Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The (Other) Tuesday Trip Report: Owls Head. October 9, 2011

Lincoln Woods Trail, Black Pond Trail, Black Pond Bushwhack, Lincoln Brook Trail, Owl's Head slide and herd paths, Franconia Brook Trail.

About 18 miles roundtrip.

An accidental day trip!

We had every intention of spending the night in the woods; Owl's Head is a long trek! I therefore stuffed my pack with all the usual overnight gear -- sleeping bags, tent, stove, dinner food, extra clothing, camp shoes, etc. -- before setting out to tag this viewless, only-hike-it-for-a-list peak.

The girls and I were on the trail at 8am. The suspension bridge, which had recently been closed due to damage from Irene, was open and functional.

Lincoln Woods Trail was the usual flat but scenic affair.

Irene sure left her mark!

Onward, past the intersection with Osseo Trail...

...to arrive at Black Pond Trail.

Black Pond Trail was gorgeous as always...

Black Pond itself...

Next came the godawful part of our hike. I remembered the Black Pond bushwhack as a horrible and tortuous experience; Alex and I went this way for her first round of the 48, and back then I swore I'd never do it again. Why we attempted it again, this time with Sage, I'll never know. I think I was under the illusion that it would go faster and easier this time around. It didn't.

We rounded Black Pond and were promptly confronted by a deep, wide mud bog. I told the girls to go around it. Sage responded by walking right through it and losing her left boot. We spent the next five minutes trying to find the thing. Alex finally fished it out from the depths of a cold and gooey hell. The boot was completely filled with mud and a variety of small and slimy creatures. Sage put on her camp shoes (light things completely inappropriate for hiking) and I told her we'd wash her boot in the brook once we got back onto solid trail. Five minutes later, Sage lost a camp shoe in the same type of bog. Alex once again came to the rescue and fished out the footwear while I regrettably lost my patience and chewed out Sage. My youngest finished the rest of the 'whack dutifully avoiding all bogs and wearing thick socks inside Alex's camp shoes.

We ran into and through numerous branches, thorns, spiderwebs, nests full of buzzing (but thankfully not stinging) insects, tall vegetation and blowdowns. I was convinced we would never, ever, arrive at Lincoln Brook Trail, but we did. After we popped out (by the second main water crossing), I checked my watch. It had felt like an eternity, but it had only been an hour.

Our high spirits now completely dashed, we trudged along Lincoln Brook Trail, making our way to the slide. Sage scooped the mud out of her boot and put it back on, since Alex's camp shoes don't do a great job of protecting feet from roots and rocks. I kept my eye out for camping spots and recognized the area in which Alex, DaveBear, MadRiver and I camped a couple of years ago. There were a couple of other places that also looked doable; I pointed the sites out as we hiked and told the girls we'd choose a spot after we came down from the summit.

There was so much mud and so many blowdowns on this trail! We felt quite worn out when we reached the bottom of the slide.

We ran into eruggs from VFTT on the way up; it was nice to meet her in person. Hope we didn't bear too much of a resemblance to death warmed over.

Up the slide we went...

...until we arrived at the clearing just before the summits. At this point, both Sage and Max seemed done. My main concern was keeping them moving until we got back down the slide. Once down, we could pitch a tent and relax for the evening. I took on the role of cheerleader as we dragged ourselves to the old summit.

We eventually found our way to the new summit, though we wandered a bit aimlessly through all the herd paths before arriving at the cairn.

Alex took a catnap while Sage chugged some Kool-Aid.

At this point, all four of us felt done. We made our way back to the clearing above the slide, sat, and ate a bunch of chocolate. The sugar must have gone straight to my children's legs; on the way down the slide, Alex and Sage started talking about the possibilities of hiking out instead of camping.

By the time we arrived at the first possible camping spot, both girls decided they wanted to walk just a little bit farther. We arrived at the next spot, but still they wanted to go farther. And so on. We'd walk a while, stop and eat some Goldfish crackers and candy bars, give Max a bunch of food, and then we'd get up and go another couple of miles.

The more we walked, the more adamant the girls became about wanting to continue. Eventually it got dark...we donned our headlamps and walked through the woods and water. It was about 8pm when we splashed our way through the last wide crossing. We pulled ourselves out of the water and almost ran into a tent; a nice fellow had set one up on a picture-perfect spot. He said there was a large space nearby if we wanted to use it...both girls immediately said no thanks and told me they wanted to keep going. Max seemed alright (I think each water crossing woke him up), so on we went.

Arriving at Franconia Brook Trail...

The moon was bright and beautiful. I tried to take a picture, but I'm less than stellar when it comes to nighttime photography...

The three of us made good time back to Lincoln Woods Trail. Sage stayed in front and Alex kept to my side. We had three good headlamps and a few sets of extra batteries, plus, of course, all the overnight gear on my back, so we never felt unsafe or worried. We passed many tents and occasionally saw the headlamps of people hiking on the other side of the river. The only time we became scared was when we heard a massive rustling of leaves nearby. It turned out to be a tiny frog climbing over a couple of fallen leaves.

The amazing second wind both girls experienced conked out about a mile from the car. Sage started stomping and Alex started a chorus of "I want to be there already, I want to be there already." I offered to pitch the tent, but the girls thought that would be ridiculous since we were so close to the parking lot.

Eight tenths of a mile from the trailhead, a lone headlamp appeared. Turned out to be Steve Smith, who was out for a nighttime stroll. We exchanged greetings and talked for a while. Unfortunately, I had to cut our conversation short due to the fact that both my kids and my dog were falling asleep in the middle of the trail.

Onward, back over the suspension bridge and to the car!

We finished at 10pm, about fourteen hours after we had started.

Even now, I'm astounded the girls pulled this off. Well, not so much Alex -- she handled the fifteen miles up and down New York's Mt. Marcy with relative ease, so I figured she had an 18-miler in her. Sage, on the other hand...I'm amazed. The drive to keep going came as much from her as it did from Alex (neither one of my girls is shy about expressing her wishes). Sage promised me she'd tell me if she really wanted to stop, and I trust her judgment when it comes to how far she wants to hike.

The girls wanted to see what they could do, so I allowed them to go for it. We all knew I had everything we needed to spend the night out -- and I think that knowledge helped tremendously. It's one thing to feel stuck, to feel like you HAVE to keep walking and walking and walking. It's quite another to know you can stop at any time, so there's no harm in trying for just a little bit longer.

I learned something about both my girls on this hike. Alex seems ready for winter. She was tired at the end of the night, but she could have kept going another few miles without any problems whatsoever. Sage is one strong six-year-old. I don't think Alex could have done Owl's Head in one day at that age.

Six mountains (four hikes) left, and Sage will be finished the NH48.

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