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Backpacking Owls Head Mountain in October

Backpacking Owls Head Mountain in October

Owls Head Mountain is a 4000-footer situated deep within the Pemigewasset Wilderness. When you can hike out and again to it in a protracted 16-18 mile day, I had a hankering to show it into an off-the-cuff 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. Whereas I do plan to do some above-treeline backpacking this winter within the Presidentials, that may be a fully 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 Nationwide Forest takes on a really totally different look. Issues 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.

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

The Lincoln Woods Trail
The Lincoln Woods Path


There’s a fairly commonplace route that almost all hikers take out to Owls Head lately, though there are a number of methods to succeed in the height. For this hike, I adopted the most well-liked route:

  • Lincoln Woods Path – 2.6 miles
  • Black Pond Path – 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 Path – 2 miles
  • Black Pond Bushwhack – 1.0 miles
  • Black Pond Path – 0.8 miles
  • Lincoln Woods Path – 2.6 miles

These bushwhacks, listed above, allow you to keep away from a number of stream crossings and an avalanche slide which may be problematic when the climate will get colder. There’s been lots of controversy lately about these “bushwhacks” which are actually fairly nicely outlined, however nonetheless unofficial trails. I’d estimate that 90% of the a whole lot 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 just a few guides knew the routes and the extent of visitors was far decrease. However there isn’t any level in attempting to ban their use at this level. Sadly, GPS apps and social media have made our world a a lot smaller place. The cat is out of the bag and it’s unimaginable 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 Path. 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 Path, which runs to the bottom of Owls Head. This was the fifth time I’ve hiked out to Owls Head this yr, so I’ve a good thought of what to anticipate.

There are two extra water crossings it is advisable to take care of 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 toes 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

Whereas the Black Pond Bushwhack is an unofficial herd path at this level, the route it takes by the forest does fluctuate a bit, significantly in winter it follows the route that the final individual to interrupt it out (compress the snow with snowshoes) took. The primary 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 superb 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 Path, simply after the second river crossing, which it bypasses. From there I hiked up the very moist LBT, attempting to maintain my mesh path runners dry. The mesh path runners I take advantage of, Saucony Peregrine 11’s (final yr’s mannequin) have a sock liner inside which I discover wards off moist toes to a sure extent. After all, it does nothing for the sturdiness of the exterior mesh which will get destroyed after about 200 miles of White Mountain climbing. I’m critically contemplating transferring to a extra sturdy climbing shoe as a result of I’m sick of changing mesh path runners at $150-$200 a pop. There needs to be a greater method.

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

The Lincoln Brook Path is all the time moist, at the very least when it’s not lined in ice. Regardless of 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 remains to be working very low due to the summer time drought, although we’ve had lots of rain previously month.

Since I had a full pack, I discovered a hidden campsite to stash my heaviest gear whereas I climbed the height. Some individuals go away 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 once I climb summits. You simply by no means know once 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 an alternative of going up the avalanche slide which is one other route. That route, which once more is now a well-established herd path, is called after Brutus, a Bernese Mountain Canine who couldn’t rise up the avalanche slide, which is mainly a rocky shute that climbs about 1000 toes. That’s one other 600 toes of elevation acquire above that, however it’s at the very least a path. This bushwhack route was created so Brutus might get to the summit. He’s 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 a number of photographs, rotated, and reversed my route, climbing again to my gear stashed within the woods.

Home for the night
Residence for the evening

It was nonetheless mid-afternoon, so I made a decision to hike again out partway and discover a stealthy campsite for the evening as an alternative 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 lots of stage floor between the tip of the Black Pond bushwhack and the Owls Head Path. However I discovered a pleasant website ultimately, pre-existing on this case – and arrange camp, made dinner, hung my Ursack, acquired 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 among my chief objectives for this hike was to camp out.

Pemigewasset Gourmet
Pemigewasset Connoisseur

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 whole to 478 summits. With 98 peaks left, there’s nonetheless lots of journey left.

Really helpful Guidebooks and Maps:

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