Owls Head, always a fun trail
I think my curiosity to find cool and interesting stuff wins over more often than not, kind of like my lack of self-control when it comes to baked goods, but I like to think that exploring and hiking is a bit better for my waistline. Corenne and I planned on a different trip for this day, and were supposed to meet up with a friend in Lake Pleasant for Hamilton Mountain, but we must have turned off the alarm in our sleep because we didn't wake up until it was too late, so we had to postpone.
Plan B, if you must call it something, was developed with some hems and haws, where we finally settled on doing a winter fire tower peak for our winter round. Owls Head Mountain in Long Lake would be the one. Of course, this did have a bit of hidden interest for me. Owls Head is made up of four peaks. The highest one by only about 10 feet is the fire tower peak, and the smallest one is farthest away and has no name. Of course, the two that the trail passes between are referred to as the horns, or in some instances the sister mountains. I wanted to see what North Horn and South Horn had to offer.
We arrived late in the day, 12:30ish to be a bit more exact. There was no need to hustle, though; this hike was not to be a lavish one. There was a man coming off of the mountain as we prepared our footwear and snowshoes who had just hiked it with his two Billy goats. They acted more like canine companions than farm animals. It was quite a unique scene. I always thought it would be interesting to hike with a pet skunk, which would surely clear a busy trail.
Snowshoes or Not?
We decided to go with snowshoes for the hike up, but Microspikes were stashed in our packs just in case. We would soon realize that snowshoes may not be necessary, but we left them on in lieu of carrying them on our backs. Much of the trail had decent coverage, but it was boilerplate snow and ice where snowshoes were not necessary for anything other than traction. Rocks were protruding from the snow, and there was mud in some spots and even standing water in a few areas. It seemed more like April than February. We fought the conditions by meandering about rather than taking off the snowshoes, but we did say once we did the Horns we would take off the snowshoes.
Soon we could see the Horns before us, and then we started the much steeper climb up between them. Corenne requested we go for the tower peak first. The descent on the opposite side of the Horns was much less than I recalled but the final ascent to the summit was as steep as I recollected. The summit was stellar, the best I had ever seen it. There was not a lick of wind and the sky gave us long lasting views. We decided not to climb the tower this time but instead head down to the cliffs for the ground level views of the High Peaks, Long Lake, and well beyond to the south.
DREAMING OF THE HORNS
We hung around for 10 to 15 minutes before we figured we should really get rolling so we could snag the Horns before the evening started rolling in. The descent was a tricky one with snowshoes on, but we needed them for the Horns so we would suffer the slow progression and awkward icy conditions. Once we reached the high saddle between the two we decided to go for the taller South Horn. From the summit of Owls Head we could see South Horn, which appeared to have open rock areas on the side but we never did find them. The forest was not a pleasant one so we didn't wander too far from our direct line to the top. Heavy areas of blowdown, probably left over from the 1995 microburst, made wearing snowshoes a bit more of a challenge, but the snow was deep enough we needed them. The summit, which was only about 0.25 miles from the trail, still came to us quickly and we stood atop the large rock boulder with screened views. A bit further to the south there looked to be stellar views from the top of a rock shelf. Unfortunately, we didn't notice the rock until later on our way back down the trail.
Now back to the saddle and up North Horn. North Horn is a bit smaller and less than 0.2 miles away from the saddle. The forest was wide open hardwoods, a total opposite to the prior. It's amazing what aspect does for a mountain's vegetation. It is unfortunate though that it was lacking in views. So to prolong our exploring we opted to head back down to the trail in a much more indirect fashion. This horn of the owl was breaking up, however. What I mean is, the rocks along the summit area had deep fissures. They were too narrow to fall into and in some cases too deep to see the bottom. The forest was open so we moved along quite fast, at least until I tweaked my ankle on a buried stump. A few deep breaths and possibly a couple inappropriate words of wisdom later and we were moving again. It was time to put the snowshoes away and break out the Microspikes. The footing was just too odd and I didn't want another ankle mishap. It was still sore and throbbing as it was.
The Microspikes allowed us to move much more freely, and we arrived back at the trailhead in no time flat.