The Semi-Pemi – Franconia Ridge Traverse + Owl’s Head 10/6-10/7 NH48 #29-34

Why? Because we can.

Ethan and I have begun to concoct new “epic adventures” that push the limits of our endurance. It started in June of 2018 with the “Cats, Carters & Moriah” traverse.

The weather looked dubious for this past weekend, with the better weather appearing to fall on Saturday and the higher chance of rain on Sunday. We decided to do a Franconia Ridge Traverse on Saturday followed by a trip to Owl’s Head on Sunday.

Our path took us from Lincoln Woods Trail to Osseo Trail, then up and over the entire Franconia Ridge, finishing on Mt. Garfield and (hopefully) staying at the Garfield Shelter.

Day one consisted of roughly 15 miles and 6,841 ft of elevation. We set out at 7:15 am from the Lincoln Woods Parking area and made short work of Flume and Liberty, pressing on across the ridge and racking up the miles and vert along the way.

It was Columbus Day weekend, so we expected it to be a very busy day up there and it was. Views were few and far between as it was quite cloudy and under-cast. The best view of the day was of Mt. Garfield from Lafayette; the rock slide of which was briefly lit up by the sun through a break in the clouds.

New Garfield Shelter
It doesn’t look quite this pristine anymore, but I forgot to take photos, so these ones from Outdoors.org will have to do!
The top “shelf” will sleep 4 comfortably and probably up to 6 a little snugly. Photo courtesy of outdoors.org.

Day 1 ended with a descent from the summit of Mt. Garfield to the Garfield Shelter. We arrived fairly early (somewhere around 4pm) having done the traverse in just under 9 hours. The shelter had only one other lodger inside at the time of our arrival. We were relieved at that, because it meant that we wouldn’t have to tear down soaking wet tents in the morning, as rain was in the forecast overnight.

The caretaker made her rounds and collected our $10 each and warned that it might be a tight squeeze in the shelter as it was one of the busiest weekends of the year, which we were more or less prepared for anyhow.

We set up our sleeping pads, quilts, pillows, etc. in the loft hoping that it would be both warmer and less crowded up there when the building was crammed full of weary hikers. We chose wisely, it turned out.

It was cool and damp, so we changed out of our wet shirts and socks. It always feels wonderful to put on fresh, dry socks and a shirt. We then set to making dinner, setting up our stoves and preparing our food. Again, a hot meal after a long day is such a welcome reward that it’s astonishing. Having filled our stomachs with warm food I bundled up in my puffy and just laid down wrapped up in my quilt – happy to simply be off my feet. Rest at the end of a long day is another simple pleasure.

I wasn’t really sleepy as such, just happily relaxing and listening to hikers file in to the shelter and relate their experiences to one another. That largely came to an end around 7:30 or 8pm, but hikers kept trickling into the shelter and surrounding tent sites, a total of 76 camping in this one site for the night!

Sleep came early, but as ever for me when away from home, in fitful doses. I was glad to be asleep by approximately 8pm, as I woke many times to the sounds of air mattresses making crinkling, squeaking, and various other noise types. I also realized around 11pm that I had neglected to take my contact lenses out, which was really uncomfortable, having slept with them in for a few hours. I switched on my headlamp to the red-light setting and dug into my backpack, which I had mercifully left open (since it’s sealed with velcro and I didn’t want to be that person waking everyone up by opening my bag) and had thought ahead to move up beside my bedding spot. I had a bit of a hard time finding my contact lens case, but realized that I had put it in my “first aid” baggy for whatever reason. The biggest hurdle was that I couldn’t find my lens solution. Feeling I had made enough noise already, I settled on using some filtered drinking water to fill one of the cups and put both lenses into it. I would have to scrub them well in the morning, but they were out and being kept moist, so that would have to do.

The night had wrapped the mountain, and thus the shelter, in the mists of a cloud, so it was damp and cool for the first half of the evening, but warmer weather swept in and I found myself removing layers as the night wore on. All told, in a 9 hour night I believe I probably got somewhere around 5 hours of sleep. Enough, if just barely.

5:15 arrived and there were the first stirrings, which triggered other stirrings, and by around 6:30 most of the shelter had emptied out, as many of the guests were staying there as part of a “Full Pemi” and they had to get started on making their way over to the Twins and Bonds. We made the conscious decision to let the shelter empty out a bit and then set about prepping breakfast, using the privy, and repacking our gear.

We set off around 7:30am and started the steep, wet, rocky descent from Garfield heading West along the Garfield Ridge Trail and then South along the Franconia Brook Trail until we hit the Lincoln Brook Trail, which would lead us to Owl’s head. The mountain was wrapped in a cloud and it was raining lightly as we set out. Partway down the Garfield Ridge Trail we decided that rain jackets were keeping more moisture in than out, so we shed them. Along the relatively short duration of the GRT we had several moments where a muttered “huh…” escaped our lips as we tried to determine the best way to negotiate the slick rocky drop-offs.

Sometimes our humor can be a bit, well, let’s skip metaphor, wait no, let’s not skip metaphor: dark as a cloudy and moonless night, and we were cracking jokes left and right and in generally high spirits. Then came the first bog bridge <cue thunder crash>. I swear this particular bog bridge just wanted me to fall down, plain and simple. I set one foot on it without issue, then another, again everything seemed fine. I took my first step forward on said bog bridge and the next thing I knew both my feet were embedded in mud up over my ankles as I straddled the bog bridge. It happened so fast I hardly knew how to react. I would spend the next 16 or so miles hiking in muddy, wet Altra Timps. Ethan ended up doing similarly, but for different reasons, there were just so many muddy spots that didn’t really appear muddy until he as the leader ever so helpfully found them.

We chugged along and discussed along the way that there simply must be a better way to ascend Owl’s Head than descending over 800′ before starting the climb up the ~1,300ft Owl’s Head Trail. Today we would see tons of other hikers out on the Owl, I assume because they were mostly fellow New Hampshire residents that wanted to hike, but with fewer of the throngs of out-of-staters that were swarming the Pemi region this weekend. Owl’s Head being one of the most remote and therefore least popular mountains, I suspect it was a target for the locals. It was full conga line in effect going up much of the slide. The fact that it was wet made climbing it a tedious and mentally tiring endeavor, but we eventually reached the old summit and a few tenths later the “new” summit.

We didn’t linger long at the top, as we hoped to make good time down with less conga line action as people loitered at the summit, dreading the descent. This worked out as planned, and we made relatively short work of getting back to the Lincoln Brook Trail, though not without some trepidation on what was again a wet, slippery climb down.

When we reached the bottom we sat, had a snack and drink of water, then set off down LBT toward the Black Pond Bushwhack, which would cut our mileage and stream crossings down a bit. We still had a few stream crossings before the bushwhack, and since our feet were already wet and still pretty muddy inside our shoes, we elected to just walk through them with little concern for staying dry.

The Black Pond Bushwhack was relatively easy to follow, but we did lose it right near the end, but consulting GPS and compass we were able to discern that we were very close indeed to the pond and headed toward where the official Black Pond Trail should be, arriving at the official trail about 5 minutes later. I must say that Black Pond is a lovely, secluded spot and I would like to return there in the future.

We followed BPT until the intersection of the Lincoln Woods Trail and then followed that out the 5 or so miles back to the car. We were tired and hungry, but were able to keep a pace of over 3.5mph on our way out, which was an accomplishment alone. Arriving back at the car around 5:10pm, we felt like we had conquered the wilderness in the last 34 hours, having logged ~32 miles and over 9,500′ of elevation gain.

I completed NH48 #s 29-34 with this outing and learned a lot about the difference that intentional conditioning has made to my ability to put down big miles and bit vert in the Whites.

The Semi-Pemi was complete and we were unbroken by it, what more could you ask for?

All that remains is to plan the next “epic adventure” oh and getting all that mud out of my shoes.

I’m still working on that part!

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