Franconia Ridge

Franconia Ridge

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Avoiding the Crowds on Owl's Head

Large crowds of hikers could be expected on all the popular trails with the long Fourth of July weekend here. This would not be the case on Owl's Head so I joined fellow hikers Jill and Larry for the long hike to this summit. Both have hiked to Owl's Head several times and this would be my second. The weather forecast called for warm temps and an overcast sky.

 East Branch of the Pemigewasset

 Bridge over the Franconia Brook

I arrived at the Lincoln Woods parking area around 6:20 to find Jill and Larry already there. We made final preps and were on our way at 6:30. Crossing over the suspension bridge we could tell the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River was flowing slightly faster and a little higher than normal but still not too bad. It was a good indicator of what we could find on the several water crossings that awaited us as we made our way toward Owl's Head.

 Franconia Brook

 One of many water crossings

It was a nice, cool morning and we made good time arriving at the brdge over Franconia Brook. We turned onto the Lincoln Brook Trail and mentally prepared ourselves for the upcoming water crossings. Once again I met the same young hiker that that I'vr seen on two previous hikes. He said he had turned back at the last water crossing unable to rock hop without getting his feet wet. We took that as a challenge and continued on.

 Lincoln Brook

There were several easy water crossings and then we came to the ones that required the water shoes. We picked out a shallow area to cross and jumped in. The water was cold and we moved quickly not wanting to stay in the brook any longer than necessary. We decided to hike in our water shoes to the next crossing so as not to change shoes twice. It wasn't that far and this strategy worked out well. We made the last water crossing without any problems. It was shortly after this that I discovered one of my water shoes had fallen off my pack. I made a quick back-track but didn't find it. The same thing happened last year in just about the same spot. They were found by another hiker that set them on a prominent rock so I would see them. No such luck this time and I never found it nor did any other hikers that I asked.

Rock-hopping across Lincoln Brook

 Owl's Head Path to the summit starts here

There were a few hikers that we met along the way but there definitely no crowds on this trail. We arrived at the bottom of the slide leading to the summit and a break to fuel up with a quick snack, it would be needed! It doesn't take long to start getting into some very loose rocks and at some points it was two steps up and one slide back. This required a slow, steady and careful pace to avoid sending any rocks plummeting down to hikers below. Even after leaving the open area of the slide and back into the woods the climb was steep and relentless.

 Starting the climb up the slide

 A very steep and loose ascent

 A view to Franconia Ridge

We got to the top of the ridge and made our way along the very winding path to the official summit. Here one finds a cairn and a Whoo tree or a tree that someone has carved Whoo and Owl into. It was time to take another well deserved break. After another snack and some photos we commenced our descent. Following the trail back off the summit can be very tricky. There are many well worn paths leading to nowhwere and only one leading back to the slide. We momentarily got twisted up on the wrong path but regained our bearings and found the right one.

 Still going up

 Limited views at the top

 Owl's Head summit...9 mile hike back to Lincoln Woods from here

I found the slide going down is not much easier than going up except there is some gravity help. But even with that careful footing and a slow go are mandatory to avoid dislodging some very big loose rocks in which case Mr. Gravity would not be your friend if you happened to be the hiker down below. There were several hikers coming up the slide as we made our way down. These hikers were safe from us as we managed to avoid releasing any boulders down on them.

 Tree-huggin' and butt-slidin'

  Descending the slide

 Taking a break after coming down the slide

Down off the slide and back at the bottom we took one last quick break for another snack before starting the long hike back out. This time at the river crossings I would be barefooting it having not found my other water shoe. It wasn't that bad but I think it made me move a little bit faster, the water was bone-chilling cold and bare feet on cold rocks made it seem even colder. The other downside was that I had to put my hiking boots back on between these two water crossings while Jill and Larry just kept their water shoes on for this short hike. 

 More rock hopping

 Changing shoes

 Almost to the home stretch

I tried something new today with my cameras. I put my larger camera in the backpack and small PowerShot in my pocket for quick access. Sometimes the camera case around my waist can get in the way as well as take extra time and then there's the hassle of putting my pack on and taking it off. There would be some water crossings with unknown water flow and depth so I didn't want to chance getting it wet. Then there would be the rock slide on the ascent to the summit where the case might hinder my climb. It ended up being a bad move and I am very disappointed with the quality of photos today. I also did not take as many photos as I usually do and there were more discards than I normally have especially for a long hike like this. So it was a lesson learned.

 Cedar Waxwing

Ready to hike it again!

We arrived back at the Lincoln Woods trailhead around 5:30. It was a long 11 hour hike and very nice being able to avoid the throngs of hikers on this holiday weekend. Up until today I had not thought much about a grid goal but hiking twice to Owl's Head sure gets one to thinking about it. Why else would someone hike more than once to this remote, viewless summit? No serious grid thoughts yet, just something to think about as I continue hiking in the White Mountains. Thanks Jill and Larry for a great hike!

Having Fun in the Great Outdoors!


  1. Good times, Don, good times. I have a friend who still needs Owl's Head ;) up for a repeat soon???

    1. Do you mean soon like September? I already have Owl's Head in July and August.

  2. Just completed OH yesterday (7-11-15) and this was the most helpful trail report of any, by far. Thank you!

    1. You're Welcome! Glad this helped, makes all the time I put into the blog worth it...Thanks!