Overnight at Owlshead

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Had a long holiday weekend with big plans for a relaxing 3 days, 2 nights in the Pemigewasset Wilderness. The only real goal was to hike up Owlshead for another notch in my belt. As this would be a long hike, ~8 miles in the base of the herd path, I figured a good time to plan for a night in the woods.
I got to Lincoln Woods trail head at just about 0730 on Saturday and it was already chock full. I parked about .2 down on the Kancamagus at a turn out. Hit the Lincoln Woods trail for the long flat start. This runs an old rail bed along the Pemi River. This stretch is a bit long but moves quickly to the Franconia Brook trail. Just over the bridge to Franconia Falls, I reach the junction to the trail.
I zip onto the Franconia Brook trail and find it feels narrow compared to the LWT rail bed. This is still fast ground and mostly level. There are a few small crossings earlier, but in this drought, very manageable. I came across what appears an older reroute which someone placed some birch logs pointing in the right direction. It was still a bit to stop and think about as there was a downed tree crossing the ‘right’ way.
I reached the junction of Lincoln Brook Trail and saw a small group tent camping just beyond the junction to the right of Franconia Brook trail. I hang a left toward Owlshead and ready myself for more crossings. I anticipated having to ford a bit, and packed Crocs and brought my poles. All of the crossings turned out to be rock hop-able with the low water table. Again this part of the trail is still quick as there is minimal elevation gains. It is very beautiful trails through the trees. It has a very remote feel.
I came across the Owlshead herd path cairn just after 1100. There were several packs laying around near the cairn. I scouted around looking for a place to overnight near here and found a nice single space right on the edge of the riverbed just about 75 paces beyond the cairn. I dropped my pack and moved my water, snacks, and a long sleeve shirt into my day pack. Double backed to the cairn and began up the herd path directly across from it.
It is fairly obvious where the path is once on it. It quickly turns from pine needles and roots to loose rock and around a couple bends opens to the slide. I felt it was very manageable and heard many scary stories about this slide. It was steep, but as long as you minded your steps, the footing was okay. It was only wide for a short stint as you navigated around some ledgy spots. I made my way by the cairns and mostly stayed to the right. Above the open ledgy slide, it narrows into the woods but still climbs steeply. There are is some loose rubble here after it narrows, but then the trail improves. After a bit the trail becomes less steep and you weave around on the ridge passing a couple open areas, perhaps the older summit markings. I continue beyond those and continue until I reach a cairn and it becomes apparent this is the present summit. There are a few Quebecois sitting around the summit cairn enjoying a good chat and rest. I snap a quick photo and find a seat myself for a bite and sip. Adjusted my laces and begin my return trip. As I began to go down, near the top I made a turn down a path that quickly ended and I had to double back a bit to find the right trail. Navigating down the steeps was a little slow but again, manageable. The views over to the east face of Franconia Ridge are quite impressive from the slide.
I made it back down to the cairn and right up to my site. I began unpacking and setting up. I didn’t plan too well and am a bit early in the day to be stopping, but I took my time setting up tarp and hammock. I unfurled my quilts and let them fluff up. I filtered some water for the night and was done most chores by 1430. I strung up line for bear bag over the riverbed and located a suitable restroom. Now I had to kill several hours in the wilderness. This proved to be a little difficult to remove myself from technology, no cell service at all, and entertain myself. I spent a bunch of time simply enjoying watching the water flow around the rocks and staring at the skies. At about 1730 I started to make dinner, Gumbo from Packit Gourmet, a favorite of mine. I gathered some wood for a fire and setup my cook stove/pot. When I went to fire up the stove to boil water, I couldn’t keep it lit. It would light for a second or two then out. There was plenty of liquid left and I could hear gas flowing out, but wouldn’t ignite. It was only about 50 degress so I cannot say for certain why it wouldn’t stay lit. I ended up using the Bean Burrito, also from Packit Gourmet, a second favorite. I soaked it for nearly 30 minutes in cold water. The only thing that didn’t hydrate was the rice. It added texture :D.
(After the trip and thinking about this failure, I suspect since the canister was used only a few times, but occasionally near freezing temps, the gas blend was off. I was able to test light it successfully when I got home.)
I lit a fire while my meal was hydrating and once it got going was perfectly warm as I sat on the riverbed watching the water ripple and flow. I squelched the fire and settled in for the night just after dark.
I woke early but stayed huddled into my hammock for nearly an hour. The temp hovered near 50 and I was not really wanting to get out there. I was encouraged by my bladder to get up and get going. I packed up camp and readied my pack for hike to next camp, somewhere just below Bondcliff. I topped off water and laced up my shoes and off I went. I had to settle for my back up caffeine Clif bar since I couldn’t heat up water for Via coffee. It was still a good morning, the air was still and a bit chilly.
Against what should be common, I layered too warm to start(should start hiking cool/cold). I was on trail less than a mile and I was sweaty hot. I heard some quick footsteps coming toward me and thought, this is quite early to see folks coming southerly on Lincoln Brook trail. I recognized the runner as an impressive trail runner from seeing his posts on a common Facebook hiking group. He was running with another, of whom I follow his blog. I felt bad that I interrupted his stride, but I have been impressed by the pace and mileage they both manage in these mountains.
After a couple river crossings, the trail snaked through the woods. I had heard some of this trail was tough to follow. There was only one spot following the first crossing that was tough to locate the trail. After that it was fairly easy. The trail had the feel that it was rerouted not long before, perhaps a few years prior. Parts of the trail were a bit wet, muddy as it made its way up and over a small rise. Once on the descent here the terrain was a bit more rocky and seemed to follow some drainage. The rocks were slick in spots, but the grade was mild all the way to 13 Falls. Crossing the upper section of the falls was easy and very beautiful looking down where the water carved out the rock. A quick trip to the major ledge crossing this really opened up. It looks like a great place to hang out on the rocks and play in the water. The other side of the ledge is the 13 Falls campsite. I didn’t go up to look at the sites. Just after the campsite, the trail forks. The left is Franconia Brook trail leading up towards Mt Garfield. To the right is Twin Brook trail leading to just below Galehead Mountain. I stay right and head toward Galehead. This route was nice easy terrain, but seemed to be a constant elevation gain. It wore me down a bit, mentally. It was this stretch of trail I began considering the idea of hiking out to car instead of a second night due to being beat and not having hot water/food. There is a short push up a steep stretch just before reaching the Frost Trail. I made Galehead and rested. The temp wasn’t very hot, maybe about 55-60, but there was very little breeze so made it feel warmer. It was nice to settle at the hut for a bit. I bought a giant oatmeal raisin cookie and sucked down some water. After that I bought some soup. I have a weakness for hot soup from the huts while hiking. They are always flavorful. A point to mention, when planning a trip, consider if you are buying food/snacks versus packing it. It was here that realized not eating my packed lunch/snacks I haven’t reduced my pack weight any. Not huge difference, but considering the next segment was up South Twin Mountain, the steepest section, it could seem magnified.
After I had my fill of food and water, I changed shirts and adjusted my shoes and started the big _up_ the Twinway to South Twin Mountain. I took it slow and actually sat and rested a couple times on the way up. It was crowded at the top but the views into the Pemi and northeast to the presidential range are amazing. Both really something to experience. I lingered a bit up top, but the crowds were getting to me and I moved on to the Twinway toward Guyot.
It was in this stretch my stomach started to rumble and let me know it may become an issue. I whipped out my med kit and popped a couple Pepto tablets not taking any chances. This was the final decision point to commit to pushing out of the woods and not spend another night. I continued on the Twinway and popped out of the trees at the junction of the Twinway and Bondcliff trail. I continued on the Bondcliff trail to the Guyot campsite spur trail. I sat and rested a bit and assessed water and decided to continue on knowing I could filter water along the way if the need arose.
After a short rest I skipped West Bond and bounced up Mt Bond. Another summit with amazing views. Looking down toward Owlshead and over to the Franconia range was becoming better with each moment of the sinking sun. It still had a couple more hours of light, but beginning to cast some amazing shadows. I didn’t linger long and moved on to Bondcliff knowing I wanted to rest there in preparation for the long descent and push out to my car. While in the saddle between Bond and Bondcliff, I captured a really nice panoramic shot including Mt Carrigain. I made my way to Boncliff and took some more amazing photos and rested. I ate some of my lunch for dinner that I didn’t eat earlier and snacked. I rested till about 1830 and started my descent.
Once past the small chimney descent, I cruised as much as I could before needing a head lamp. I didn’t stop for photos, not that there are many spots for one as I am not hugely fond of hiking by lamp. I’m not afraid of it, it just isn’t something I enjoy. Once the sun set and the last of the light gone, I donned my head lamp and marched on. I did try to consistently make some noise and hiked to avoid startling anyone or any wildlife. Once the rocks on the trail were mostly gone in the lower sections, I tapped my poles together periodically. I tried not to look at the GPS to avoid knowing how far on the final painful stretch of Bondcliff Trail and Lincoln Woods Trail I had to go. When I did, I was always discouraged. I finally made across one bridge, and then the final bridge to the parking lot. I made it to my car at about 1020. I downed the rest of my water and changed shoes which felt great.
I don’t usually stop on the ride home, but this was a long day and I needed a reward. I tried to get a Dunkin Donut coffee, but they were already closed, so I doubled back a bit to Subway and it was perfect. It was enough to keep me awake for the ride home.

The famous bridge at the Lincoln Woods trail head.  The start and end of my journey.
The famous bridge at the Lincoln Woods trail head. The start and end of my journey.
My next target is just beyond Franconia Falls Trail
My next target is just beyond Franconia Falls Trail
The long stretches on Lincoln Woods Trail.  This is a former rail bed.
The long stretches on Lincoln Woods Trail. This is a former rail bed.
Leaving the highway (LWT) and turning into the belly of the Pemi
Leaving the highway (LWT) and turning into the belly of the Pemi
Some small crossings early on
Some small crossings early on
Older brushed in trail to the left, and a downed tree across the right.  It's mostly obvious the proper way, but does make you hesitate a moment
Older brushed in trail to the left, and a downed tree across the right. It’s mostly obvious the proper way, but does make you hesitate a moment
Splitting off Franconia Brook toward Owlshead
Splitting off Franconia Brook toward Owlshead
The crossings become wider
The crossings become wider
Smoothed rock as the water does its thing
Smoothed rock as the water does its thing
The trail got a little wet for a short stretch
The trail got a little wet for a short stretch
Each mile in, the trail felt like it was getting tighter.  The lush greens lined the way.
Each mile in, the trail felt like it was getting tighter. The lush greens lined the way.
The low water makes these seem easy.  Up close you could see how higher water table could make any of these much more challenging
The low water makes these seem easy. Up close you could see how higher water table could make any of these much more challenging
The packs laid out near the cairn.  The cairn marks the start of the herd path up the Owlshead slide
The packs laid out near the cairn. The cairn marks the start of the herd path up the Owlshead slide
I drop my pack where I intend to camp for the night.  The river just down through the trees.
I drop my pack where I intend to camp for the night. The river just down through the trees.
Near the start of the herd path, the granite rubble trail
Near the start of the herd path, the granite rubble trail
The trail steepens and the scree loosens
The trail steepens and the scree loosens
View from the slide looking to Owls Head.  Not to be confused with Owls Head Mountain, the other end of the ridge
View from the slide looking to Owls Head. Not to be confused with Owls Head Mountain, the other end of the ridge
Stopping and turning around on the slide you view the Franconia ridge with the Lincoln slide
Stopping and turning around on the slide you view the Franconia ridge with the Lincoln slide
The popular Franconia ridge.  I'm sure that was plenty busy this holiday weekend
The popular Franconia ridge. I’m sure that was plenty busy this holiday weekend
Navigating around the ledges
Navigating around the ledges
Minor use of hands up the ledge following the cairns to the right side of the slide
Minor use of hands up the ledge following the cairns to the right side of the slide
Very loose rock as the trail narrows near the top of the slide
Very loose rock as the trail narrows near the top of the slide
The trail flattens out up on the ridge of Owls Head
The trail flattens out up on the ridge of Owls Head
Some open sites right on the ridge on the way to the official summit.  To the left you can see a(likely illegal) fire ring
Some open sites right on the ridge on the way to the official summit. To the left you can see a(likely illegal) fire ring
The summit cairn of Owlshead.  Another one off the list ;-)
The summit cairn of Owlshead. Another one off the list 😉
A bent tree along the way.
A bent tree along the way.
Another view toward Franconia ridge
Another view toward Franconia ridge
Looking down the ledge part of the slide
Looking down the ledge part of the slide
Set up camp right next to the riverbed.  A great spot
Set up camp right next to the riverbed. A great spot
Another view of the summit cairn without the scattered packs
Another view of the summit cairn without the scattered packs
A perfect dinner setting
A perfect dinner setting
Just a few feet from the river, a great place to hang
Just a few feet from the river, a great place to hang
The start of the new day and the trail is routed around this wash out where the trial sank into the riverbed.
The start of the new day and the trail is routed around this wash out where the trial sank into the riverbed.
A rocky crossing, easily navigable
A rocky crossing, easily navigable
Lincoln Brook trail was a little wet in spots.  Trail maintenance was great in most areas
Lincoln Brook trail was a little wet in spots. Trail maintenance was great in most areas
This was a little messy.  The mud was very sticky, I was able to avoid stepping in too deep
This was a little messy. The mud was very sticky, I was able to avoid stepping in too deep
Well placed logs helped minimize this messy spot
Well placed logs helped minimize this messy spot
Crossing the upper 13 Falls area
Crossing the upper 13 Falls area
Looking down at the carved rock while crossing
Looking down at the carved rock while crossing
The carved route of the falls
The carved route of the falls
Looking up at some of 13 Falls area
Looking up at some of 13 Falls area
The trail crosses this large ledge area just below 13 Falls campsite
The trail crosses this large ledge area just below 13 Falls campsite
Self explanatory
Self explanatory
A short stint on Franconia Brook Trail
A short stint on Franconia Brook Trail
The fork where Franconia Brook continues toward Garfield, but I steer right toward Galehead
The fork where Franconia Brook continues toward Garfield, but I steer right toward Galehead
After a short steep push to the junction of Twin Brook Trail and Frost Trail about .1 mi from Galehead hut
After a short steep push to the junction of Twin Brook Trail and Frost Trail about .1 mi from Galehead hut
The crowds weren't in the hut, but sitting on the lookout to the right.  In the neighborhood of 15-20 lingering about
The crowds weren’t in the hut, but sitting on the lookout to the right. In the neighborhood of 15-20 lingering about
Giant and delicious oatmeal raisin cookies at the hut
Giant and delicious oatmeal raisin cookies at the hut
Looking into the Pemi from the hut.  Galehead Mt to the right, South Twin rising up to the left.
Looking into the Pemi from the hut. Galehead Mt to the right, South Twin rising up to the left.
Approaching the summit of South Twin Mt.  This is along steep push up but well worth the effort
Approaching the summit of South Twin Mt. This is along steep push up but well worth the effort
Views to the Presidential range from South Twin.  Mt Washington being the tallest in the center
Views to the Presidential range from South Twin. Mt Washington being the tallest in the center
Peeking through the trees on the Twinway, siting West Bond
Peeking through the trees on the Twinway, siting West Bond
Poking out of the trees approaching Guyot.  The hump in the middle is Owlshead and the range beyond is Franconia.  The two pointy peaks to the left are Mt Flume and Mt Liberty.
Poking out of the trees approaching Guyot. The hump in the middle is Owlshead and the range beyond is Franconia. The two pointy peaks to the left are Mt Flume and Mt Liberty.
Descending Mt Bond looking toward my next destination, Bondcliff
Descending Mt Bond looking toward my next destination, Bondcliff
Beautiful colors as the sun was sinking in the sky.  This is from Bondcliff looking over Owlshead
Beautiful colors as the sun was sinking in the sky. This is from Bondcliff looking over Owlshead
West Bond to the left, Mt Bond to the right.  The ledge jutting out is one of the more popular photographed spots in the Pemi
West Bond to the left, Mt Bond to the right. The ledge jutting out is one of the more popular photographed spots in the Pemi
Here it is again.  A couple had just finished taking turns taking their photos of each other sitting, standing, yoga poses out on the ledge.
Here it is again. A couple had just finished taking turns taking their photos of each other sitting, standing, yoga poses out on the ledge.
Amazing views to Mt Carrigain from Bondcliff
Amazing views to Mt Carrigain from Bondcliff
The small chimney below Bondcliff.  Not a difficult drop, but with a big pack some care is needed.
The small chimney below Bondcliff. Not a difficult drop, but with a big pack some care is needed.
Leaving the summit, on the fast track back to Lincoln Woods Trail head.  Not much sunlight remains and I want to make good time to minimize headlamp hiking
Leaving the summit, on the fast track back to Lincoln Woods Trail head. Not much sunlight remains and I want to make good time to minimize headlamp hiking
Directional sign.  I believe this is the elbow of Bondcliff trail near an old junction to a former bridge(washed out) that takes you to Cedar Brook trail
Directional sign. I believe this is the elbow of Bondcliff trail near an old junction to a former bridge(washed out) that takes you to Cedar Brook trail
3 way Trail junction seen the day prior.  Lincoln Woods Trail, Bondcliff Trail and Franconia Brook trail.  I am making my way back LWT.
3 way Trail junction seen the day prior. Lincoln Woods Trail, Bondcliff Trail and Franconia Brook trail. I am making my way back LWT.
Crossing the bridge over Franconia Branch by headlamp
Crossing the bridge over Franconia Branch by headlamp
Trail sign near the LWT trail head.  Behind me in the bridge to the trail head.
Trail sign near the LWT trail head. Behind me in the bridge to the trail head.
Crossing the suspension bridge to the LWT trail head.  Only a couple tenths more to my car
Crossing the suspension bridge to the LWT trail head. Only a couple tenths more to my car
A long day.  I left the Owlshead base about 0930 and made it the 21 miles just after 2200.  I set my clock 10 minutes fast ;-).  My feet are sore and I'm worn but otherwise in good shape
A long day. I left the Owlshead base about 0930 and made it the 21 miles just after 2200. I set my clock 10 minutes fast ;-).
My feet are sore and I’m worn but otherwise in good shape

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