Owl's Head (4025')

2003 September 06

When learning about the hike to Owl's Head, two things kept coming up. The most common was the trip itself with particular notes to it's length and viewless summit and the other is the bushwhack from Black Pond to the Lincoln Brook trail. We did both, and it's not likely that we'll do either again. Regarding the black pond bushwhack, avoid it. More on that later. Regarding Owl's Head, avoid it. More on that now.

Owl's Head was quite a trek and I can think of a number of reasons why someone might enjoy a hike like this. It's very secluded, there aren't crowds, and it's flat when not on the Owl's Head slide itself which I imagine is a good thing for backpacking or winter hikes. Seclusion and crowdless hikes I like, but it's not without a price. In this case, the price is over 18 miles of trekking and less than an hour of open views. Since we have yet to backpack or to hike in the winter, Owl's Head isn't as attractive as other alternatives. Access could be made easier with the addition of new trails, but I certainly hope that never happens.

We started before 9:00 am after stopping in at the Lincoln Woods Vistor Center off the Kanc. One of the rangers suggested we walk 100 feet into the woods behind the vistor center, "the views are the same and you don't have to walk 19 miles." We laughed, knowing it was true. He made a few more negative comments about the hike and I asked, "then why hike Owl's Head at all." His answer was simple, "because it's on the 4000 footer list." A very good point, although we look at it as a stepping stone to higher mileage hikes like Isolation and Bondcliff that knocks one more off the list in the process.


The hike starts out on the Lincoln Woods trail. It's very flat and very wide and so straight we could see where we were going long before we got there. After 2.6 miles we came to a junction for the Black Pond trail which detours and ends 0.8 miles later at scenic Black Pond. For Owl's Head you just keep on the highway, but we chose the path less traveled and made our way for Black Pond. Rather than backtrack along the much less rugged Black Pond trail, we figured we'd just bushwhack through the woods to the Lincoln Brook trail like I've heard about. Black Pond is a nice little body of water with a view of Owl's Head from one end and a great view of West Bond and Bondcliff from the far end. We hung out here for a while and ate some bagels while enjoying the view Bondcliff in the distance. We also took the time to pull out the map and figure which way we needed to go through the woods to reach the Lincoln Brook trail.

bridge_elleing bridge_shawn pemi_river path_less_traveled black_pond owlshead_fr_black_pond

It appears that there are beginnings of a trail towards Lincoln Brook, but someone has put a lot of energy in hiding it. I had hoped for this but decided a heading between due north and magnetic north would eventually take us to Lincoln Brook if we lossed the trail. We scrambled under, over, and around the debris tossed in the way and came out on a promising-looking path heading north towards Lincoln Brook. Then, we lossed the trail. We soon found ourselves in a lot of swampy overgrowth. Elleing twice slipped ankle deep in mud and we both got scratched up as we made our way through the brush. The woods were thick in places and we had to keep looping around areas and reset our compass heading. I had meant to time how long all this took but forgot. I do know it seemed like forever before we could hear the sounds of Lincoln Brook. We reached the south edge of the brook and headed west along its bank to reach the Lincoln Brook trail where it crosses from the north. The bushwhack is supposed to save a mile of walking but I'm not sure it did and I am sure it cost us at least 35 minutes. Perhaps there was a simpler way through; I don't know. But, unless avoiding a couple tricky stream crossings is of utmost importance, I can't really see the value in this bushwhack.


We then followed the muddy Lincoln Brook trail to the junction of the slide that goes to the summmit of Owl's Head. The trail is no longer like a road and is more like a typical trail, but with more mud and little elevation gain. It skirts along Lincoln Brook which provides convenient rest stops before coming to the slide trail. There's no trail sign. Only a large cairn that marks where you turn east into the woods. This begins the steep ascent to the wooded and viewless summit of Owl's Head with nice views of Franconia Ridge from the slide. We stopped on the way up and on the way down to enjoy the only view of the day. The leaves were just starting to change and the view from Lafayette to Flume was outstanding. We watched as the tiny dots of humans made their way along the ridge. The trail is very steep and borders on hazardous. Cairns have been built along multiple routes up the slide but I think its best to stay to the south side as much as possible.

slide_marker steep_and_rocky summit_marker on_owls_head owls_head_view

When we reached the bottom of the slide we had topped 10 miles. Typically our hikes end at about this point, but from here we still had 8 miles to go. At least it's not a difficult 8 miles and we covered some unseen ground because of the earlier bushwhack. There are a couple stream crossings that were are most difficult so far. We were still able to keep our shoes on, but made good use of our trekking poles and made one leap between two rocks.

franconia_brook_crossing lincoln_brook_crossing

We were quite sore and tired by the end of the trip. Certainly, we've done worse. It wasn't nearly as intense as last week's jaunt above tree line, nor did we feel as broken as our first 4000 footer day on Flume and Liberty two years ago. Book time is 10:25. We did it in 9:56 which includes the extra 35+ minutes for the Black Pond / Bushwhack excursion. It's our longest time on trail to date, but the intensity level is so much lower that we hardly noticed. Our feet and legs took the pounding but overall fatigue wasn't bad. We stopped at Elvio's for dinner to refuel. This was probably a poor choice. Our habit of getting good food after a hike seemd to help because after the pizza, fries, and coke we weren't feeling as good as usual.

Here are some times I noted from the trip. It took us 35 minutes longer to get back from the bottom of the slide than it took us to get there and this was while tired.

8:50 Lincoln Woods Visitor Center
10:13 black pond
11:28 end of bushwhack
12:45 slide junction
13:56 summit
15:24 slide junction
17:56 black pond jcn
18:44 Lincoln Woods Visitor Center


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