Tuesday, August 28, 2012

8-25-12 Owl's Head aka Cherry Mountain aka Mt. Martha

After cavorting on the lower north slope of Mt. Adams for a few hours it was still too early to start the long drive home. I routinely drive past this sign just off route 115 near Jefferson, NH, where it marks the trailhead for Owl's Head, a satellite summit of Cherry Mountain, also known as Mt. Martha. I've never hiked Owl's Head but the sign enticed me where it describes the famous land slide, also on a north-facing slope and where a precise time and date is known, just like the Gale River Slide. The chronology is interesting as there's 70 years between the Cherry Mountain slide and the Gale River slide and 57 years between the Gale River Slide and the current date. So, two slides that were triggered by heavy rains, both facing north and we have the date and actual time to the hour when both slides occurred and the Cherry Mountain slide is roughly twice as old as the Gale River Slide. Having that information and definitive histories of the land use in the areas where the slides occurred offers opportunities for comparisons in context with the last sentence on the sign: "which has now almost disappeared through nature's healing process."
I was ready for another hike, something short and difficult. I got the difficult. First, I believed that Owl's Head would be short and steep from its looks but that was misleading. The trail sign indicates it's 2.4 miles to the top. At the beginning the trail threading on level ground between brooks in this old pasture which is getting "nature's healing" hand. The trail then meanders west and north away from Owl's Head, like it was lost, and then makes a U turn and starts up the mountain.  Once it begins to climb Owl's Head the trail goes pretty much straight to the top, but it's completely NOT what I'd expected. I expected a good workout of 30 minutes or so. It was closer to an hour and the uphill was endless. The trail keeps going up and up.

(This was added on 10-28-12)  I looked up the Owls Head Trail info in the 1960 AMC Trail Guide and found the above description. So the conjecture about logging in the past 50 years is correct as is the trail being shorter and pretty much a straight shot at the summit. So a re-routing of the trail was probably made necessary by changes in property ownership.

-->As I started out I could remember the original pasture that was there in the early 1960s that belonged to one of two dairy farms. The pasture extended uphill off of  Rt. 115 and extended down both sides of the road miles. The sign on the farm house says: Cherry Mountain Farm. It was a beautiful house. I had a yen to buy it someday and turn it into a bed and breakfast. It was torn down, or maybe fell down, in the early 1970s. The wrap-around porch and stunning sunsets were the house's chief attributes.
After the house was demolished the farm family lived in this trailer for awhile. They had it parked right where the Cherry Mountain House had stood for a century or more. The trailer looks a little eerie sitting there in the undergrowth.
The 1885 slide came right through here tearing away most of the vegetation. Driving southwest on 115 towards Cherry Mountain you can easily make out how much of the mountain slid and you can still make out the enormous mass of soil and other debris carried down by the slide. It's covered with forest now but you can still make out the shape of it on the north side of the mountain. Rt. 115 goes right over it.

The density and thin boles of these trees at the foot of the mountain also indicate a successional stage of reforestation in the old pasturage. It's sad to me, since I've farmed a lot, to see pasture neglected and go to woods because keeping a pasture in prime grass is a lot of work and dedication. It's kind of an art, actually.
Mid-way up the Owl's Head the incline is moderate. You can see that it was logged over about 50 years ago, probably in the mid-1960s. Some of the old logging roads are still usable.
Owl's Head is 3,258 feet in altitude; a modest climb. The altitude gain is a hefty 2000 feetand with t the mileage at 2.4 and subtracting all the meandering at the bottom the climb, itself, is about 2 miles. So the ration is 2000 feet gain in 2 miles of distance which is a nice aerobic work out. The mountain has other attributes: concise vegetation zones and gorgeous views. In addition. Saturday was a summery, summery day; warm, , lots of sun, a consistent wind from the northwest that rustled in the trees and made sunlight dance on the forest floor. I was surprise to find, above 2700 feet, several birches and maples with similar circumferences as the ones I'd been measuring on Adams at the same altitude earlier in the morning. The birch in this photo was 98 inches in circumference.
I'm skipping the long middle part of the hike which, perfect day or not, was frustrating and tiresome. However, if you think that seeing these red spruce and balsam trees means you're close to the top, you're wrong. The trail still went straight up and got steeper and steeper.
Bushwhack? You can go first.
This photo is a quiz. In as few words as possible try to explain the origin and geologic history of these rocks and, yes, they're near the summit and a good landmark that you're almost on top.
The top turned out to be lovely, gnomish with the winding, flat trails and the moss carpet.
It was enchanting after the long, steep climb.
And there were a few previews of things to come.
And finally the grand view from the summit proper. It was astonishing and equals views from Kearsarge North (Pequawket), Hedge Hog, North Percy, and a few other mountains in the area.
Looking south towards Crawford Notch left of center with Mt. Washington on the extreme left.
This summery view east to the Presidentials with Mt. Washington in the center was the most pleasing of all the views.
The summit proper, a rock cap covered with balsams that one has to wonder how many times they've been hit by lightening.
I stayed for an hour and then, with great delight, ran as fast as as I could go all the way down. The trail that had been so miserable on the ascent was perfect for running.
The tread on the top half of the trail was soft and cushioning and perfect for running.
This is my favorite photo of the lot. A lovely hike, all in all. I had so much fun running down that I decided to by-pass the long, meandering bottom segment of the trail and trusted my sense of direction to head straight to the trail head. I followed a clear "road", an old logging road perhaps, for 100 yards as it began to evaporate in dense clumps of raspberry canes and by the time I got to the parking lot I was just covered with blood; my arms, legs and chest, from superficial scratches that had mingled freely with sweat so it made me look like I was a lead actor coming off the set of Last of the Mohicans. I drew quite a few stares until I wiped it off with some paper towels.


modena782002 said...

Great story, and thanks for the information on this trail/mountain. Just like you, I have passed that sign on many occasions, wondering the back story and what the hike was like. I'm now compelled to hike it. Thanks for the inspiration!

modena782002 said...
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Beckie Jani said...

I am so happy to read that an experienced hiker such as you found this a challenge! My daughter and I just got back a few hours ago from doing it. I was thinking it was harder than "World Famous Owl's Head." I thought maybe I was coming down with a cold or did not sleep enough the night before or that Cherry Mountain just hates me for some reason, because the two times we took the other Rt 115 trail up was a challenge, too! Thanks for the history lesson, we were wondering about that trailer. We were going to press on to Mt. Martha, but glad we did not, as we came out right before dark.

Can't think of the name at the moment (maybe it's burl), but you know those round growths on the trunks of trees? I saw the biggest one ever where the trail starts to become steep. It was amazing, maybe 5 feet in diameter. It's on the right ascending, just after the tiny brook crossing.