Updated: Apr 19, 2022
Owl’s Head, at 4025 ft, is on the list of New Hampshire’s (48) 4000-forters that is produced by the AMC 4000 footers club. It is a club within the Appalachian Mountain Club that was developed to encourage hiking of the mountains that may not be as popular. Trails such as those up Mount Washington, Mt Lafayette, and Mount Chocorua get very crowded. They trails get warn down by the number of visitors.
I found out about the club when I was working for an engineering firm in Boston. I was invited to hike Mount Washington in the winter and then was told about the club. A colleague had the goal to complete all (48). Shortly, it became my goal as well.
Hiking in the winter was originally very intimidating. For years, I would say. “I hate the cold”. And, I think that I have a mild case of Raynaud Disease, which is where the hands and feet get cold quicker than normal. So, I questioned if I could do a long hike in the cold. On my first winter hiking trip up Mount Washington, I wore ski pants and a ski jacket up. I found out in the first mile that was the wrong thing to do. I overheated very quickly! Later I learned how to layer correctly.
In preparation for Mount Washington, I went to Eastern Mountain Sports in Acton, MA and bought my first ice axe. Sliding down any icy or snowy slope is a distinct possibility on Mt Washington. I learned that an ice axe can stop you from continuing to slide, if you know how to use it. I even watched a video tutorial. Fortunately, we did not have to use it for ending a slide. But, I did use it as a hook on trees to prevent a fall down a steep part of the trail.
I liked the idea of the challenge and loved hiking. My colleague introduced me to a group that hiked together for years. They also drank a lot more than they hiked at the stage they were at. Although, I liked all of them and am still friends with some of them today, it was the hiking that interested me. The drinking did not. So, I did not officially join the group. Ultimately, my colleague and I hiked about half the forty-eight 4000 footers together. And, most of them in the winter.
At the start, I set a schedule for completing them all within a few years. Many of them I hiked with co-workers,’ friends or my spouse. At times, I regretted climbing the same mountains several times rather than working towards a goal. Hiking each of the 48 set me on a great journey with many adventures, some good bonding with friends, and a lot of amazing photos and memories.
Owl’s Head became the last mountain on my list. Owl’s Head is not big but it had been a challenge to think about for a while. The mountain made it to the bottom of a lot of hikers list. Because, it is one of the most isolated mountains on the list of forty-eight and is about 18 miles round trip. At the long distance, I asked myself the best way to do the hike. Should I do it as one long day? Should hike in and camp then summit? Should I summit then camp? Do we need a long weekend? Can we bike part of it, then hike? (The answer to that question is “No”. Not allowed)
My wife Andrea agreed to hike Owl’s Head with me. She and I changed our plans from hiking and camping on Saturday September 28, 2019, since it was going to rain. Our plan was to finish in the fall. I thought finishing the forty-eight four thousand footers may have to wait until the next year, knowing that the distance would be too long to cover in winter conditions. Ultimately, Andrea and I decided to go ahead and hike Owls Head in one day rather than two, since camping added weight and complication. We set our plans for Sunday, September 29, 2019.
We woke up in our log home in Jackson, NH on that Sunday then drove for about an hour to the Lincoln Woods parking area for trailheads in Lincoln, NH on the Kancamagus Highway. The morning was cool so we added on some extra layers onto of our summer hiking attire, once we arrived. The day was supposed remain overcast and not get very warm.
We arrived at the Lincoln Woods trail head at 6:45 am. We prepared our packs and clothing. We began hiking and arrived at the suspension bridge over the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River at 7 am. We walked the long flat of the Lincoln Woods Trail then turned left onto the Black Pond Trail. The trail was a little muddy but not bad. Black Pond was very pretty and we took some photos along the way. The autumn colors were well on their way to peaking with a lot of yellow, especially on the hills.
We found the Black Pond Bushwhack - which was our plan for avoiding the most dangerous water crossings that I had read about over the years. The older I get, the less I like rock-hopping over rivers and falling. The Black Pond Bushwhack was difficult to follow in some locations but we were able to correct where had gone wrong after a little investigation.
We joined the Lincoln Brook Trail at Lincoln Brook and continued to Owls Head Path. This was moderate and scenic hiking along the brook. It had a couple of crossings that were not very deep or dangerous at that time.
With the sun up hours later and generating heat from moving, we eventually warmed to shed the extra layers. We cycled through warm and cold, since we were along a river. We put gloves on and took them off, hands in and out of pockets, light jackets on then off again, depending on if we were generating heat or not.
Owls Head Path was exactly as described. It started in the woods and quickly became a slide of loose rock. We had many thoughts of not wanting to head down the slide for fear of injury. Some friendly hikers told us about the Brutus Bushwhack to use on the way down. Once past the slide, the hike was a typical, moderately steep, climb until reaching the ridge line where it was a steady meander to the summit.
After having a half-hour lunch, we headed down. We kept our eyes out for the Brutus Bushwhack. We were told that the Brutus Bushwhack was worth looking for to avoid the danger of the slide. Unaware of the exact location, we passed the bushwhack and asked a couple of guys heading up the mountain to check their AllTrails App. The app and the guys confirmed that we had passed it. We decided that we would rather go up for few minutes to find the bushwhack than to head down the loose rock of the slide.
The Brutus Bushwhack was great compared to the slide. It was a moderate decline down the hill through thick forest. Two couples with children were headed down slightly ahead of us as well as another two couples behind us. They clearly preferred the bushwhack option as well. We had a bit of a parade going on. We continued reversing our course the rest of the way back. It felt really long, especially during the final flat section before the reaching the suspension bridge again.
Hiking Owl’s Head was great experience with decent weather and great company. We ended the very long day sore and tired but uninjured. It was a great finish to the long journey of hiking the (48) 4000 footers.