I decided it was time to make the long hike to Owl’s Head. It was a hike I put off for a while due to the high mileage, doubting that I could cover the required 18.2 miles in one day. Camping was an option but I really wanted to push myself to complete it in a single day. After bumping the hike back one day to avoid a crazy rainstorm, I packed my bag, downloaded a few podcasts (How I Built This), and hit the road.
The trail begins at Lincoln Woods Visitor Center and follows the South Branch of the Pemigewasset River. It was the same trail I started on when I completed the Pemi Loop the year before. The first 3-4 miles follow an old railroad bed, making the start of the hike nothing more than a brisk walk in the woods. That quickly changed as I approached the first of two river crossings. I was hoping to rock hop but due to the recent rain storm I had no choice but to ford my way across thigh high, fast moving water. After making it to the other side, I laced up and got back on the trail. About 2 minutes later I came to another crossing, and again had to ford my way across.
Having made my way across two sections of river I continued on. A few more river crossing (these I could rock hop) and endless amounts of mud, I finally made it to the beginning of the Owl’s Head Trail. Or so I thought. Because Owl’s Head isn’t an official trail (its considered a path) there is no signage. I had inadvertently hiked .5 miles past the trail-head. I realized this only when I came to another river crossing and knew that wasn’t on the map. I turned around and hiked back, looking everywhere for any indication of the trail. I finally stumbled upon a small rock cairn that signaled a junction. Found it. I wasn’t to psyched that I would be tacking on another mile to an already long hike.
I only had one more mile until reaching the view-less summit. The path up Owl’s Head was a wet, steep rock scramble and it sucked. This was one of the worst sections of trail I’ve hiked anywhere in the White Mountains. It was blistering hot the whole way up but I finally made it to the summit. Nothing exciting to see at the top, so I turned around a b-lined it back to the junction. I still had another nine miles to hike out and my legs were starting to feel it. After filling up my water I hit the trail. The two river crossings where I had previously taken my shoes off were no longer a problem. My feet were already soaked so I just walked through with my shoes on. It felt great. Four miles and three podcasts later and I was back at the truck. Twenty miles was the longest single day hike I had completed. It was an exhausting hike, but I felt great!
The Kancamagus in the early morning light never disappoints.
The start of the trail begins with a suspension bridge over the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River
Tunnel vision on the Lincoln Woods Trail
The scramble up the side of Owl’s Head is unforgiving.
View of Franconia Ridge in the distance. About half way up Owl’s Head and is the best view you’ll get.
My feet were so muddy and wet by the end of the hike I gave up on taking my shoes off.