Monday, August 14, 2023

Finishing the New Hampshire 48 on Cannon Mountain

48 mountains rise above 4,000 feet in elevation in New Hampshire with another 19 in the rest of New England. For New England hikers, hiking the New Hampshire 48 (NH48) and New England 67 are popular peakbagging objectives. While I never originally had any intentions of completing the list of peaks for New Hampshire or New England, 24 years after I climbed my first peaks on the lists, I found myself with only five peaks in New Hampshire left to finish both lists. Before climbing Cannon Mountain for New Hampshire #48 and New England #67, I climbed Owl's Head earlier in the morning and the three 4,000 footers of the Willey Range the day before.

I finally set out to climb Cannon Mountain on August, 2nd. Unlike most of my hikes, I started in the afternoon around 145PM. In the morning I hiked about 16 miles while climbing Owl's Head. Immediately after wrapping up the trip to Owl's Head, I headed straight for Cannon Mountain to begin my ascent. I went from hiking one of the longest hikes for a single summit on the NH48 in the morning directly to hike one of shorter hikes on the NH48 in the afternoon. While I never hiked to the summit of Cannon, I have been to the top of the mountain. Cannon Mountain Ski Area occupies the mountain and I have skied there a couple times. The ski area tram rises to just below the summit.

Cannon view of Mt. Lafayette

Cannon Mountain can be climbed by several trails and they are all relatively short compared to most of the New Hampshire 48 routes. I chose to hit Cannon via the Kinsman Ridge Trail, starting near the base of the tram in Franconia Notch. While only a four-mile round trip hike, it still requires climbing 2,150 vertical feet. Given the short distance, the trail climbs right out of the gate.


The Kinsman Ridge Trail travels over rough and rocky terrain pretty quickly from the start. The trail rarely levels out or provides even footing. Generally in the woods, the trail offers a few views across the notch toward Eagle Cliffs and below to Echo Lake. You can even see paddleboats dotting the lake.

Rough terrain early on

Smoother section of rock

Echo Lake

After a mile and a half of relentless rocks and climbing, the trail finally eases a little. The trail runs relatively smooth and level before reaching a junction to an unmarked side path. The path leads to a wide-open rocky ledge with awesome views over the notch towards the Franconia Ridge. If you didn't care about reaching the summit and just wanted a good view, this ledge makes a worthy destination in its own right. However, only about a half-mile from the summit, more good views are just ahead.

More uneven and rocky trail

Some trail work with a little easier rocky section

Franconia Ridge from the ledge

Leaving the ledge, I headed back to the trail, making my way toward the summit. The trail passes over the East Peak of Cannon and looses a little elevation before making the final short push towards the summit. The trail crosses a mix of flat sections and slabby climbing with a lot of mud and open ledges. At places the vegetation is rather scrubby with open views ahead to the summit and throughout Franconia Notch. The views become pretty consistent as you gain elevation. 

Slabby rock 

Summit observation deck

Open rock with great views

As I reached the height of the land, the Kinsman Ridge Trail joined the Rim Trail. The Rim Trail provides a small loop around the summit and near the top of the tram. Along the Rim Trail, numerous short spurs lead to excellent vistas across the notch. Now close to the tram, you pass a pay per view binocular station, not something typical on a hiking trail. At this point I started to cross paths with lots of "tourists" that rode the tram to the summit.

Crossing slabs

Crossing rock through scrubby vegetation

The final stretch to the summit follows a wide, well-maintained path. I passed hordes of tram riders as I walked the final part of the trail. At the summit, I picked my way through dozens of people to climb the summit observation deck. In the winter, Cannon serves as a ski area. In the summer months, the tram offers riders a chance to visit the summit of Cannon without the sweat from hiking while making the trip in just 15 minutes.

View to the north

Looking over the East Peak of Cannon toward Lafayette

While the 360-degree views from the summit observation deck are quite impressive, the summit can be a little overwhelming. Unlike my morning hike to Owl's Head, which sits isolated in the middle of the Wilderness, Cannon's developed summit definitely lacks a wild feel. Communication towers, the observation deck, the tram, and other ski area infrastructure just off the summit all are visible nearby. There is even a restaurant a short walk from the summit. You can hike to the summit, buy lunch, and hike down- or take the tram I suppose. I took a few photos before leaving the crowds. 

South of Franconia Notch
I believe this is to the west

Franconia Ridge

Back on the Kinsman Ridge Trail, I passed a few people on the Ledge Trail, but soon lost the crowds. I enjoyed the views as I descended without the noisiness of the summit. Much of the descent to the first open ledges provides the same view towards Franconia Ridge. Franconia Ridge stands out as one of the most impressive mountain ridges in the Northeast. The descent on the Kinsman Ridge Trail offers some of the best views toward Mt. Lafayette and Mt. Lincoln and the rest of Franconia Ridge. The views looking both directions down the notch are quite pretty as well.

Looking over Eagle Cliff

Near constant views descending
the upper mountain

After I passed the first ledge, I began my steep descent back to the trailhead. The descent went by much quicker than the climb. I enjoyed the occasional views through the trees of Eagle Cliff and Echo Lake. I made good time, reaching the trailhead around 345PM

Eagle Cliff on the descent

Despite the summit hubbub, Cannon Mountain offers a lot of great scenery for such a short hike. The Kinsman Ridge Trail offers a lot of bang for buck in just 4 miles. Don't let the short distance fool you though, you earn every foot of elevation that you climb. If you are looking for a wilderness experience, Cannon's summit isn't the place to find it. Just like other developed summits such as Mt. Washington or Whiteface in the Adirondacks, the summit experience wasn't the best part of Cannon, but the overall great scenery makes up for the lack of solitude.

Closeup of Mt. Lafayette

As for finishing the NH 48 and New England 67, I am glad that I finally hiked all the peaks to finish the lists. Finishing the lists was never a huge priory, or I would have not taken 24 years to climb all the peaks on the lists. The lists themselves aren't that important to me. I'm more grateful that I had the chance to experience so many new areas and mountains over the years and the fact that I'm still exploring and able to hike as strongly as I did in 1999.

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Friday, August 11, 2023

Owl's Head

Owl's Head Mountain sits in the heart of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Owl's Head usually comes with a bad reputation among hiker. It probably would be rarely climbed if it wasn't over 4,000' feet in elevation. Because it reaches that magic 4,000' threshold, it's on the New Hampshire 48 climbing list. Sooner or later, people attempting to climb all 48 mountains on the list take on Owl's Head. 

Owl's Head isn't particularly tall at 4,025'. It ranks 43rd out the 48 mountains on the list. It's reputation comes from the difficulty reaching the mountain. Historically, to reach Owl's Head, hikers traveled 18 miles roundtrip. The last mile leaves official trails and climbs a slide to reach the summit. It doesn't provide as expansive views as many other hikes on the list and features a wooded summit with little to see. Allen Mountain in the Adirondacks has a similar reputation and is a good comparison. I just happened to hike 46 of the New Hampshire 48. It was now time for me to visit Owl's Head and see if it deserved its reputation.

I began my hike from the Lincoln Woods Trailhead just before 7AM on Wednesday August 2nd on a cool morning. The forecast looked great with little humidity and plenty of sun. It had been about 13 years since I hiked out of this trailhead. After crossing the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River on a nice suspension bridge, I traveled along the Lincoln Woods Trail.

Bridge over East Branch of the Pemi

View of the river from the bridge

The Lincoln Woods Trail follow an old rail line from the logging days. It follows the river and is quite flat. Occasional views along the river offer a look at the Bond Range. Remnants of old tracks from the rail days still show in a few places. I followed the easy path 2.6 miles, jogging at times, to the Black Pond Trail. I already saw a few groups

Lincoln Woods Trail

Remnants from the railroad days

The Bonds

In the past, the standard route to Owl's Head followed the Franconia Brook Trail to the Lincoln Brook Trail. In recent years the Black Pond Bushwhack has gained significant use and is starting to take over as the most common route to Lincoln Brook. In the process, using Black Pond eliminates several potentially dangerous stream crossings without bridges. It also cuts off about a mile of hiking each way.

The first .8 miles to Black Pond follow a marked trail. The trail ends at the namesake pond. From the pond, you are greeted with two pretty views over the water. The first view framed my objective for the day, Owl's Head. A short distance further, the Bonds come into view across the pond. On that particular morning, the view was especially nice as the mountains reflected off the still pond with wisps of fog rising from the water. 

Start of the Black Pond Trail

Along the Black Pond Trail

Owl's Head

The Bonds over Black Pond

Although I don't use it for navigation, I occasionally will reference AllTrails before a hike for recent trail conditions. I checked prior to this trip since the water crossings were at dangerous levels a couple weeks prior. While looking at the recent reports for Owl's Head on AllTrails and  NH hiking groups on Facebook, there seemed to be confusion on finding the "Bushwhack" portion of the Black Pond route. I'm not sure where the confusion comes from as the route is very obvious and at this point an excellent trail. It just doesn't have any markings or maintenance, which isn't unusual in a Wilderness anyway. People seem to have a hard time finding the transition at Black Pond to the start of bushwhack. No it's not marked, but if you take 30 seconds to look, its still pretty obvious where the route starts. At this point the "bushwhack" moniker isn't necessary. Now its just an unmarked trail or well defined herd path. It's certainly better than a lot of the trails I come across in the Adirondacks or the Whites.

Not much of a bushwhack

Pretty obvious tread the length of the "bushwhack"

Following the Black Pond route, I soon reached the Lincoln Brook Trail. The trail follows its namesake brook, sometimes right along its banks. Even if the climbing up Owl's Head is dreadful, the hike along Lincoln Brook is more than enough to make up for it. Lincoln Brook is a splendid mountain stream that tumbles along a rocky course. The water was high enough to provide a pleasant soundtrack in the background of rushing water. I stopped several times to enjoy the brook. Personally, I think just the hike along the brook made the trip worthwhile.

On the Lincoln Brook Trail

Taking in Lincoln Brook

Slide in Lincoln Brook

Lincoln Brook is a lovely mountain stream

The trail along the brook is slightly overgrown at times, a wide path at others. A few stretches required some creative step stoning to avoid mud from the recent rains in the past month. You could almost always hear the brook rumbling nearby.

Tumbling water in Lincoln Brook

Looking upstream in Lincoln Brook

Features like this provide pleasant background noise

Trail following the banks of the brook

Got to appreciate bright orange mushrooms

Interesting stretch of blowdown

Muddy stretch

Eventually I approached a few water crossings, all within a short distance of each other. The water had receded a fair amount since the weekend rains. All of the water crossings had a decent selection of rocks to step across without getting my wet. A few spots my poles came in handy. On my return I met a larger group struggling to cross without poles. Recent reports a couple weeks early required a ford through thigh deep water in the brook.

First water crossing

Another water crossing 

About a half-mile past the last water crossing, I reached the start of the Owl's Head herd path. Two cairns marked the path, but they may not always be there since the path is not maintained or an official trail. Even without the cairns the path is pretty easy to see as long as you know when to start looking for it. Pretty quickly it joins the slide path.

Start of herd path to Owl's Head

Low on the slide

If you hike in the mountains of New England or Adirondacks long enough, you'll probably hike a slide at some point. Some are worse than others as far as steepness, amount of scrambling, or loose ground. The Owl's Head slide seemed to be not too bad compared to a lot of the slides I've encountered. It's steep at times and a little loose, but doesn't really require much scrambling. Trees close to the path come in handy for handholds when needed.

Typical look up the slide

A short scramble

People often complain about the lack of views for the amount of work on Owl's Head. I was pleasantly surprised by the good views while climbing the slide. While there are certainly better mountains for far flung vistas, I won't complain about the nice views looking back at the Franconia Ridge. They were better than I expected.

Starting to get some views on the slide

The north end of the Franconia Ridge

My attempt at an artistic photo

Since the herd path isn't an official trail, you have no markings to follow, although a few cairns were in place. After years of use, the path is well established now and pretty straightforward to navigate. Occasionally the path braids as it climbs the slide, but the braids seemed to rejoin and get to the same point. According to the White Mountain Guide, the route gains 700 vertical feet in only .3 miles to the top of the slide. Above the slide the steep travel continues until you reach the summit plateau.

Jumble of rocks higher on the slide

Near the top of the slide in the forest

Once at elevation the hike is somewhat lackluster. The path traverses the top of the mountain until reaching the cairn on the summit. Other than a partial view towards the Bonds, there isn't much to see. A few herd paths near the summit seemed to fade out before reaching any other views.

Typical terrain above the slide

Traveling over the flat summit

Using the Black Pond route, I hiked about 8 miles to reach the summit. At this point I stopped for a snack on the summit. One other hiker was at the summit when I arrived and another pair arrived while I was there. I didn't linger too long since there wasn't much to see.

Summit cairn

Many people choose to descend via another bushwhack called the Brutus Bushwhack. This route avoids the slide on the descent. I was told there isn't much benefit to the Brutus Bushwhack in summer so I descended the slide. I was happy to catch the views again as I descended. The slide was nice and dry so the descent was pretty easy. I was back to the Lincoln Brook trail pretty quickly, passing several groups on their way up.

The best view from the top of Owl's Head

Enjoying the views as I climb back down the slide

Looking down the valley from the slide

Descending the slide

The Lincoln Brook Trail stays relatively flat. I had another hiked planned after I wrapped up this one. I took advantage of the flat trail and ran when conditions allowed, hiking when the trail became too muddy or rocky. Other than a few short stops to enjoy Lincoln Brook, I reached the turnoff for Black Pond pretty quickly.

Enjoying  Lincoln Brook on the hike out

I slowed my pace a little as I made my way towards Black Pond on the herd path. I stopped once again to enjoy the mountain views over the pond. While still quite pretty, it wasn't quite as impressive when the Bonds and Owl's Head reflected in the still morning water with the fog rising.

Back on the Black Pond herd path

Large rock enroute to Black Pond

Another look at the Bonds from Black Pond
taken earlier in the morning

After leaving Black Pond, I resumed my trot, quickly reaching the wide open Lincoln Woods Trail. Once on the Lincoln Woods Trail, I ran the final 2.6 miles back to the trailhead, stopping briefly to enjoy the river a couple times. I passed people headed into the woods pretty frequently on this stretch. Since they didn't have any gear, I'm guessing most were headed to Franconia Falls for the afternoon. I reached the trailhead at 1250PM.

Back on the flat Lincoln Woods Trail

Using the Black Pond route both ways, this hike travels about 16 miles roundtrip. Despite the mileage, majority of the hike covers pretty flat ground. Roughly 14 miles travels with little elevation gain. Miles fly by enroute to the Owl's Head herd path on the mostly flat trails. If you are uncomfortable hiking on unmarked trails, maybe wait to tackle Owl's Head until you gain more experience traveling in the mountains. If you do hike Owl's Head, I also recommend watching the weather closely. The water levels tend to rise quickly in the area and the several water crossings on this hike can become quite dangerous. 

Close up of Franconia Ridge

After hiking to Owl's Head, I feel its reputation as a slog of a hike is undeserved- again similar to Allen Mountain in the Adirondacks. I found this hike to be a pleasant surprise. Yes it's a long way for one mountain with a treed, mostly viewless summit. But the journey to the summit more than makes up for the lackluster summit. The views from Black Pond, the tumbling waters of Lincoln B rook, and views climbing the slide all help make this hike a pleasant experience. I also enjoyed climbing on the slide as well and found it a nice change from the relatively flat hiking up to that point. Don't think of Owl's Head as just a trudge to knock off one more peak on a list. Enjoy the journey and sights along the way. After all, you are in a beautiful and fairly remote part of the mountains.

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