Owl’s Head, at right, from the top of Mount Garfield
This mountain, the lopsided, bulbous ridge on the right, is much lower than the one on which I stood to take this picture, but it intimidates me more.It’s known as Owl’s Head, after a portion of its long ridge. Except for the smallish procession of people called peakbaggers who want to climb all of the mountains in New Hampshire over a certain elevation, no one would climb it. It doesn’t seem to want to be climbed. It wants to be by itself.
There’s something scary about it, off by itself there. It is completely in the trees. So to climb it is to understand that you will not get a great sense of where you are. The last stretch of the most viable route to its summit, which may or may not be marked, is a mile-long scramble up a rock slide. You reach the top, and you’re not sure you’re there. This is the Pemigewasset Wilderness, where trails get minimal attention, and this trail is not maintained by any person, although hikers’ boots keep a route stamped out. The bottom of this slide lies 8 miles from the nearest road.
For years I have said I would never climb it because I’m not a peakbagger; the mountains taught me, step by step, that if you race to summits and back down, you miss a lot. The summit is almost beside the point. Mountain climbing is about the trip over and past. Mountains taught me to slow down and not to tick off summits on a list. Except this year I’m ignoring this advice, and loving it. I have decided to finish climbing a group of 48 mountains on a list. They are the 4,000-footers in New Hampshire. To make this list, a mountain must top out at above 4,000 feet above sea level. But it also must rise 200 feet from the low point between it and another peak on a ridge. There are several 4,000-foot peaks that rise gloriously above treeline and have made me regain faith in everything good, but which don’t qualify as a 4,000-footer because they lie too close to another high one. Mount Guyot is one of those.
But Owl’s Head stands alone, and its 4,025-foot elevation beckons. Starting September 8, I am eating my previous words and going to New Hampshire to peakbag the last seven 4,000-footers I have yet to see. Owl’s Head will be first. I’m getting the ugly one over with, and I know that it is this mountain, more than any of the others, that will have something to say to me.