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Owls Head and Mt Martha Attempt

Mt Martha (3573')
Mt Martha (3573′)

Mt Martha (3573′) and Owls Head (3258′) are two sub-peaks of Cherry Mountain, a prominent mountain located just outside Twin Mountain, NH and west of the Presidential Range. We attempted to climb both last weekend, but only made it as far as Owls Head. There’s a trail connecting the two peaks called Martha’s Mile, but we couldn’t find it in the deep snow.

Climbing Owls Head Mountain had been no mean feat, mind you, and like many White Mountain 3000 footers, it’s a harder hike than many 4000 footers in terms of elevation gain.

Note: Owls Head is a common mountain name in New England, and this Owls Head Mountain is different from the 4000 footer located in the Pemigewasset Wilderness.

Roue to Owls Head and Mount Martha
Route to Owls Head and Mount Martha

Normally, I wouldn’t have been phased by hiking off-trail to try to find the trail and summit the second peak. But my friend Lisa and I were leading this trip for the Appalachian Mountain Club and we had a big group, including some some less experienced winter hikers. We didn’t think that the weaker hikers would have finished the hike (and I refuse to split groups in winter for safety reasons), so we made the call to hike out rather than continuing on.

Owls Head Ledge
Owls Head Ledge

We’d already had to modify our original route once before even starting this hike. Our original trip plan had called for a traverse of Mt Martha and Owls Head, in that order, but we couldn’t get into the lower trailhead on Rt 115, since we didn’t have enough 4 wheel drive vehicles to get into the unplowed lot for the reverse shuttle. The upper lot on 115 is usually in better shape in winter, so we opted to do an in-and-out hike up the Owls Head Trail, across Martha’s Mile, to Mt Martha, and then back.

Pencil woods along the Owls Head Mountain Trail
Pencil woods along the Owls Head Mountain Trail

Although, I’ve climbed Owls Head Mountain previously, I guess I’d forgotten just how steep it is. The beginning of the hike starts easy, meandering though pencil woods, since the area has been extensively logged. This section is often quite wet underfoot during the year, although it was frozen over and covered in snow when we hiked it. The trail had been broken out previously and I was able to bareboot all the way up without traction, although the other 12 hikers in are group felt more comfortable donning microspikes.

The trail climbs very gradually until a stream crossing, and from there it shoots up steeply to the summit, climbing 1400 feet in the final mile, following the path of an old logging road until it starts to switch back near the summit. The final stretch of the climb ascends Owls Head’s pyramid-shaped summit, which is visible for miles around when you look at the Cherry Mountain massif from the north.

The Southern Ledge on Owls Head Mountain
The Southern Ledge on Owls Head Mountain

While the summit of Owls Head is wooded, there’s a nice ledge just below the summit on the south side, facing Mt Martha. This is where we expected to find the trail junction to Martha’s Mile, but couldn’t in the deep snow, even after a few off-trail reconnoiters. That’s the way it goes, I guess.

Still, Owls Head alone is a good hike, close enough to Twin Mountain, NH to make it easily accessible, but off the beaten path if you’re bored with climbing 4000 footers.

Total round trip distance: 5 miles with 2000 feet of elevation gain.

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6 comments

  1. Great peak, one of my favorite 3Ks. There is no signed junction on Owls Head for Martha’s Mile. The trail begins at the summit, then drops down to the outlook ledges. The folks in the last photo above are standing on the trail. Go off to the left here (right if descending from the summit), across the ledges and around, and then the trail will drop down two very steep but short pitches, which are likely easier with snow on them. From there it’s a pretty gradual climb out of the col and over to Martha.

    • That’s what we figured. We didn’t feel very comfortable going down those ledges with that group and we had some folks who were out of gas from the climb up Owls head. There’s a point where leaders have to set aside their redlining or peak bagging ambitions, and it just one of those days. They actually happen a lot in winter, but it doesn’t diminish the pleasure of going new places with friends.

  2. As maintainer of Martha’s Mile, just want to extend my regrets to you for being unable to locate Martha’s Mile from the Owls Head Summit. It’s very easy to understand how even an experienced hiker could have difficulty since the start of this trail is less than obvious, especially in snow-covered conditions. At least in the warm weather months you can get some clues from the blazing painted on the ledge surface, and the corridor that leads to Martha’s Mile would be more obvious without the confounding issue of snow-encrusted branches obscuring the pathway. Hopefully, you’ll give this spot a second chance once the snow is gone. If so, then I’m certain you’ll have no problems with finding the start of Martha’s Mile.

    John

    • John, it was no big deal. I figured there was obscured blazing on the rocks. I’ll just have to go back, and I don’t mind that one bit. I want to check out the humps and have some redlining to do.

      Question for you, though. I was under the impression that the black Brook trail was decommissioned. Do you know if it’s officially open and maintained?

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