September 3, 2012

Owl's Head

Yesterday Katy and I embarked on another long hike, about 19 miles in total, to reach the peak of Owl's Head. It was the 47th 4000 footer for us on our quest to hike all 48 of New Hampshire's 4000 footers and leaves just Mount Carrigain between us and eternal glory! Owl's Head is one of those peaks that requires maximum effort for minimal reward and is rarely collected early on a peakbagger's list. The trail is long and monotonous with tricky river crossings and very few views. In addition, there is no officially maintained trail that goes all the way to the summit, with the final mile or so of the hike following an unmaintained herd path up an old rock slide. Despite these challenges, we were ready to make this hike a good one, and arrived early at the trailhead at Lincoln Woods yesterday at 7:30AM. We had been tracking the forecast all week long and the weather looked perfect with sunny skies predicted and a 0% chance of rain. As we geared up for the hike, though, it was overcast with rain showers spitting at us. Oops!

We began our journey down the Lincoln Woods Trail and settled in for a long, flat walk. Fortunately, the rain showers ended quickly, and the tree canopy pretty much kept us dry in the meantime. The Lincoln Woods Trail is about 3 miles in length, is very wide, and is almost completely flat as it follows a former logging road. As an access point to the Pemigewasset Wilderness, you'll find more than just Owl's Head goers on it. Early in the morning we saw some trail runners go by, we saw some backpackers hiking out, and we saw a couple bicycles pass us as well. We cruised along and made good time down the trail. As the monotony pounded on our feet, I began to feel my plantar fasciitis start to flare up. A few years back I battled plantar fasciitis off and on for a long time but had discovered an effective strategy to manage it by using tape to support my arches. This allowed me to continue playing ultimate without degeneratively aggravating my heals and arches in the process. Well, after a pain free year, I think my summer league ultimate frisbee tournament from a couple weeks ago put my heals over the edge and I've had minor plantar issues since. I've been back to taping my feet before ultimate games and this time decided to stop and tape up my feet for the remainder of the hike. Katy makes fun of me and my self prescribed injury management "programs" but hey, they do work! I taped up my feet and while I still had some discomfort, it helped a lot with arch support the rest of the hike.

Once we reached the end of the Lincoln Woods Trail, we took a left turn onto the much less heavily traveled Lincoln Brook Trail. After summitting 47 4000 footers, Katy explained that she finally made the connection that if a trail name has "Brook", "Stream", "River", or "Falls" in it, then you should probably expect to do some river crossing. True! We made our way down about 3.5 miles of this trail which brought us back and forth over Lincoln Brook 4 different times. The water levels were not significantly high but they were still a challenge to keep your boots dry. Fortunately, I wasn't too concerned about that and kind of just blasted right through the rivers. Katy did her best to rock hop and kept her feet mostly dry on the way in. After the final stream crossing that put the river on our left, we kept an eye out for the trail junction with Owl's Head Path. Since this is an unofficial trail, there would be no sign. It was obvious when we reached it, though; there was a large cairn built up in the middle of the trail with logs marking the route to our right.

After over 8 miles of long, flat trail, we had reached the steeps! While not an official trail, the path up the slide was well beaten with mini cairns built as trail markers along the way. It was a bit of a free for all, though, as the path often diverged into multiple routes which rejoined each other later down the trail. This was especially true once up past the slide and navigating the ridge line. Since no real trail maintenance work is done, it seems as though rather than clear blow downs people naturally just beat out more herd paths. Nevertheless, we did finally manage to find the summit and found a crowd of 7 or 8 people already there! For such a remote, viewless peak, it was a popular destination yesterday as we saw at least a couple dozen more people heading up once we were on our way down.

With number 47 in the bag, we began the long trek back out the way we came. There were tired muscles, achy joints, and sore feet by the time we were down but that made it that much more rewarding when we ate everything off the menu at the Common Man post-hike. And then there was one! Mount Carrigain, we'll see you soon!