• Laura Ventresco

Owls Head: Backpacking, Bushwhacking and New Friends

Peaks: Owl's Head

Miles: Roughly 18

Hike Date: 9/23/2017

48 List #: 27/48

2017 has been incredible! I have so many stories to share with you guys. I will post of course current adventures, but I also want to share and reflect back on some of the highlights of my year.

Oh, Owl's Head.

I was slightly intimidated by this hike for a couple reasons:

  1. First Backpacking trip of the year

  2. Longest hike and miles I will have completed to date

  3. My first overnight without my boyfriend, he usually splits the gear with me. Tent, stove, dog's things, etc.

Challenge accepted. I had been dying to get out for an overnight and try out our new tent. 3 lbs lighter than our previous backpacking tent, a humongous difference. I had invited John (the boyfriend) but he somehow managed to get sick right before the trip and sneak out of it. Nervous and excited and sleepy of all sorts I set out at some ungodly hour that morning to go meet up with a new group of friends, and spend a night in the woods. My backpack was heavy, but well thought out. Every ounce and piece of gear matters when it comes to weight, and carrying this lifesource for the next many many miles ahead of us. ESPECIALLY if I was doing this alone. On the way I fueled up with a nutritious breakfast, lots of hiking to do meant my body could use from fuel: Chocolate glazed donuts. Calories don't count on hike days.

6 brave humans and 3 excited dogs set off for a warm, September adventure. The first 3 miles of this hike are completely flat up Lincoln Woods trail. Easy, breezy walking trail with the foliage just starting to turn and some pretty river look outs along the way. We come up to our first trail junction and quickly use a picture of my map from my cell phone, instead of pulling out the big full-size ordeal. We are trekking along, just trying to knock some of these miles off before we come to a realization..

The trail we were following ended.

We were bushwhacking without even meaning to. We hear running water nearby and decided to continue just ahead enough to reach the river. I had done some research before hand and read that so many people bushwhack this trail- that there is an almost defined bushwhack trail that will cut some miles off. & ...Leave you completely nerve wrecked the whole time that you somehow already got lost. Unsure of what to do, we decide we need to eat the chicken salad sandwich that Melissa brought for us. Priorities here people! It's not safe to make decisions when you're hungry.

So, we're lost. & we have to make a decision here on how to proceed?. We could go back and lose at least an hour of time, or longer. Or, we could trek on, on this maybe bushwhacked un-marked path? We kind of had an inkling where we were after pulling out the REAL map. Smart kids now, we learned. We can see on the map there is a Y on the map near where our trail is. & What do you know, a split in the river just ahead. We bushwhack, we question are life decisions as to why we are hiking this. & we get off the fake trail a bunch more times, unsure of where to go. By the time we popped out on the trail we practically squealed with joy. We found the trail, saved the day, and are ready to rock again.

We had previously decided that on our hike up we would pick a spot to camp, and drop packs. In my opinion, its the best way to backpack. You already have a spot for camp, and you get to take off the heavy pack. I carry a small knapsack for some essentials to take to the top, and of course we will all be much speedier without that heavy beast on your shoulders. As we keep on with our hike, eyes are pealed for that perfect camp spot. We want something off trail, private, flat and big enough for 3 tents. Quite the credentials.

After not quite finding our 5 star backpacking corner of the woods, we settle on crossing the river and leaving packs, and finding a camp spot after we summit. We hide our packs and grab a few things to take to the top. One girl in our group had taken a moment in the woods nearby to use facilities, she comes back running and excited telling us she found us a perfect spot to camp! We all come to check it out- couldn't be more perfect. Nearby to the water, flat, a fire ring is even already made. Finally something goes right.

At this point its approaching mid day. It's a hot one for September and we are crushing miles on our way kick Owl's Head right in the pants. Trail is still a gradual hike, nothing too steep yet. Until we reach the spot we were warned about... The last 1.1 miles up the slide. It's steep, the sun is pounding on us, and the trail is gravely and crumbling down underneath us. It's taking us a while, lots of breaks are needed and careful footing.

I notice Blaze was trailing behind so I tell the others to go ahead and that we will catch up. Blaze, my mountain crusher isn't looking too well and just stops. Refusing to move. The poor buddies it's so rocky he can't even find a flat or comfortable place to lay. I mean we were all sweating, the sun is harsh at almost 4000 feet, and exposed with no trees for shade. My Dog Momma skills kick in, I remove his backpack. Give him water, some treats and words of encouragement. Mike hikes down to help me with him, and Melissa shares her water. So thankful I'm with a good crew.

It was a scary moment, we were able to find one rare spot of shade for him. After taking an ample break and attaching blaze's backpack to my knap sack, he is able to hike on. Even though we know we are working on our last 1.1 miles it's taking foreverrrrr. Where is this summit?

By the time we reach it, we have all gone through every last drop of water we brought. I gave most of mine to my dogs since they're in fur coats, but none of us expected it to this hot or for this damn slide to challenge everything you thought you knew about hiking. Summit, happy dance. We are all so dead, and dehydrated and eager to get back to camp before dark. We don't stay too long, and hike down dreaming of water and a warm dinner.

We arrive back at camp just barely at dusk. Even though we are so tired from our journey there is still work to be done. Set up tent and camp, someone else makes a fire, I filter some water from the stream. You really appreciate the group atmosphere back at camp. We huddle by a fire, sharing flasks of whiskey, and cook stoves to warm our spaghettios. Celebrating the great feat we accomplished that day.

Drained and ready for bed, we remember that we have to make a bear bag first. I was in charge of this and had brought a huge contractors bag and some rope. We all collected our edibles and donated them to this bag for safe keeping for the night. No bear visitors tonight. Walking away from our camp site we find a tree with an extended branch and start hoisting our rope up and over. Takes a couple tries. Once we start to raise our contractors bag up, my rope breaks. Nooooo. It won't hold. Rooky mistake. In defeat, and with no back up rope, we hike out a bit aways from our camp and leave the tied bag right on the forest floor.

Lucky for us, the bears did not touch my coffee or breakfast.

Some Lessons:

  1. ALWAYS check a real map, do not rely on what you remember or a picture of a map even

  2. Remember to check for trail blaze's so you can realize you are off trail

  3. If you drop your big overnight bag- still bring essentials and plenty of water, EXTRA if you have dogs

  4. If 6 people's food is going in the same bear bag, you will need a stronger rope

  5. You are a badass and can do anything you put your mind too, even hike 18 miles with 20lbs on your back!

This mountain taught me some much needed wisdom. Even though I am an experienced day hiker- the first backpacking trip of the season will always be a little clunky. It takes time work out all your gear, like which rope to use for a bear bag. And how much whiskey to bring (always more).

I would love to hear from you guys! Have you ever bushwhacked? Any fun stories of backpacking trips gone haywire?

Happy Hiking Friends!

-Laura the Explorer

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