Owls Butt, 15 FEB 2010
I’ve been thinking about getting this pig out of the way this winter, when the snow and well-tramped whacks would make this easier to deal with, but the 16.5 miles really put me off. I’ve never done a hike that long ever, but when Joe mentioned this, I jumped at it. There are a lot of flat miles in there, so how bad could it be? The answer: Not bad. And bad. It just depended on when you asked me.
Of all the 3k’s I have left (plenty), this is the only one requiring long miles (I’m not doing winter lists, I just plain haven’t been to Owls Head before). I still need W. Bond and Zealand, but plan on an overnight to really soak that traverse in. I was nervous given I haven’t done much miles at all in the past couple of months, but hey, I can suck it up and deal with it. Besides with the crew we had, I figured it would basically suck and be a lot of fun. I was right.
Brian (New Hampshire) and I carpooled for once in my car, giving him a break for once. This was a mistake as you may have heard about already. We met Joe (JustJoe), Kelly (KellyK), Pete (Trailcred) and Tony (AngelOfDeath) in the Lincoln Woods lot. Being the first time I had met Tony, I tried to make him feel welcome by screaming that an Angel of Death was coming with us, but really, he’s the friendliest Grim Reaper I’ve ever met. We set off at a leisurely 8:00 (mainly because I didn’t want to wake up at 4:anything, and the traffic situation would be better for our metro Boston friends). We saw a lonely figure stretching right away on the bridge, and lo and behold it was Erin (ScenicNH), who Brian knows well, and Joe and I ran into in the Baldfaces. I’ve been seeing a lot of “we bumped into Erin” TR’s lately. So it only seemed natural we should bump into Erin, who was about to head out for some explorations of his second home, but as it turns out decided to join us for the day. We chatted, holding up the rest of the group with only 100 feet of trail down and 87,020 to go, but soon we all set off together, with Brian and Erin catching up with each other, and occasionally Erin throwing out a nugget of some fascinating Pemi history. Joe’s interested in the historical aspects of the forest, too, so this was a real treat for us this day.
I’ve never been on the Lincoln Woods Trail before. Shocking, yes? No, I’ve walked this old railroad before, but it was called the Wilderness Trail the last time I was here. It was 1986 for an interesting loop of up the Franconia Brook Trail to the Twin Brook Trail (another name changed), to Galehead and over the Bonds on a 2 day trip (the more astute of you will notice I skipped W. Bond… what you don’t know is that was the 2nd time I skipped it - argh). I enjoyed the trail this morning immensely, it really is a pretty little piece of scenery, and wondered why everyone curses this trail. That would come later.
We headed off for Black Pond and the obligatory pictures, with Bondcliff kissing the clouds. Erin realized he had bumped into Kelly and Pete previously, saying they were really unique looking, making for much merriment amongst us, which I promised to file away for public amusement. Erin assured them it was a good thing, I assured them he was lying.
The Black Pond bushwhack was well tracked out, and Erin, who knows this neck of the woods better than any of us, realized it was following the horrid Drunken Sailor bushwhack. I refuse to now call this the Black Pond bushwhack. First, it’s loaded with PUD’s, and it comes out well below the Lincoln Brook crossing. I tried spying from the Lincoln Brook Trail if there were any tracks on the correct (what I will now only refer to as the) Black Pond bushwhack, but I missed them, probably because it was further up than I realized. We had some nice views of the ledges of Owls Head (the real one at the south end of the ridge), and the wonderfully ledgey peak near it. Brian and I were both drooling and vowing to go there at some point. Oh the Pemi is such a gem.
The Lincoln Brook Trail was quite pleasant, a nice little ravine walk, and soon we came to faint tracks heading up (which I saw where they joined high up later), and further up the trail to a far more tracked out route, which we took. Along the way, I had thought about bailing, as I was getting a lot of pain right where my inner leg comes into my groin, I think from a lot of fast walking the past couple of days. The good thing about being with friends is it’s a lot easier to push yourself on. When we started climbing, I was quite happy as the pain disappeared to be replaced with burning calves. The group moved ahead, with Brian and I behind. Brian told me to go ahead if I wished, to which I declined because I knew his pace would be great for me. I could have gone a little faster, but probably would’ve completely burned out, and besides the slow pace made for good conversation at the breaks. The Brutus is Brutal. It’s everything a Newfoundland is not. It’s not gentle, it’s not friendly. You could say it’s big, but it’s big like an English Mastiff, not a Newf. It’s a 2200 foot unrelentingly steep climb up to the ridge. I told Brian I felt like I was climbing Everest. 50 slow, carefully placed steps. Rest. Repeat. Sucking wind. Much to my joy,at least views of Flume, parts of Liberty and Lincoln were opening up and the sun was coming out. We came to a tent in a perfect spot (especially on this slope) which Brian was sure belonged to DaveBear, who he knew was out on his own adventure for the weekend.
Both Brian and I made the mistake of checking our altimeters too often. The feet ticked off slowly, and I was really bonking. Brian mentioned he should’ve eaten, I knew I should’ve had something, but we kept pushing on, wanting this cursed pig to be done with. We further discussed the anatomy of Owls Head. I had mentioned earlier that my contention was if the Owls Head was at the south end, surely the summit must be the butt. Thus, Owls Butt is my name for this, but by this point, I thought this was far too kind of a term. We floated further derogatory anatomical references, having completely gone from silly humor to dark humor.
We had passed a couple of ladies making their way up, a little slower than us, and we were pretty pokey, but no matter, they were chugging along at their own pace. It was still before 1 o’clock and we were ready for a headlamp finish. Just get this pig done and over with and neither of us will ever have to return again. Ever. We came to the top of the slide route and I was surprised at the quality of the one blue blaze I saw. A pro job! We then ran into DaveBear coming down and had a nice chat.
We finally (FINALLY!) made the ridge and came across 3 older guys getting ready to head down. Dang. Hope I’m doing as well as they are at their age. We pushed on to the old summit where Erin and Joe were waiting, Kelly, Pete and Tony having gone on to the new summit. It felt danged good to dump the pack at this point. I was all but spent, and now hated this mountain immensely. A lot of work for very little reward other than a hard workout and one more ticked off the stupid list. It was about 1:15, having started the whack at 11:30. We set off for the new summit along the herd path that is now firmly established, where I flipped it a certain salute. I at least got some views of Carrigain, Vose and Lowell and some other peaks along the ridge.
Just before 2:00 we set off, with one of the ladies we saw on the way up just reaching the old summit, and the other one not too far behind. It was an unbelievably short (and happy!) trip down, about 35 minutes to do what took us 1:45 to get up. We glissaded a short stretch only to find a low hanging blowdown coming our way which required a quick duck, only to find an upright tree requiring a quick turn. Marveling at our cat-like agility, we walked the rest of the way. We didn’t want to be the next HardCoreIdiot.
DaveBear was waiting for us at the bottom, so we all set off on the slog back down the Lincoln Brook Trail. Dave was in the lead, and went off on the correct Black Pond bushwhack, which made me and others very happy (thank you Dave!). This was somewhat visible as near as I could tell, but being last in line, I couldn’t tell for how much of the trail. We got slightly derailed once due to lack of obvious travel, and even though Dave knows this route well, Erin knew it better to point up to exactly where it was, just 50 yards off. We met up with the morning’s whack eventually. What a difference between the two. One pleasant, the other just plain junky. The whack’s still not perfect, as it goes up near the pond when it could’ve just stuck to the contour, but hey, it beat going the long way.
We chatted for a while at the pond and took more pictures, with the sun now hitting Bondcliff. More history from Erin and a pleasantly flattish trail made for a quick journey to the Lincoln Woods Trail. I was looking forward to the glorified road walk, at that lasted for a wonderful mile. The next mile, not so much, but thanks to Erin I was looking at the woods a little differently, sometimes able to see where a fascinating history of human hands and machines had changed things. Alas, by the last mile, I too was cursing this trail. An endless white strip of never-fulfilling promise. Brian and I cursed ourselves for bringing the shoes along for the ride. It was bareboots and spikes all day, conditions were just as reported the previous day. It was all but dark by the time we hit the parking lot at 6 PM, but we didn’t need the headlamps.
I loaded up the car, happy to get the pack off my sore shoulders once and for all. Despite the long slogs, the horridly steep and long climb, I felt good that I had this peak finally under my belt, I was feeling good physically considering I haven’t done over 8 miles since mid-October, I had some GREAT company for the day (thank you all!), and Brian and I had plenty of plans to re-visit some interesting features of this area.
Me: “I’ll never see this part of the mountain again.”
Brian: “What about the slide?”
Me (enthusiastically): “Oh yeah, I’ll do the slide! I’ll be quite happy to sit at the top of it while everyone else does whatever.”
Whilst milling about, I noticed a plastic envelope taped to my car with a violation inside. Long story short, I didn’t notice the pay stations, thought they were all closed in winter, screwed up and forgot to pay my $3. Oh crap, my bad. OK, let’s have a looksie. Hmmm, must be $7.50. Uhhhh, what? WHAT???? $75??? $50 fine plus a hefty $25 admin. fee???? You gotta be #$#@# kidding me! &%^#! $&^%$#!!! #$&^%#&^%#@!!!!!! My sentiments were evenly felt upon my compatriots. A rotten ending to an otherwise fine day.
As it turns out, I read this morning on hike-nh a couple of ladies were missing from an Owls Head hike. It was creepy, because I was wondering if I might see something about them, because I knew they’d be coming out in the dark, with at least a couple of Black Pond whack options, and I had no idea what their experience might be. My heart sunk when I saw the subject and link, but was hugely relieved to find that they were safe. As it turns out, they were both experienced and well-geared for just such an event. Not sure what happened, but I won’t play armchair quarterback. There are times when something similar could’ve happened to me. I will say this, for one of the ladies it was a 48 finish she’ll never forget.
Best line of the day was hearing a “Sweet Sassy Molassy” from Kelly.
Most Likely to Be Yogi Berra Award goes to Joe remarking on Brian knocking snow off the trees: “By the time it hits the ground, it’s in my face!”
Best moment of self-realization: Me: “Hey, I didn’t do anything stupid today! That’s a first!” Brian: “You don’t call not paying the fee stupid?” Me:”Ohhhhh, yeah. Hey, my record’s still perfect!”
How everything is perspective (hopefully have this right):
Me: “This is my FIRST and LAST time here.”
Joe: “This is my SECOND and LAST time here.”
Brian: “This is my THIRD and LAST time here.”
(likely more in the same vein)
Erin: “This is my FIRST time here. This week.”