Owl's Head The Easy Way

Last Sunday tMail and I took a look down the east flank of Mt. Lincoln and drooled over the stable, road-like slide into the Pemi that drains the entire section of the range between Lincoln and Lafayette. The slope doesn't appear to exceed 40° and from above didn't have any obvious ice-falls or other technical obstacles and simply wanders off on a direct line with ... Owl's Head.

Not content to take any long routes, MadDog and I decided to avoid banging around on hard-packed trails and to avoid the crowds, did the Lincoln's Backbone bushwack to the summit, dropped into the Pemi, cranked up Owl's Head then reveresed engines and headed back up to Lincoln. We hit the ridge at about 6:15pm and dropped down Falling Waters - headlamps weren't needed until the last half-hour or so. Pics are located HERE.

Here are some specifics before the trip reports (measurements are approximate based on Delorme Mapping software):

  • Distance Hiked: 10.1 mi
  • Total Elevation Gain: 6700'
  • Elevation lost from Lincoln Summit into Pemi: 2200'
  • Elevation gained from Franconia Brook to Owl's Head summit: 1200'
  • Time on the trail: 11h 15m
MadDog's Trip Report:
The day began with a meeting with the man who is the great purveyor of pemi possibilities He asked what my desires were - I replied, something level and 1-2 hrs in duration. His response was I have the perfect day for you, follow me. So I did and thus begins this adventure:
  1. See Mutha's post for maps, the route, etc...the Delorme must do it thing, and this process cannot be rushed.
  2. We encountered what I believe is the largest moose den of ill repute, east of Reno.
  3. Like the signs say at the gym, it was a total body workout.
  4. I had everything with me on the way to Mutha's, plus the kitchen. But that knowledge did not stop Mutha from freezing me in my tracks at Marty's, by asking: "Maddog, did you forget your crampons?" Doh!
  5. Making a 1pm call to those left behind, was liberating.
  6. For the project management wonks, this was a six-phase project. Each delivering it's own flavor of beauty, pain, strain, and discomfort.
  7. I thought Lost and Found was a department. It's not, it's something that only bushwhack trails do with my gear.
  8. We crossed paths with a bear.
  9. The birch grove in the Pemi, was just spectacular.
  10. While on Franconia Ridge, Mutha sought my attention about a couple of spectacular boulders. I thought, how does he have eyes in the back of his head?
  11. Do the boner.
Mutha's Trip Report:
  1. The workout on the Backbone is, as MadDog said, a total body experience. The trees vary from open glades to dense thickets of interlocked spruce; the post-holes varied from crotch-deep to whole-body (MadDog disappeared up to his nipples once).
  2. Wildman and I had stayed on the south side of the ragged vertebrae at the very top last year. This time I took the north route, crossed to the south and back north again while MadDog took off his crampons and bombed straight over the tippy top. All routes are fine (I say stay alongside - not over - and use crampons and axe!). MadDog may be able to clarify what topping out on the boulders is like for a guy who claims to be concerned about heights.
  3. The slide is easy to get to and not too steep (we never had to front point). The glissade down the steepest part of the east slide off Lincoln was great.
  4. The slide gradually transitions into a narrow, heavily wooded ravine. The route down low involved weaving back and forth over snow piled up to 8ft deep - if not more. I guess all the snow that blows off the ridge dumps down there. The ravine never really flattens out but the woods are beautiful and easily navigated by sticking to the brook or making little detours onto the steep banks where there were cascades or other obstacles. Attempting this in summer is probably not a good idea - it seems horribly inaccessible and tangled (I'm up for trying it).
  5. When we hit Franconia Brook I thought it was a large tributary that shows on the map and wanted to walk along it toward the south. MadDog correctly pointed out that it seemed to have the appropriate magnitude of water to actually be the brook - so we crossed it... on bridge made of about 6ft of snow! (MadDog was right).
  6. The ascent up to Owl's head was the best way up - it really beats the slide. Interestingly was basically just did a beeline from Lincoln and headed up by crossing the contours at a right angle. It is never steeper than Falling Waters - and then only for a few hundred yards. In general it's gorgeous, through open birch glades, spruce, aspen, red pine and maple. The push through dense branches near the summit was brief - just a few minutes.
  7. The summit of Owl's Head loaded with snow is unrecognizeable. We hit the ridge and headed North until it began to drop toward Garfield, then turned back and headed south until we hit the section above the slides where it weaves through mature balsam, then back to where we topped out. I believe we hit both the old and new summits but there was no sign to be found. We were on many feet of snow so nothing looked familiar but we spent about 20 minutes or more covering a long stretch of the ridge to make sure we hit it somewhere.
  8. On the way back up the ravine to the slide we notice that a bear had come through the woods and crossed our tracks. For the next 20 minutes I kept looking over my shoulder.
  9. While certainly an aggressive hike, this was an absolutely terrific idea. Spending so much time off-trail gave a sense of privacy and remoteness. We ended on the ridge with the sun about to set and decided that crossing the entire Pemi was within reach without skis - Lincoln to Bondcliff: No problem. But I'll tell you, on skis this would ROCK. Hellgate here we come.


  1. In a word...AWESOME....mere mortals would be content with Lincoln...Never thought of Lincoln as the Bonney Pass to Owl's Head!!!

  2. Astute observation, g-$$$. We referred to the Lincoln slide as "Bonney Pass" several times.

    This hike was an epic adventure and will gladly do it again, or a variation, any time.