My Failed Owl’s Head Attempt from the North Side

Owl’s Head is the only mountain standing between me and my goal of climbing all 48 4000 footers in NH. I recently made an attempt at this mountain from the Lincoln Brook trail on the seldom traveled north side but was turned back by treacherous trail conditions and fading light. However, the trip was still a success since we bagged Galehead and spent some quality time in the Pemigewasset Wilderness. 
The bridge at Loon Mountain
I headed to the Whites in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene. It was amazing and sad to see remnants of flood damage and closed roads throughout the state. Our hiking plans depended on which roads and trails were open and accessible. I was very excited to see that Lincoln Woods was open which meant an attempt on Owl’s Head would be possible.
Careful planning
Our day 1 plan was to take the Gale River Trail to Galehead Hut, bag Galehead then head down the Lincoln Brook Trail and camp somewhere near the base of Owl’s head. The next day we intended to summit Owl’s Head and then head out via the Lincoln Brook/ Lincoln Woods Trail. We knew the mileage was ambitious and that this was a rarely used route to Owl’s Head but that made it more fun.
 We started the hike in great spirits despite the rainy weather forecast. The Gale River Trail was rocky with a consistent and view free climb. We did not miss views since we were just excited to be hiking in the Whites. We arrived at the Galehead hut and met a diverse range of hikers that included an ultra trail runner, an AT through hiker and several others with many dogs. I always like stopping at the AMC huts because the people are friendly and the facilities beat the alternatives. 
 After a quick break we did the easy and uneventful .5 mile climb to the wooded summit of Galehead. This was a victorious moment since one of the people in our group had been injured and forced to turn back before reaching the summit a few years ago. We stopped by the lookout just below the summit on our way back but thick cloud cover denied us any epic views. 
No views in sight

By now it was well into the afternoon and we still hoped to cover roughly 7 miles to get to a campsite near the base of Owl’s Head via the Lincoln Brook trail. This meant we had a lot of ground to cover and precious few hours of daylight. The Lincoln Brook Trail was very rough with plenty of roots and rocks which slowed our speed considerably. It was almost 5 pm by the time we covered the 2.7 miles between the Galehead Hut and the 13 Falls Campsite. The campsite was full of relaxed people and inviting swimming holes. We had already covered 8 miles but chose to press on to avoid an extremely long hike on the following day.

The “trail”
 We soon found that the Lincoln Brook Trail is not maintained past the 13 Falls Campsite. The trail climbed consistently with a slew of wet rocks, mud, roots and other hiking hazards. This slowed us down considerably. Things only seemed to be getting worse as the trail seemed to be evolving into a swamp. 
This was when we ran into a hiker coming from the opposite direction who had just finished his 48 4000ers on Ow’ls Head. His pants were torn, his boots were shredded and he looked defeated. He told us that this trail was the worst trail he had ever seen, it almost brought him to tears and that it only got worse. He was so tired that he did not even seem excited about finishing his 48. We made sure he had enough food and water, and wished him luck on his journey out.
 It was now about 6 pm, with less than an hour of daylight left, which meant that a tough decision had to be made. We could have pressed on into uncertain and uninviting terrain in hopes of finding a campsite near Owl’s Head or we could retreat back to the 13 Falls Tent site and abandon our Owl’s Head bid. Everyone in the group was tired and did not want to risk not finding a campsite. Therefore we decided to fall back to the 13 Falls Tent site.
The trip back proved how tired we were. I slipped on many rocks and even fell into a stream; turning back was the right call. We got back to the 13 Falls Tent site just before dark. I changed into dry clothes, cooked a hot dinner and all was well with the world. 
 The next day we hiked out the easy 8 mile hike on old rail beds via the Lincoln Woods Trail. I had no regret about not getting Owl’s Head since we made the right call for the situation we were facing. 
Owl’s head won the battle, not the war
We will take on Owl’s Head again, from the south. 
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3 thoughts on “My Failed Owl’s Head Attempt from the North Side

  1. That trail looks and sounds awful. You absolutely made the right call in turning back. Owl's Head will always be there. It's too bad this trail from the north isn't maintained to give peakbaggers an alternate route to get to the peakbagger's nemesis (Owl's Head). I'm glad to hear you had a great time despite missing #48. Nice report and pics. Great job on a successful journey, even without Owl's Head!

    Karl

  2. That trail down to 13 falls from Galehead is no cakewalk itself. I had a similar experience on a trip in there when a group coming the other way looked totally shell-shocked and demoralized. Sounds like you made the right call. It'll be much more fun to hit it in the winter anyway!

  3. My Brother and I have taken the Lincoln Brook Trail after descending Owl's Head and it is indeed one of the worst trails we've ever been on! It was more than slow going through the unmarked swamps and unmaintained areas, arriving at 13 Falls Campsite at about 9p.
    Great trip report!
    Scott

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