Around the Owl via 13 Falls

IMG_2583Cameron and I (Ethan) headed out for a two day hike around Owl’s Head this weekend, starting and ending at Lincoln Woods parking lot off the Kanc. Since some of the trail we covered is a road less traveled, I thought I’d blog the highlights of the trip.

Franconia Falls Trail (Day 1)

A popular trail, but worth the jaunt down if you’ve only ever walked by the junction on your way into the Pemi. An easy walk, a nice reward. Trail is terminated by an “End of Trail” sign, although there’s a herd path that goes on past it.

In theory, the herd path would take you up to a crossing of Lincoln Brook along Lincoln Brook Trail, although I’m speculating that it goes that far. I bring this up for those who trek out to Owl’s Head. The last two crossings along Lincoln Brook Trail if you’re heading back towards Lincoln Woods could be avoided by bushwhacking along the south bank of the Lincoln Brook, ending up at Franconia Falls Trail. This is mentioned in the official White Mountain Guide as a safer alternate route back to Lincoln Woods Trail during high water.

One of these days when I’m feeling a bit spunkier, I’m going to head past the end of trail sign on Franconia Falls Trail, and see how navigable the south bank is. It was tempting to try it today, but we opted to stick to the trail, despite knowing we’d end up with wet feet.

Franconia Falls

Franconia Falls

Franconia Falls was awash in butterflies. Several of them were gathered by a rock. Mating frenzy? Uncertain.

Franconia Falls was awash in butterflies. Several of them were gathered by a rock, just a few of which are pictured here. Mating frenzy? Uncertain.

Franconia Brook Trail (Day 1)

This is a mostly flat, generally easy to follow trail running mostly north and south, with Owl’s Head to the west and the Bonds to the east. The three major stream crossings, discussed in the White Mountain Guide, were significant and required care. When heading northbound, FB Trail turns to the west where you’ll find Thirteen Falls Tentsite, named because it was the site of Camp 13, not because there are 13 waterfalls — although the cascades are lovely.

A view to the Bonds from Franconia Brook Trail.

A view to the Bonds from Franconia Brook Trail.

Looking back (south) at one of the stream crossings along Franconia Brook Trail.

Looking back (south) at one of the stream crossings along Franconia Brook Trail.

Near the bottom on Thirteen Falls, looking upstream

Near the bottom on Thirteen Falls, looking upstream.

The official 13 Falls Tentsite layout. There are (count them) 9 hardened tent sites. Not 8. Not 24. (Both of those values turn up in a Google search.)

The official 13 Falls Tentsite layout. There are (count them) 9 hardened tent sites. Not 8. Not 24. (Both of those values turn up in a Google search.)

13 Falls Tentsite caretaker's tent. Her name was Catherine. She was lovely and personable -- a pleasure to meet.

13 Falls Tentsite caretaker’s tent. Her name was Catherine. She was lovely and personable — a pleasure to meet.

Lincoln Brook Trail (Day 2)

The section of Lincoln Brook Trail between Owl’s Head Path and the southern end of Franconia Brook Trail is reasonably well traveled by 4K list seekers. The section between Thirteen Falls Tentsite at Franconia Brook Trail and north of Owl’s Head Path is not well traveled at all. Really — not at all.

While it’s fresh in my mind, I thought I’d share what stuck out about Lincoln Brook Trail’s northern section.

  1. The first thing you do after passing by Thirteen Falls Tentsite is cross the falls. At high water, you’ll get wet feet without question. Not wanting to start our day wet, we bushwhacked (followed a herd path, really) about 100 yards up stream and was able to carefully cross and stay dry. Bushwhacking back down the falls led to the trail with no trouble.
  2. Lincoln Brook Trail climbs steadily from Thirteen Falls to height of land along the northwest shoulder of Owl’s Head. This was largely easy to follow, with rare-for-the-wilderness yellow blazes. Not fresh, but there surprisingly often. The trail was plenty wide for long stretches in this section, and the section that the book describes as hard to follow due to criss-crossing stream beds was not terribly mysterious. If in doubt, just follow the saw work.
  3. Descending from height of land, the trail turns south and narrows. The trail winds through open conifer forests in sections, and is definitely hard to follow at times. Several times, we’d have to stop and stare ahead to determine where the trail might be. A few times, we got it wrong, but realized it quickly after 100 feet or so — the forest would become clearly not trail. We had to back up and try again, but it was never hard to regain the proper footpath. It helped that Cameron and I were together. One of us would anchor at the last known good bit of trail, while the other would forage ahead until we sorted it out. If you’re solo, take care. Anchoring with a bit of orange tape wouldn’t be a bad idea. I can see getting turned around in there if you’re alone and lose your reference point.
  4. Note that we did have the advantage of a pleasant, sunny day with sight lines to (at intervals) Garfield Ridge, Franconia Ridge, and Owl’s Head. Even just peeking through the canopy, we were always able to tell what mountains were around us. Add to that checks of the map, referencing the sun as it climbed over Owl’s Head, listening to the noise of the brook, and taking occasional compass readings meant that we were able to walk confidently even in those fuzzy “Where’s the trail?” moments. On an overcast day with the summits in the clouds, navigation still wouldn’t have been too hard, but there would have been no distant reference points to inspire that extra dose of confidence that we all appreciate when tramping in remote wilderness.
Lincoln Brook Trail sign near 13 Falls Tentsite.

Lincoln Brook Trail sign near 13 Falls Tentsite.

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Looking back at another stream crossing not far from Thirteen Falls.

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Ascending west along Lincoln Brook Trail. Lots of birch branches down, common along this stretch.

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A peek up to Mt. Garfield from Lincoln Brook Trail.

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Lots of water, mud, rocks, roots, and other challenges for your feet along Lincoln Brook Trail.

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In the northernmost section of Lincoln Brook Trail, yellow blazes appear from time to time as mentioned in the White Mountain Guide.

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A view up to Franconia Ridge from a boggy area near height of land on the northwest shoulder of Owl’s Head.

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A massive washout along Lincoln Brook Trail north of Owl’s Head Path. The trail continues in the upper left corner of the shot.

Owl’s Head Path (Day 2)

We couldn’t walk by Owl’s Head Path and not bag Owl’s Head again. It was the second time for both of us. We dropped our heavy overnight packs, and went up. Not a lot of point in going over in detail what’s widely known about the trail. It’s steep. It’s rough. It’s a slide with lots of loose rock, although there are nice views up to Franconia Ridge. Water falls over parts of it. There’s a herd path at the top that takes you to the true summit. There are no summit views other than what you can glimpse from between the trees. The ascent trail is hard to get to, and hard to get both up and down. One of the tougher peaks to bag for this reason. Plan on a long day, but not unreasonable if you’re mentally prepared.

The June 14, 2015 version of the Owl's Head summit cairn.

The June 14, 2015 version of the Owl’s Head summit cairn.

The view to Franconia Ridge from Owl's Head summit.

The view to Franconia Ridge from Owl’s Head summit. You can just make out Lincoln slide.

The view to Franconia Ridge from Owl's Head slide.

The view to Franconia Ridge from Owl’s Head slide. I’ve read about people who bushwhack from Franconia Ridge to Owl’s Head starting at the V-shaped Lincoln slide seen above.

Cairns marking the entrance to Owl's Head Path.

Cairns marking the entrance to Owl’s Head Path.

Another view of the entrance to Owl's Head Path, this one pointing up the hill. Between the logs and the cairns, the entrance is pretty hard to miss as it currently stands. However, this is a wilderness area, so I'm always paranoid the USFS is going to restore this area to wilderness standards. That is, unmarked since Owl's Head Path is not an official trail.

Another view of the entrance to Owl’s Head Path, this one pointing up the hill. Between the logs and the cairns, the entrance is pretty hard to miss as it currently stands. However, this is a wilderness area, so I’m always paranoid the USFS is going to restore this area to wilderness standards. That is, unmarked since Owl’s Head Path is not an official trail.

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2 thoughts on “Around the Owl via 13 Falls

  1. Ethan,

    That’s a great hike you and Cameron were able to get in. He’s looking older. I have thought about that loop so its great to see this, especially the current state of the northern section of the lincoln brook trail.

    John

    • It was a good tramp, yep! We have to connect for some future hikes. I’m working on redlining Cannon/Kinsman and Franconias sections. I’m closest to completing those two.

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