Backpacking Owls Head Mountain in October


Backpacking Owls Head Mountain in October

Owls Head Mountain is a 4000-footer positioned deep within the Pemigewasset Wilderness. While you possibly can hike out and again to it in an extended 16-18 mile day, I had a hankering to show it into an informal backpacking journey for an opportunity to sleep outdoors at the very least yet another time earlier than the onset of winter, which might arrive any day now. While I do plan to do some above-treeline backpacking this winter within the Presidentials, that may be a utterly totally different expertise from sleeping down low within the bosom of the Pemi.

Now that we’re previous Columbus Day (October 10), the White Mountain National Forest takes on a really totally different look. Things that had been hidden from sight by leaves and understory vegetation are out of the blue revealed, giving the forest a totally totally different look; a renewal of types, earlier than the lengthy winter units in.

People who hike the 4000-footers all 12 months spherical will inform you that it’s enjoyable to expertise the identical trails in numerous seasons since you see various things. While I’ve discounted that considerably in my very own expertise, and I attempt to range the paths I comply with to the excessive peaks, this autumn has been totally different. I actually am noticing and discovering new elements of the forest that I haven’t ever skilled.

The Lincoln Woods Trail
The Lincoln Woods Trail


There is a fairly normal route that the majority hikers take out to Owls Head as of late, though there are a number of methods to succeed in the height. For this hike, I adopted the preferred route:

  • Lincoln Woods Trail – 2.6 miles
  • Black Pond Trail – 0.8 miles
  • Black Pond Bushwhack – 1.0 miles
  • Lincoln Brook Traill – 2 miles
  • Brutus Bushwhack – 0.6 miles (up)
  • Owls Head Path – 0.6 miles (up)
  • Owls Head Path – 0.6 miles (down)
  • Brutus Bushwhack – 0.6 miles (down)
  • Lincoln Brook Trail – 2 miles
  • Black Pond Bushwhack – 1.0 miles
  • Black Pond Trail – 0.8 miles
  • Lincoln Woods Trail – 2.6 miles

Those bushwhacks, listed above, allow you to keep away from a number of stream crossings and an avalanche slide which will be problematic when the climate will get colder. There’s been a whole lot of controversy lately about these “bushwhacks” which at the moment are fairly nicely outlined, however nonetheless unofficial trails. I’d estimate that 90% of the tons of of hikers going out to Owls Head comply with them and there’s little level in banning their use since everybody makes use of GPS apps, like GaiaGPS and AllTrails, to comply with them.

It was totally different when only some guides knew the routes and the extent of site visitors was far decrease. But there isn’t any level in making an attempt to ban their use at this level. Unfortunately, GPS apps and social media have made our world a a lot smaller place. The cat is out of the bag and it’s inconceivable to place it again in.

The rivers are still very low from this summer’s drought.
The rivers are nonetheless very low from this summer time’s drought.


I headed up the Lincoln Woods path which was very fairly with the autumn shade and turned onto the Black Pond Trail. From there it’s about 0.8 miles to the beginning of the unofficial Black Pond Bushwhack, which avoids the 2 main water crossings required to succeed in the Lincoln Brook Trail, which runs to the bottom of Owls Head. This was the fifth time I’ve hiked out to Owls Head this 12 months, so I’ve a good thought of what to anticipate.

There are two extra water crossings you want to cope with proper earlier than the climb up Owls Head. In hotter climate, I don’t care about getting my sneakers moist in any of those crossings, however when nighttime temperatures drop beneath freezing, as they’ve for a number of weeks now, I keep away from getting my path runners moist. So for these 2 crossings, I carried a pair of Wiggy’s Waders to maintain my ft dry, though I didn’t find yourself needing them as a result of each had been low sufficient to rock hop.

The Black Pond Bushwhack
The Black Pond Bushwhack

While the Black Pond Bushwhack is an unofficial herd path at this level, the route it takes by means of the forest does fluctuate a bit, significantly in winter it follows the route that the final particular person to interrupt it out (compress the snow with snowshoes) took. The first half of the route was totally different than the final time I hiked it in June, though the second half coincided completely. The route was additionally closely obscured by leaf litter, however I’m excellent at following badly outlined trails so I didn’t have any issues determining the present “route.” I used to be nonetheless outfitted with a compass, map, and GaiaGPS although.

The bushwhack comes out on the Lincoln Brook Trail, simply after the second river crossing, which it bypasses. From there I hiked up the very moist LBT, making an attempt to maintain my mesh path runners dry. The mesh path runners I exploit, Saucony Peregrine 11’s (final 12 months’s mannequin) have a sock liner inside which I discover wards off moist ft to a sure extent. Of course, it does nothing for the sturdiness of the exterior mesh which will get destroyed after about 200 miles of White Mountain mountaineering. I’m severely contemplating shifting to a extra sturdy mountaineering shoe as a result of I’m sick of changing mesh path runners at $150-$200 a pop. There must be a greater manner.

Lincoln Brook runs along the west side of Owls Head Mountain
Lincoln Brook runs alongside the west aspect of Owls Head Mountain

The Lincoln Brook Trail is all the time moist, at the very least when it’s not lined in ice. Despite this I made good time, hopping skipping, and leaping to keep away from the mud pits and puddles alongside the way in which. The path runs alongside Lincoln Brook which continues to be working very low due to the summer time drought, despite the fact that we’ve had a whole lot of rain prior to now month.

Since I had a full pack, I discovered a hidden campsite to stash my heaviest gear whereas I climbed the height. Some folks depart their packs on the base of the Owls Head climb and climb with out one, however I want carrying a minimal of security gear with me after I climb summits. You simply by no means know while you’ll want it.

Bondcliff Mountain from the one viewpoint on Owls head
Bondcliff Mountain from the one viewpoint on Owls head

I climbed Owl Head utilizing the Brutus bushwhack, as a substitute of going up the avalanche slide which is one other route. That route, which once more is now a well-established herd path, is known as after Brutus, a Bernese Mountain Dog who couldn’t stand up the avalanche slide, which is mainly a rocky shute that climbs about 1000 ft. That’s one other 600 ft of elevation acquire above that, nevertheless it’s at the very least a path. This bushwhack route was created so Brutus might get to the summit. He is now not with us however his herd path lives on.

Up I went, following the summit ridge to the mountain highpoint, marked by a small cairn. I took just a few pictures, circled, and reversed my route, mountaineering again to my gear stashed within the woods.

Home for the night
Home for the night time

It was nonetheless mid-afternoon, so I made a decision to hike again out partway and discover a stealthy campsite for the night time as a substitute of staying on the one I’d discovered nearer to the height. This proved more durable than I anticipated as a result of there isn’t a whole lot of stage floor between the top of the Black Pond bushwhack and the Owls Head Path. But I discovered a pleasant web site ultimately, pre-existing on this case – and arrange camp, made dinner, hung my Ursack, bought into my sleeping bag, and fell asleep for the subsequent 14 hours. I like sleeping outdoors. I might have made it again to the beginning of the hike earlier than sunset, however one in every of my chief objectives for this hike was to camp out.

Pemigewasset Gourmet
Pemigewasset Gourmet

I made tea the subsequent morning, however the ProBar I’d packed for breakfast was frozen, so I needed to defrost it by dipping it the recent water. Then I packed up and hiked out.

This was the final 4000-footer I wanted to climb in October for the 4000 Footer Grid (12 x 48), bringing my complete to 478 summits. With 98 peaks left, there’s nonetheless a whole lot of journey left.

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