns out we didn’t. We just camped a bit farther than we thought. Thank goodness we both remembered a few details other than where the cairns were (Someone had decided to knock down the small cairn on the trail). Tired and hungry, we immediately made water for dinner and rolled out our sleeping bags. We didn’t even attempt to pump drinking water. That would have to wait until morning. Milo immediately snuggled in for the night while Chris and I waited for our dehydrated meals to cook. It wasn’t long before we scarfed our food down and settled in for the night.

img_1160

Poising with the cairn in Owl’s Head summit.

img_1161

The next morning wasn’t all too exciting. Chris was the most exhausted and sore of us all so he ended up sleeping in – he usually does. I woke up early, pumped water into our Nalgene’s and slowly broke down our tent, waking Chris up in the process. Once back on the trail, it was an easy hike back – about 2 – 3 hours to get back to the car. We encountered so many people on the Lincoln Woods Trail – many who were going to the Franconia Falls for the day and some who were hiking/camping overnight for Owl’s Head, the Bonds, or both. Milo caused quite the spectacle with his pack. Apparently, not many people have seen a Shiba Inu with a hiking pack on. Overall, it was a good hike. 10/10 would not recommend hiking it just for Owl’s Head. I’d spice it up a little bit by making the excursion longer with the Bonds. However, with Owl’s Head knocked off, we only have three 4,000-footers left!

32px-Black_Paw.svgA Dog’s Walk:
Owl’s Head is a moderate 18.2-mile hike. Lincoln Woods Trail, Franconia Brook Trail, and Lincoln Brook Trail are relatively flat with rocks, tree roots, and old railroad planks here and there. The only difficult part is Owl’s Head Path which is very steep with very loose rocks – this will be difficult for smaller dogs. We saw quite a number of furry companions on the trail including a lab mix and poodle. Milo did a good job overall though he kind of slowed down towards the end – a mixture of long hike and being slightly out of shape. He toughed it out and we didn’t have to carry him once (Chris had to a water crossing here or there but I don’t think that counts for a dog that hates water). The hike is certainly do-able for dogs of all sizes, but smaller or older pooches you will need to watch or help up and down the rock slide portion of Owl’s Head. Just be wary of how long of a hike your dog can endure because it is a long one but does have plenty of water that runs along the majority of the trail for frequent breaks.

img_1831

Milo enjoying a cold one at Pub 32 in Lincoln, NH.

img_1836

And then he was pooped.

signature_sm

 

© Elizabeth Tran 2011-2017