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03 March 2011

Bushwhack to Owl's Head (the one on Cherry Mountain!)

Gather around folks and allow me to tell you a little story about an unintended bushwhack to that 3,248 ft peak up on Cherry Mountain known as Owl's Head.

The lead-up to this story is that I am the volunteer trail maintainer for the 0.8 mile trail named Martha's Mile. This trail runs along a ridgeline on Cherry Mountain and connects two named peaks, one is Mt. Martha and the other is Owl's Head. At the Mt. Martha end of Martha's Mile, there are thick conifers. In past winters, hikers have had difficulty finding the start of the trail since heavy snow bent over the branches and obscured the trail corridor. This past summer I significantly widened the trail by removing a lot of conifers.

The mission on the day of my hike (03-Mar-2011) was to take a look at Martha's Mile during winter conditions to see if my work had helped. It was an enjoyable hike up to the ridge via the Cherry Mountain Trail from its trailhead on Rt. 115. The snowshoe track was firm and smooth. Upon arrival at Mt. Martha I was delighted to see that the trail corridor for Martha's Mile was clearly evident. The snow-laden conifers on either side of the trail had narrowed the corridor, but not obscured it as in past winters.

It was a bit disappointing to see no evidence that anyone had used the trail, despite the highly visible trail corridor!!  But, I do know that during the winter months, new snowfall and windblown drifts can quickly eradicate any evidence of a snowshoe track. So, it's quite possible that all traces of recent hiker traffic had simply been erased. I suppose this is Mother Nature's way of practicing the precept of "leave no trace"!

Even though Martha's Mile was unbroken, I decided to head on over to Owl's Head. The snowpack on the ridge was firm, and this makes for easy trail-breaking. With great certainty, I was able to follow the trail corridor for about 0.2 mile, but then things became less certain. The woods along this ridge are so wide open. This makes it very easy to head off the trail, especially without the benefit of being able to see a worn treadway underfoot.

After awhile, I was pretty certain that I was NOT on the trail. I pulled out my GPS to determine my location and discovered that I was about 450 ft east of Martha's Mile. I headed off in the direction of the trail, but didn't find anything that looked any different from all the other open woods around me. I decided not to waste time trying to find the trail corridor, especially since there was a chance I'd simply loose it again. So, I got a GPS bearing for Owl's Head and headed in that direction.

The batteries in my GPS died while en route (of course!).  I had spares with me, but I didn't bother to replace the dead batteries.  I already had a bearing, and so for the remainder of the trek, I just navigated by compass and gut feel. Within 20 minutes or so I arrived at the base of the Owl's Head summit on its southeast side. Although this area is off the trail, nonetheless it's familiar to me since I've done some intentional bushwhacking there during warm weather months.

During these past explorations, I've discovered an off-trail alternative for that final push to the top.  I actually find it easier than the conventional on-trail route. Using this alternative route, it was only a matter of minutes before I was sitting on Owl's Head and enjoying fine views such as shown in the snapshot below.
Okay, this story had a happy ending, which makes for "1HappyHiker"! However, I must say that that this experience also resulted in "1EmbarassedHiker". The source of embarrassment is that I (the trail maintainer for crying out-loud!) was unable to follow Martha's Mile, even though I'm intimately familiar with the course it follows.

So, it's readily apparent that this upcoming summer I'll need to do some more aggressive blazing along this corridor. Hopefully, this will make it easier to follow the trail during winter conditions. However, blazing is a bit of a challenge along this trail since trees are spaced so widely apart. But, I'll do what I can do and then look forward to next winter to see if my efforts were helpful.

In conclusion, if anyone happens to read this before my tracks to Owl's Head disappear, please feel free to follow my tracks and to rest assured that they will lead you to Owl's Head. All I ask is that you not roll over with laughter as you follow my winding circuitous path. :) For certain, my route is less direct than the course followed by the trail. Nonetheless, the bushwhack only took about 45 minutes travel time, whereas normally it takes me about 30 to 35 minutes when hiking the trail.

Additional Photos:

Below is a collage of a few other scenes that were enjoyed during my trek to Cherry Mountain on 03-Mar-2011.


Steve Smith said...

Fine report and great view shot, John! It's amazing how deep snow can mask familiar routes.


1HappyHiker said...

Thanks for the reply Steve.

As you know, with viewing conditions like they were on the day of my hike, the vista from the Owl's Head peak on Cherry Mountain is very worthwhile . . . even if it entails bushwhacking to get to it! :)


Marty said...

Hi John,

Love the pictures of snow as well as your report- Sounds like a typical "john" day in the woods
We are now in Accra, capital city of Ghana-
Average temp-88-92, about 80%humidity- no comment
Lots of stoies to tell when I see you next-

Now I'm going to read your other posts

1HappyHiker said...

Whew! With daytime temps in the upper 80s and humidity at 80%, I can understand why my photos of snowy scenes might have an appeal! Looking forward to hearing all about your trip!