I try to stay away from the more popular Adirondack peaks during the summer season, because at my age I’m always afraid some college kid is going to stop me on the trail and ask me to sit for an oral history project.
But I figured I needed to climb Owls Head in Keene before it closes later this year due to overuse and the poor manners of hikers whose cars were blocking the driveways of homeowners on the privately owned property.
I had seen Owls Head many times as I descended from the Cascade lakes on Rt. 73. I’d always thought to myself, What a cute little mountain; I wonder why nobody ever climbs that? This shows what an idiot I am, because apparently about 7 million people a day climb Owls Head, part of the creeping Cascadeism that turns the stunning pass into a three-mile parking lot on the weekends.
I had also assumed the little cone didn’t have a name, embarrassingly oblivious to the fact that everything between Keene and the lakes is named Owls Head this or Owls Head that. As part of my defense, however, I would like to register the complaint that too many mountains are named Owls Head, to the point where the name fades into background noise.
It almost makes you wonder if, back in the day when these mountains were being named, they didn’t have any other birds. “Yup Jedediah, looks like another owls head to me. It could be a haystack I suppose but, nope — owl.”
Anyway, finding myself with a spare hour on a recent weekday afternoon (the trailhead has already been shut down on weekends) I rounded up Pete and Addie and headed for the Head. It was a beautiful day, but it hadn’t started out that way, so the traffic was initially light.
Owls Head sort of reminds you of an old-fashion juicer, the kind with the glass pyramid
in the middle of a high-sided bowl. You would mash half a grapefruit or orange on the protrusion to extract the juice; in fact, you could even say that the passes in the surrounding mountains resemble the channels in the bowl that separated the liquid from the seeds, but I’ve probably taken this comparison too far as it is.
The views are great and the trail is short — just over half a mile — and because of this it screams of overuse. Instead of a single trail, it’s more like a river delta with multiple channels heading in multiple directions. Everyone I saw on the way up expressed sorrow that the trail was about to close, but they were quite understanding of the reason.
Actually, that’s not completely true. There was one trio of teenage girls whose conversation was audible a good hundred feet before they came into view. Based on the contents of this conversation, largely consisting of “for real” and “shut up” — and the radioactive hair loosely shoveled into piles atop their domes — I gathered they probably weren’t up for a philosophical discussion of public access versus private property rights, or the finer points of the Wilderness classification vis a vis Wild Forest, if you know what I’m saying. But they were out on the trail, so good for them.
Two of the people I did talk to were locals who were there for the same reason I was — to check out the view while there was still time. On the way down I met a group of young adults, one of whom was wailing about the impossible distance she was being required to traverse. They were novices who had not heard about the impending closure, but to my surprise they were quite interested in the circumstance. Hiker decorum had not been on their radar before, but you could see it was an issue they were willing to take to heart. It almost made me wish I could go back and take another stab at the Valley Girls.
The view from Owls Head is of course splendid, an interesting and unusual perspective of Cascade and Pitchoff, along with a long view of knobby Hurricane and a profile of Giant. And who can resist the Adirondacks’ finest view of Porter?
It’s almost a view that comes a little too easily, if that makes any sense. It sounds as if the state is looking to establish a back-door trail to O.H., which I would almost hope will be a little more challenging. I confess, it’s nice to have a gimmee like Owls Head, Baker or the Crows that offer a spectacular reward when time is short. But people tend to value things more highly when they are earned, not given. For example, kids take better care of a car that they pay for with their own money than one that their parents provide free of charge. A bad corollary I know; but it makes more sense than the juicer analogy.
Photos by Tim Rowland.