Friday’s weather looked to be nice, so Cameron chose to tackle one of the longer remaining hikes for his list: Owl’s Head. At 18 miles round trip, there was question as to whether he could do it in a day or not, so we packed up the gear to camp out if we needed to, got up really early and headed for Lincoln Woods. We also talked a bit about strategy for this hike if he wanted to complete it in one day. The biggest adjustment was to the break schedule. Usually, we take a break for every 1000ft. of elevation gain, but for this hike, we were going to take a 5 minute break every hour, whether we felt we needed it or not. With the exception of Owl’s Head Path, where we took breaks as needed, this worked very well, and kept Cameron from being too worn out to keep hiking.
We were on the trail at 6:00am. Yes, that was early, but that was his choice. He wanted to have enough time to finish the hike if he thought he was feeling good. We crossed the suspension bridge and started the hike to our first major destination: the footbridge over Franconia Brook. We made it there in good time, so over we went and into the Pemigewasset Wilderness.
After pointing out the Wilderness Trail, which leads to Bondcliff Trail and other points, we took a left and headed up Franconia Brook Trail. We reached the junction of Lincoln Brook and Franconia BrookTrails, noted the nice new sign and took a left on Lincoln Brook Trail.
We then proceeded toward the next big destination of the day: the two large crossings of Franconia and Lincoln Brooks. I knew the water levels were not high, from checking the USGS website. We surveyed the first crossing and after changing into water shoes, we headed across, mostly on the rocks, but having to wade a bit in places. Not bad, and we were off to the second large crossing. Again, we surveyed the situation, and headed across. With those crossings behind us, the hiking shoes were back on and we head to our next destination: the base of the Owl’s Head slide.
We did pretty well reaching our goal, and after a nice big rest break, we started up the slide around 11:00am. We had talked about it and decided that I would leave my pack with all the gear in it at the slide entrance and that I’d carry his pack with the important stuff in it, while he would go packless. We thought this would give him the best chance of getting up and down the slide easily. I wasn’t sure how Cameron would react to this slide, especially since a good portion of it is loose and gravelly. He did well with the trip on the North Tripyramid Slide until he got to the very top, where the loose rocks unnerved him a bit, so I wasn’t sure this slide would be much better. I did my best to be honest about what was ahead, so he knew it might be a bit rough for a while.
Much to my surprise, he did very well with the slide. He went first, picking his route and I paralleled him on the slide, so that we wouldn’t kick loose stones down on one another. He kept looking back at Franconia Ridge and marveling at the views. He was really impressed with the Franconias, which will make his trip there that much more exciting. We finally got into the woods and continued up, up, up. We saw another solo hiker behind us and we hiked the rest of the way to the summits with him. We found the “old” summit, and then continued on the way to the “new” summit, following the herd paths, and going around and over the blowdowns. We finally arrived at the last clearing and were happy to have made it. The cairn was larger than last year’s and the most recent summit sign was gone, but we were in the right place!
After eating part of our lunch, we started to retrace our steps back to the slide. Progress was slow, but steady, as much of the roots and rocks were wet and slick. Once back on the open section of slide, we stopped for a cookie and some Gatorade, made from the small spring on the slide, and to enjoy the views of Franconia Ridge one last time before plunging down back into the trees for the long walk out. Cameron did a great job on the descent, and actually enjoyed it. I wasn’t so sure how he would do descending, since we did not do the South Tripyramid slide, due to the loose gravel. On this slide, we worked out a system, where he would go toward a particular target, and once there and in a safe spot, he’d wave me down and I’d descend. We repeated this down the loose section of slide until we got back to the trees. It worked well, and he gained confidence to pick out a route on his own and manage the loose rock. I think that now he would have no problem with the South Tri slide.
We were happy to see the entrance to the slide and take a big break before deciding what to do. By this time it was a little after 2p – really too early camp, but plenty of time to get back to Lincoln Woods. He decided to hike out, so around 2:30p, we set off toward Lincoln Woods. We moved along at a good clip, and soon were back at the two big crossings and we decided just to head across and enjoy the cold water as much as possible while still being safe. With the two crossings behind us, we were closing in on new territory for Cameron: he’d never hiked or walked over 12.5 miles in one day. He just kept on walking, and with plenty of scheduled breaks, we made it back onto Franconia Brook Trail, then to the footbridge and then down Lincoln Woods Trail.
At this point, our feet started to hurt on the bottom, but we just kept walking. I think he now knows why just the mention of Lincoln Woods can elicit groans from other hikers. The walk just seems to go on longer than it needs to and it pretty much looks all the same. We took one last break at the Osseo Trail junction, and soon were very happy to see the large yellow easel and knew the suspension bridge was not far. A quick crossing of bridge, up the stairs and we were done! We did the trip in 11 hours, 20 minutes, which we thought was pretty reasonable, considering the amount of breaks we took and the extra time on the slide.
We were very thankful to be blessed with such a great day with good weather, and extra strength and courage when we needed it!