Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Owl's Head August 12, 2006

We were not looking forward to Owl's Head. A long 17 mile hike with difficult stream crossings, with perhaps the steepest slide in the Whites, and with no view at the top, Owl's Head attracts its detractors. For a smaller group, Owl's Head is admired. I was open to enjoying this peak, but after the hike, count me as a detractor.

I can remember no other hike in the Whites after which I felt beaten. It was not the distance, I could have gone further. It was not the elevation (Owl's Head is a modest, albeit steep, climb). I believe it was a combination of factors more psychological than physical. First, we opted to bypass the first two very difficult brook crossings by following the old angler paths after Franconia Falls. The middle section of about .5 miles had no discernible path and was for us our first bushwhack. Although we had the Lincoln Brook as a guide there were many tributary streams to deal with and there is always uncertainty when bushwhacking. Next we had to decide whether to make the next two high brook crossings by a difficult hop on rocks or "boots off" in our Tevas. We opted for Tevas and I promptly fell on my first step on a mossy rock. No harm ensued. Next there was the uncertainty of finding the Owl's Head path for the final climb. We had heard how difficult finding this unmarked path was. Fortunately this was not the case but it was on my mind. Next we had the climb up. Going up on a steep trail is easier than coming down and this mountain was no exception. But even after the slide ended, the trail was so wet and steep that I was slipping and staggering on almost every step.

At the top we had enjoyable company. Most hikers save Owl's Head for close to the end (of their 48) and today at the summit one man celebrated finishing his 48. He was accompanied by hikers we met at the viewpoint between Middle and South Carter. They were finishing their 48 that day and they were back at Owl's Head to accompany their friend. They remembered Kate and Jordan distinctly. We asked the kids later and they told us that the hiking couple had seen them running up the final approach to the summit of South Carter. I guess that would make an impression! They were so nice that they told us they would love to do our 48th up Adams with us this week. Unfortunately he had to fly out to Seattle.

Soon it was back to the return off the mountain. On the slide, besides the frightening steepness, there was the hazard of loose shale rock being constantly dislodged. I spent most of the slide on my behind. Then there was the bushwhack again, where once again the middle section proved hard (with the added pressure of having to complete with daylight).

I felt no exhilaration at the end of the hike. True, I climbed Owl's Head, but at the end it felt more like I survived Owl's Head. Peak #47

Distance 17 miles; Climb 2900 ft; Elevation 4025 ft.

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