Monday, July 22, 2013

A Morning Jaunt to Owl's Head (Cherry Mountain)

I've always wanted to say that I "took a jaunt to Owl's Head".  Well, actually I never really did, but it sounds cool.  The "other" Owl's Head was another time and another mind set.  This one is a different animal altogether...

We had two days left of our Seek the Peak trip and were hoping for two more hikes.  After the great day on the Baldpates on Sunday and skipping Mt Washington I had hoped for a another chance at a Presi day.  We weren't up for anything huge, and Caps Ridge up Jefferson had sounded perfect.  On Monday morning I checked the MWObs higher summits forecast and got a bit of bad news.  What was originally another clear, sunny day had now turned sour (much the reverse of Saturday) and the summits were now forecast to be in the clouds all day.  Caps Ridge would still be fun, but it seemed a shame to get up there just to be staring into a cloud.  Time for the second Plan B of the weekend (and this time we had one).

I'd been figuring that after getting a Presi day on Monday we could hit Cherry Mountain on our way home on Tuesday.  We hadn't been up there yet, and after catching the Presi views from Pondicherry last year I was anxious to check it out.  With possible storms in the afternoon on Monday this shortish hike made a great alternative for today.

We decided to take the west approach on the Cherry Mountain Trail from Rt 115.  This is the shortest (and most common) approach.  John Compton (the trail adopter for the east branch of the Cherry Mountain Trail and Martha's Mile) details the different approaches HERE.  Leaving the campground in the morning the weather was still nice - a bit warmer than Sunday but nowhere near the awful heat and humidity of the last week.  We got to the trailhead at about 9:30 and were the only car there.  We'd only see a few other people all day.

The beginning of the trail is a gentle climb on a soft path surrounded by many wildflowers.  If we hadn't had a view at the summits these would have been enough to make it a great hike.  I later found out from my "flower expert", Kevin Talbot, that the first sighting on the trail was probably the best - a rare Large Purple Fringed Orchid.  I didn't know what I was looking at at the time - just that it was beautiful.

Purple Fringed Orchid (apparently rare)


First Indian Pipes of the day (there were many)

First views of the day (there were many of these too)



Cherry Mountain trail

Wood Sorrel

The upper sections of the trail get steeper and rockier, but are still very nice.  While this is still an "easy" climb, it does gain 1900' in the 1.9 miles to Mt Martha (and more than 2500' overall with Owl's Head).  Making the turn at the junction with the Cherry Mountain Trail east branch the final 0.2 up to Mt Martha is on a wide path that leads to a summit with some pretty beautiful views.  It takes standing on the "viewing rock" to get the full picture (and it takes a day somewhat clearer than this one), but it's worth the effort.

Upper Cherry Mountain trail

At the crossroads

Presis disappearing into the clouds from Mt Martha

The Mt Martha "viewing rock"

White Yarrow

Old fire tower foundation on Mt Martha

Views from the back of Mt Martha

Leaving the summit of Mt Martha, the truly beautiful part of this hike begins.  Martha's Mile (actually 0.8 miles) is one of the most beautiful stretches of wooded trail that you're likely to find in the Whites (it's hard to compare anything in the woods to open ridges).  The only thing I can compare it to is the "enchanted forest" that we encountered on the Isolation Trail last summer.  Thank you John, for taking such obviously loving care of your charge.

And what a beautiful mile it is!

Start of Martha's Mile

Magical woodland

So much green

After the long stretch of soft paths and green surroundings there is the short, steep section up Owl's Head.  One could perhaps compare it to a mini-version of the approach to the other Owl's Head, but that would be most unfair.  There are one or two slightly tricky sections where one has to use the strategically placed trees to pull up over the steep rocks, but that's just part of the fun.  A few minutes of this and we arrived on the summit to a muted version of what are clearly amazing views.

Starting up Owl's Head

One of the Owl's Head challenges

First Owl's Head views

Mt Martha from Owl's Head

Presis in the clouds

When we got to the summit there was a large group of college kids there.  They were a bit noisy and enjoying their day, but we really didn't mind.  It's great to see young people out there enjoying these kinds of places.  We sat on the ledges and ate our lunch and they soon left and were replace by a woman and her canine companion - a three year old Lab that could have been a twin to the younger version of our Jake.  When he saw me watching him he strained at his leash and gave me that big doggie smile that Labs are so good at.  The woman smiled sheepishly at me and said "he really wants to say hello".  I replied "so do I", and so we did.  It makes me so happy to see a happy dog like this out on the trail.  I talked to him for a few minutes (and his "mom" as well) and then went back to finish my lunch.  They did some summit sitting together and then headed off before we got a chance to say goodbye.  Everything else that day was wonderful, but meeting them really made my day.

Summit sitters


Below the summit ledge

Nat loves the ledges

A little Alpine Hammock promo

The skies were starting to darken and we thought we might be in for some of the thunderstorms that were forecast for the afternoon, so we headed down.  On the way we noticed even more of the flora and fauna that we had missed on the way up.



Heading down

More of the many Indian Pipes


By the time we got back to the car the sky was clearing again.  We went back to the campground and spent a relaxing afternoon reading, listening to the birds and watching the clouds drift along the now blue sky.  We had clearly made the right choice for this day (particularly since it was pouring rain by the time we got up on Tuesday morning, washing out our final potential hike).  This was one of the nicest "small" hikes in recent memory, and one that we'll definitely repeat - hopefully on a crisp, clear fall (or perhaps spring) day with those incredible views on display.

Here's the interactive GPS track:

And the overview of the route


  1. Great post. Love the photos. We did this, a few years ago, in the winter month of May. Took a nasty spill on Owl's Head, slid right down a rock. Think I still feel the pain. We love looking at it from Pondicherry and plan to re hike on one of our return trips North.

    1. Thanks Ann. I love the reference to "the winter month of May". Only in New England. :) Ouch on the Owl's Head spill. I can imagine the spot. Looking forward to a return to Pondicherry as well.


  2. Great "little" hike Mark, unparalleled views of the Presidentials. One of the these days I'm going to try the east side and see where that goes!

    1. We'll definitely be back Dan. Several other approaches to try (all leading to those views).