Roundtrip distance: 18 miles. Elevation gain: 2900 feet. View: none. Why does anyone hike to the summit of Owl’s Head, deep inside the Pemigewasset Wilderness of the White Mountain National Forest? Perhaps, as Sir Edmund Hillary once said, “Because it is there.” More likely, however, because it has resisted millenia of weathering to keep a little piece of itself above 4000′. Shave off 26′ and nobody would visit this peak. As it is, everyone hoping to “bag” the list of 4000-footers must climb this knob that is encircled by far grander peaks in the Franconia, Twin, and Bond ranges.
Seventeen years ago I set out to climb Owl’s Head in the summer. Daunted by an 18-mile hike, I made it an overnight, which turned out to be a wonderful adventure (with a mysterious ending, but that’s another story). As I walked the long 8-mile approach trail, which is largely flat by White Mountain standards, I imagined that it would be far better to do this mountain in the winter when one could ski.
So when my friend Lelia suggested that we attempt Owl’s Head this winter, I recalled those thoughts, considered the recent deep cold that would have frozen up nicely all those the brook-crossings, and the deep snow we’ve had in recent weeks (check out my photos from a ski tour on Moosilauke last week, where we found 4 to 6 feet of base). Sure, let’s do Owl’s Head. Continue reading Owl’s Head Mountain→
To welcome in the new year, as we have done so often before, I headed off with a group of friends to a cabin on the side of Mount Moosilauke in the core of New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Great Bear Cabin is a cozy log structure nestled along the Appalachian Trail as it heads northward up the slopes of Moosilauke, and has become somewhat of a traditional winter outing for me and my kids. Although my kids were unable to attend this time, our party included three children and eight adults – friends for over thirty years – including one of the original builders of the cabin. With the woodstove roaring, and the woods frosted from a recent snowfall that glazed the trees and blanketed the nearby meadow with 10″ of fresh powder, we were cozy indeed.
Last year was a busy and exciting year for us. Mara graduated from Crossroads and began 9th grade at Hanover High School (HHS), while Andy entered 7th grade at Crossroads and John entered 11th grade at HHS. David continued as Associate Dean at Dartmouth and Pam took a year off from medicine. We traveled quite a bit: we began the year in Bangalore, India, spent a February week along the continental divide in Costa Rica (photo above), and spent lots of time outdoors in both New Hampshire and South Carolina. I hope you enjoy the year-end slideshow of highlights, including some of my favorite photos from 2013.
Regards and best wishes for the new year,
No sign of “my” bald eagle on this morning’s row upriver. Tonight I hopped in my kayak at sunset, armed with a tripod and my camera, and paddled downstream toward the site of last week’s amazing moonrise encounter with the eagle. Within a few moments I could tell I was in luck: the eagle was clearly visible on the same tree. The eagle watched me as I paddled around, seeking the best angle, shooting a hundred photos. Gosh, this bird is big. When I came close, apparently too close, he became nervous and took off for a different roost. In the photos (Smugmug gallery) I can tell that he (she?) is wearing a metal band on the right ankle. I’ll try again in a few days, before sunset, when there is more light.
I rowed upriver in the chilly morning air, the river calm and sprinkled with the first fallen leaves of autumn. As I neared the Grant Brook confluence, where I usually turn around, the Vermont shore began to glow. After my long sweeping turn to point myself homeward, the sun completed its climb over Smarts Mountain in New Hampshire, momentarily blinding me. As I began to row, a solitary figure flapped its way in from the sunrise, following those first sunbeams as they reached the river. My friendly neighborhood bald eagle was back, swooping low over the water, skimming the spot where I had been thirty seconds earlier. He landed powerfully but only momentarily on shore; perhaps he caught his breakfast, as he immediately climbed again, circling over the river and landing in a solitary tree, soaking up the morning sun.
Some of my favorite photographs are those shots that I missed.
Earlier this week I walked down to the river just as the sun was setting over the Vermont hills. (In September, early mornings bring dense fog and chilly conditions to the river valley, so it’s better to row at sunset rather than sunrise.) Ahead of me the river was glassy calm, and behind me the last rays of sunlight were turning the New Hampshire hillside golden orange.
On a whim, I pointed my shell downriver, instead of my customary upriver trip. As I began rowing, I could hear the Canada Geese settling into the nearby wetlands for the evening. A large flock had settled in the silty delta of Hewes Brook, to my right. Their noisy efforts to congregate there drew my attention to the east, where the nearly-full moon was rising over the golden hills whence the brook flows. I paused to soak in this scene, while a few late-arriving geese honked their way past the moon and circled down to join their relatives in the marsh. Drifting slowly downriver, a tall snag came into view. Teetering on the leading edge of a tiny islet where the kids once hoped to find buried pirate treasure, this dead pine tree leaned over the geese and the marsh and the moon, hoping to hang on for another year until ice or floodwaters or beavers finally brings it down.
It was then I saw it, shortly after the rosy sunshine had left the snag to join the shadows of the evening. Perched high in the snag, clearly visible and recognizable against the golden backlight of the hills, was the bald eagle – probably the same eagle I had seen across the river a few weeks earlier. Here was an incredible photo, with the majestic eagle boldly visible in the snag that itself framed the rising moon, against a background of golden hills and a foreground of still water with geese and late-summer marsh grasses. If I had only been there 10 minutes earlier, with a camera and a tripod and the sun still on the eagle … but I was not. So my mental camera snapped this shot and I reluctantly rowed onward.
I returned 15 minutes later, heading home, and the eagle was still there, monitoring me and everything else in the growing darkness. I didn’t see my eagle friend during my row last night, where I paused again to watch the full moon rising over the same spot. I’ll hold tight to my mental photograph until I see him again.
Summer is a wonderful time on the river, in part because the lengthy days allow me ample time to get out rowing. I like to row well before breakfast, because the river is as still as glass and there are rarely any other boats. Today, three days after returning from our canoe trip on the upper reaches of the river, I was treated to an unusual abundance of bird life.