If you were reading my trip report of our climb up Owls Head last month in July
, you know that we used mountain bikes on the Lincoln Woods trail up to Franconia Brook. In terms of the regulations of the White Mountain National Forest, this is totally ok. However, it was pointed out to me by a fellow hiker (thanks, Clay) that the organization that ratifies the "NE 111er" designation only allows the use of mountain bikes on a climb if you are on a logging road and it is "not part of an officially maintained trail"
(and the Lincoln Woods trail is indeed designated as a 'trail'). Furthermore, there is a specific note that reads "In particular, note that using a bike on the Lincoln Woods/Wilderness Trail on the way to Owl's Head or the Bonds is not acceptable"
. That pretty much clinched it.
Anyway, so our initial climb of Owls Head, while successful in the absolute sense, does not meet the criteria for the NE111er list. And since I've got this crazy notion in my mind to complete and register for the NE111ers, I decided to re-do the hike. Sans bikes. That brings us to this trip report: Owls Head redux -- following the rules
to read the accounting of the first Owls Head climb).
Anyway, so here we were, six weeks later, back at the Lincoln Woods Visitor center. The big change between then and now, apart from having no bikes, was the weather. Whereas almost all of the last two months had been cool and practically raining buckets, the weekend of August 16-17 saw the first real hot, dry weather of the year. It had not rained for several days, and the forecast was for more [hot dry weather]. It was still quite humid, though, and we knew that we would soon be sweating buckets. We started nice and early (around 6am) in order to make good headway before the heat of the day arrived.
As we made our way across the big suspension bridge connecting the Visitor center parking lot to the Lincoln Woods trail, we noticed another improvement over last time: the recent dry weather had dramatically lowered the flow of water in the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River. This almost certainly meant that all tributaries of the river were also way down in flow, which was good -- last time, the rivers were running very high and presented a bit of a crossing problem.
After signing in to the trail register, we started walking at a very brisk pace up the Lincoln Woods trail. I decided that we were going to try the 'Black Pond' option today. This is a bushwhack route that cuts a fair bit of distance off of the trail-only approach to the base of the main route up Owls Head. Six weeks ago, we had tried a slightly different bushwhack route leading from the end of the Franconia Falls trail. This one looked like it might be even a little shorter than that one (plus we like variety...).
The fast walking brought us to the junction with the Black Pond trail in short order. We followed this up to Black Pond, where we stopped for a break in the damp and humid morning. Not a breath of wind stirred the wispy mist above the lake's black water (it really was quite dark -- perhaps not black, though). Up above was a blue but hazy sky. No rain for us today!
The spot at which the Black Pond trail reaches Black Pond marks the end of the maintained trail. It is clear that a herd path continues on past this point, which is marked by a bunch of branches that have been placed across the path. We continued along past the branches.
We weren't sure how well-defined the herd path would be, but it turned out to be actually quite followable. A bit muddy and wet in spots, but pretty reasonably defined. It leads clockwise around the left side of Black Pond, then heads more or less north. It does gradually get fainter the further you go north, and by the time you are within about 300 yards/metres of Lincoln brook, it becomes dicey to follow. I chose to bear a little left at this point and did a more direct bushwhack over to one of the points at which the Lincoln Brook trail crosses Lincoln Brook. My exact choice of path for this last little bit was less than ideal, so if you are following my track log you might want to try and vary these last few hundred yards/metres. Overall, though, the Black Pond bushwhacking route is pretty good and free of major obstacles.
Now back on maintained trail (at this point, the Lincoln Brook trail), we resumed our fast hiking pace. We traced west and north, following the bank of Lincoln Brook. The water level was definitely way down from last time, and likely we'd be able to rock hop across the brook at the designated crossing point further up the trail. Sure enough, when we reached the crossing, it was a simple matter to hop across. We stopped to filter some fresh water out of the brook and prepare ourselves for the steep but short climb up the Owls Head herd path.