Saturday, February 9, 2013

Winter on Owl's Head - Feb. 3, 2013

For a little over a week before this weekend came about, I had changed my Sunday hike target from Garfield to Owl's Head. Knowing it had been broken out for a while was a great thing to take advantage of, and since I was at 39 of the 48 New Hampshire 4000-Footers in winter coming into this day, I did not want to leave Owl's Head much longer. The only question was what the 1" of rain a few days before had done to stream crossings.

The answer came Friday when a group tried to go in there and despite taking the Black Pond bushwhack to avoid the worst 2 river crossings, they had to turn back just a few yards from the start of the actual climb to the summit due to the last crossing being completely un-crossable. I crossed my fingers that 2 more days of cold plus time for things to ease would result in manageable water levels. Early Saturday, the flow volume at the Lincoln Woods gage dropped to 460 cubic feet per second and a gage height of 5.2 feet, both numbers similar to when I last hiked this mountain in September. I figured this was worth a try, especially with the ice bridges having started to form during the day Saturday.

Greg and Rob, both of Hike-NH and new acquaintances to me, signed on to join me, as both needed this peak for their winter lists as well. We met at 6AM at the Lincoln Woods parking lot, just before the sky lightened up, and began our preparations. While there we said hello to Heather and her dog Kali, knowing we'd see them again on the trails (though not as soon as we expected!). Right around 6:30 we were off without headlamps, as the sky was rapidly lightening. Microspikes went on from the parking lot, snowshoes strapped to the packs, where they stayed all day in fact.

The first 2.6 miles on the Lincoln Woods Trail was its usual fast but boring warmup, spiced up only by the views along the river of Mount Hitchcock. There was very little snow cover, but just enough to bury those obnoxious railroad ties, yeay!

A couple peaks of Mount Hitchcock - I assume North and West peaks
A quick stop at the junction to Black Pond, and then we shifted down a gear and trekked over to the pond, where we took the requisite picture of Bondcliff in the distance.

Bondcliff over Black Pond
To this point we were flying, with only a little over 1 hour having elapsed since we left the parking lot! Tracks were hard to come by due to the thin snow cover (and rock-hard from the rain then freeze), but we found the established bushwhack, and followed it through clean open woods right to the Lincoln Brook Trail at the site of its first crossing of Lincoln Brook (which we did not have to do thankfully, it looked impossible with only slushy ice bridges forming). Do to the cleaner line, and the dead underbrush, we made good time through the bushwhack compared to my September trip.

We headed up Lincoln Brook Trail, navigating the lower 2 brook crossings without too much trouble, though they weren't exactly trivial. Somewhere in between them we were passed by a solo hiker (I later found out it was Little Brown Mushroom), who we would later see on his way down as we climbed Owl's Head.

Lincoln Brook

Another shot of Lincoln Brook

Yet another Lincoln Brook shot

Greg begins crossing Liberty brook, the first of 2 lesser stream crossings

The upper crossing of Lincoln Brook. Not as bad as it looks, we were able to rock-hop the ice-covered rocks
The upper crossing of Lincoln Brook, which is mere feet before the start of the winter route up Owl's Head, was tricky but doable right at the trail crossing. It was a matter of carefully rock-hopping on slushy ice-covered rocks to the other side. A slip would mean a foot going into fairly deep, icy cold water, but we took our time, balanced with our poles, and made it across without incident.

Once on the other side, we stopped at the start of the Brutus Bushwhack, which is the typical winter route up Owl's Head. Forged by a New Hampshire man and his legendary Newfoundland dog Brutus, this route navigates up the mountain a little South of the Owl's Head path and its steep slide, eventually merging into said path above the rock slide.

We took a fuel break before heading up, then started following the faint footprints of the guy in front of us. None of us had done this route before (Rob had done part of it a few times though), but we had GPS tracks and descriptions as a worst case. Unfortunately we almost immediately lost the footprints where they turned to follow a skidder road we never saw (it was very overgrown in this spot). Instead we ended up just 'whacking straight up to the upper part of the normal bushwhack route. Steep and not great in footing in spots, but it got the job done, and once we met the established route, we had no trouble following it the rest of the way to the Owl's Head Path and on to the ridge. Crossing the "old" summit, we followed a good path right to the carin marking the "new" summit, where it was time for a break again.

Greg and Rob just past the Owl's Head summit on our way down - all smiles!
As we descended, we ran into a couple of groups, including Heather's group, on their way up on the upper reaches of the Owl's Head Path. It was actually a fairly busy day on this mountain, everyone getting winter checkmarks of some sort! We were cautioned that the crossing was impassible now where we had crossed in the morning, but that there was a good spot about 50 feet downstream where they had all crossed.

As we continued down, we made sure to follow the true Brutus Bushwhack past our tracks up from earlier, and had a much easier trek down to the Lincoln Brook Trail. The bushwhack cuts down a birch-filled gulley, before picking up the skidder path we'd missed in the morning, then cutting down to the trail. This was actually a nice trek, and one I'd love to do again. The woods were just beautiful in here with the sun shining and some overnight snow clinging to the trees.

Birch woods along the Brutus Bushwhack

Heading down through open woods

Still going down...
Once down at the crossing again, we found that one key rock from our earlier rock-hop path had lost its snow/ice crown. But Greg went out and found that it was only 1" below the water surface, so we all carefully and happily marched across right at the same spot. Retracing our steps from here was quick and simple, and soon we were on the Black Pond Bushwhack, then the Black Pond Trail, then back to Lincoln Woods Trail in what felt like little time at all. The last 2.6 miles out to the parking lot was its usual grind, with all of us nursing a foot injury of various forms, but we made it out a little over 8.5 hours from our start. Wow, that was fast! So fast in fact that I was able to drive home, grab a pizza, and still be home before the 6:30 kickoff for the Super Bowl (which I promptly fell asleep during the stadium blackout...).

Thanks and congrats to Greg and Rob on Owl's Head winter checkmarks. But why do I have this feeling I'll be back someday??? Winter 4000-Footer number 40! 5 hikes left to finish.

Peaks: Owl's Head Mountain (4025', NH4K)
Trails: Lincoln Woods Trail, Black Pond Trail, Black Pond Bushwhack, Lincoln Brook Trail, Brutus Bushwhack, Owl's Head Path
Mileage: ~16.5 miles
Elevation Gain: ~3100 feet
Time Taken: 8hr 40min

Hitchcock from Lincoln Woods Trail

North Hitchcock I believe


  1. Nice trip! Greg told me about it - he and I hike together in the winter some times, too. I've hiked with LBM, too, once and we have other mutual friends. Very nice blog, love the extra maps at the end. Good luck in finishing up your winter list.

    1. Summerset, thanks for stopping by! Yes, Greg did mention he hikes with you at times. Didn't know until then he was THAT Greg, lol! As I recall, you are fairly close to finishing your winter list too. Best of luck to you as well!