Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Owl's Head

Al Bernier organized a run/hike of Owl’s Head for Friday and I just couldn’t resist.  I love this section of the Pemigewasset Wilderness.  Petey and I had been running up there since the mid 1980’s.  The Owl’s Head peak is one of the most remote 4,000’ peaks in New Hampshire.  It is my kind of peak with about 8.5 miles to the base that is mostly very run-able, then a very steep 1 mile hike.  So I’d be able to run (on a good day) about 17 miles along with a hike.  It doesn’t get better than that!

I met up with Albe and his crew from Rhode Island at the Lincoln Woods trail head.  We quickly gathered up our gear and were off.  The last time I’d done this run (August of 2007) we’d made the round-trip in under 4 hours so I wasn’t carrying much gear.  I did bring poles with me this time figuring they’d come in handy for the river crossings.  The first river crossing was very easy as we crossed the East Branch just before 10am and then headed up the Lincoln Brook trail.

We covered the first three miles on the LB trail in just over 24 minutes on the gentle climb from 1,157’ to 1,413’.  We crossed over the Franconia Brook on the final bridge we’d see on the way to Owl’s Head.  Soon after we turned north onto the Franconia Brook trail, the climbing remained gentle but the footing became a bit muddier thanks to the rains we’d recently experienced.  The group seemed to be in good spirits with many topics being discussed as we moved along.  We crossed a couple of minor streams then reached the big crossing of Franconia Brook.  Al attempted a crossing via a tree that was at best ill advised.

 We all searched up and down the stream for a decent spot but the water was running high and fast.  We had a few tricky spots and spent a lot of time (about an hour) trying to work out a way to cross without getting wet.  The biggest fear wasn’t wet feet…if one of us fell in that early in the run we’d have to turn back.  Eventually we all made it across and headed off down the trail. 

We reached the slide “herd path” (the unmaintained trail to the summit) which is at about 2,600’ in 2:44:20 for the approximately 8.5 miles.

We took a very short break for gels or energy bars and started hiking while still chomping.  With the slower than expected time to the slide we were a little concerned about getting back out before dark (although we all had a fair amount of cold weather gear and headlamps).  It’s just a bit harder to run in the woods in the dark, so avoiding that makes things easier.  We worked our way up the slide fairly quickly.  There was a little bit of slick rock and one minor icy spot.  I chose to bushwhack the upper part of the slide and made good time in the woods with plenty of trees to hold onto.  We reached the summit (4,025’) in 3:37:43, which meant our climb was 53:23.  We spent less than 5 minutes on the summit taking a couple of pictures.  There was a big snow squall closing in and the ground was already slick with some icy pellets.  It snowed and got pretty dark for most of our descent.  About ¼ of the way down we all opted for the woods and in those conditions it made for a fairly quick drop.  We were back at the trail 48:47 after standing on the summit.

We had a quick group discussion about whether we wanted to take the bushwhack loop or attempt the stream crossings.  The consensus was that we could make much better time with the stream crossings on the way back as we were all a lot more confident in our rock hopping abilities and cared a lot less about a full immersion.  With little trouble at all we made our way back to the Lincoln Woods trail in 1:19:57 (one hour faster than it took us on the way out).  No one fell in and as a group we seemed to be still moving well and having a good time.

So at 5:46:29 into our adventure we turned onto the Lincoln Woods trail and covered the last three miles in 24:43 for a total time of 6:11:10 for the 16 miles of running and 3 miles of hiking with 3,868’ of climb and descent.  Best of all, my calf felt no worse for the workout and I was ready to attempt a race.