Owl’s Head – In the Middle Of The Pemi Wilderness

Yours truly, Sharon LaVigne and Sarah McCann on the summit of Owl’s Head. Owl’s Head is the only mountain on the AMC’s New Hampshire 4,000 footer list that doesn’t have a recognized trail to its summit.

by Amy Patenaude
Outdoor/Ski Writer

The golfing gals, Sharon and Sarah, have put their hiking boots back on!
They began collecting 4,000 footers 7 years ago and last summer they didn’t even go hiking once. There were too many reasons their boots stayed in the closet—moving, weddings, golf matches and other fun stuff and not so fun stuff.

Sharon LaVigne of New London on the Owl’s Head slide with a big view of the Franconia Ridge and close-up view of the Lincoln Slide.

I confess I was surprised they didn’t get one date to work last summer. After all, the previous summer they hit the trails hard. Mt. Isolation, Mt. Madison and Mt. Adams were among the peaks that they last checked off and leaving them only 9 peaks left to finish the 4,000 footer list.
We decided to go to the top of Owl’s Head for their first hike this summer. My friends are healthy and strong and it is a long hike (usual route is over 18 miles) to get to that little peak and back. Owl’s Head ranks #43/48 at elevation 4,025’ and its wooded summit offers only obstructed views.
Owl’s Head is the only peak on the Appalachian Mountain Club’s New Hampshire 4,000 footer list that doesn’t have an official trail to its summit. The well-worn path follows an old very steep slide up from the Lincoln Brook Trail.
Owl’s Head is in the middle of the 1984 federally designated Pemigewasset Wilderness, east of Mount Liberty and west of the Bonds and far from any roads. The trails in federally designated wilderness areas are often referred to as primitive but mostly they are unmaintained and the trail blazes have been removed. The trails are only brushed, if at all, just three feet wide and trees that blow down across the trail are not removed if they can be stepped over.
The Lincoln Woods parking area is right on the Kancamagus Highway, Rte 112 and east of the Loon Mountain Resort. The parking lot was half full, even on a Wednesday morning; a day parking pass is $5. We crossed over the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River on the suspension bridge to the Lincoln Woods Trail at 7:30 am.
Our plan was to think of the hike as four different hikes. The Lincoln Woods Trail, the Black Pond Trail and bushwhack, the Lincoln Brook Trail and then the slide to the summit.
For 2.6 miles we walked up the old logging railroad bed above the bank of the river that is the Lincoln Woods Trail. Many old railroad ties still remain and it isn’t easy walking over them so on both ends of the ties muddy paths have formed.

Mid-day on a Wednesday afternoon even the slide on Owl’s Head is crowded! There were six of us going up at the same time and at least no falling rocks hit anyone. We met at least a dozen people out on the trails and passed by three occupied tent sites on our way in and out of the Pemigewasset Wilderness.

At the junction of the Black Pond Trail, I stashed two bottles of PowerAde in a tree just off the trail. Losing those four pounds sure made my pack feel lighter and we’d be happy to have those bottles to drink on our way back.
The well blazed one mile trail to Black Pond was in excellent condition through pretty woods. At the pond the view of the Bonds and a nice peek at Owl’s Head was lovely and exciting. I decided to lead the bushwhack route for two reasons: to avoid the Franconia and Lincoln Brook crossings and to make the hike two miles shorter turning a usual 18 miles hike into 16 miles. Plus, the less used Black Pond Trail and the woods are much nicer than the trails.
Near the end of the pond we did our best to get around the mud. We followed my compass north and in a few minutes we hit a path and the path became more obvious.
If you do not know how to use a compass and map do not attempt to take this route. Don’t count on being able to find or being able to stay on it. A simple fallen tree could hide the way for you. Jokingly, Sharon asked me if I was lost yet. (I cross country skied this route last February.)

Welcome to the Lincoln Brook Trail! The trail has many mud pits to cross and trees to step over along the un-blazed (no trail markers) trail.

A big mud pit greeted at the Lincoln Brook Trail and three men backpacking were there too. They said they had used the bushwhack and path but somehow got headed too far east and bumped into the brook and ended up crossing it and then crossing it again on the Lincoln Brook Trail. That didn’t sound like much fun.
The Lincoln Brook Trail has no blazes and is a muddy mess that follows along the bank of the brook. The stream crossing were all rock hop-able and we kept our feet dry. The cold water of the fast flowing brook kept the air rather comfortable and cool. We were surprised that there were only a few vexing deer flies.
The upper crossing of Lincoln Brook was rock hop-able too. Sharon and Sarah didn’t miss a beat and the crossing took little time and effort.

To reach the summit of Owl’s Head you’ll have to cross brooks.

At the bottom of the slide there are two small rock cairns and a birch tree lying alongside the trail that made for a perfect bench. The three took a seat and ate an early lunch before we tackled the hard last mile climb up the slide and along the ridge to Owl’s Head’s summit.
By the time we finished eating and put our packs back on the three men that we had met earlier had caught up to us. They followed us right up the slide. They were too close but they wouldn’t go by even when we encouraged them. They were nice guys but it felt too crowded.
The middle of the rocky slide is open and we could see the mountains of the Franconia Ridge and Lincoln Slide. Here we sat down to enjoy the view and to let the men go on their way. To our chagrin they went a few more minutes before they sat down too.
We got tired of waiting for them to get a move on so we headed up the trail and passed them and they tailgated us to the summit.
A small rock cairn and “the top” carved into a tree is what is at end of the herd path at the summit. We snapped a photo and turned around and headed back down.

The clear afternoon reflection of the Bonds on the waters of Black Pond was a lovely sight.

Going down the slide is harder than going up it. We took our time and many careful little steps until we reached the bottom.
We followed back down the Lincoln Brook Trail the best we could. Only once did I lead us off the trail to a dead end at a camp site and it took a minute to find the trail again. I blamed trying to go around mud.
From Lincoln Brook to the bushwhack “path” it was much easier to follow the trail but nearing Black Pond I lost it again. But I had a good idea where I was and we walked out nearly the same way we had come in.
We had all drained our water bottles and we were happy to have the drink I had stashed away and we were thirsty the last 2.6 miles.
We made it back to the car just before 5:30 pm. We’d been out nearly 10 hours and 16 miles of hiking. Now the golfing gals only have 8 peaks left on their 4k lists.

—Have Fun.

Sarah and Sharon are back from Owl’s Head, on the suspension bridge over the East Branch at the Pemigewasset River at the Lincoln Woods Trailhead. Happy Hikers, happy to be finished after nearly ten hours and 16 miles on the trails.

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