ON & OFF THE OSSEO TRAIL: 8/7/09
Carol kicked me out of the store for the day, and with a forecast for cool, partly sunny weather, with a slight chance for an afternoon shower or t-storm, I opted for a close-to-home trek on the Osseo Trail, a longtime favorite of mine. I figured I would go up at least as far as the viewpoint into the Pemi Wilderness called the Down-Look, 4.6 miles from the trailhead, and if the weather held I would continue another mile up to the summit of Mt. Flume.
I started at 7:30 from Lincoln Woods, where a few hikers were preparing for long treks into the Pemi. I left a note on the windshield of one friend who I knew was going into Owl's Head. Then I headed across the familiar suspension bridge onto the Lincoln Woods Trail.
A 25-minute walk brought me to the junction with the Osseo Trail.
I love the first 0.2 mile of this trail, where it meanders across a hardwood flat, following the windings of the unofficially-named "Osseo Brook."
On May 1, 1999 there was a brush fire in this flat area, which was contained fairly quickly and confined to just a couple of acres.
Most of the first two miles of Osseo are at easy grades with good footing, paralleling Osseo Brook up its long valley. I walked this trail shortly after it was opened in 1983 (replacing the original Osseo Trail over Whaleback Mtn., which was abandoned due to condo construction on its lower section). I remember the soft duff footing down most of the length of the trail. It's a little rougher now up on the ridge, but those lower two miles are still pretty smooth sailing. Today the trail is admirably maintained by its volunteer adopters, "Fisher Cat" and "Forester Jake," as they are known on the Views from the Top website.
Somewhere in the first mile it follows one switchback of a gravity-powered incline logging railroad built by the J.E. Henry logging operation in 1901. This line only operated for a couple of years; it was abandoned when a brakeman was killed after a car loaded with logs careened out of control on the way down. I have never been able to definitively identify the locations where the trail hops on and off this old railroad grade.
At the end of the two-mile valley section, the trail switchbacks up to the ridgecrest to the north, winds up it, then makes a bold climb up the very steep nose of a spur ridge that juts east from the main crest to the south of Mt. Flume. Here is one section that was cut right across the face of the ridge.
The Osseo is well-known for its several long wooden staircases. Without them, this steep part of the trail would quickly be worn down to bedrock and likely would be slippery and dangerous.
The Down-Look is on the right partway up the ladder section, at about 3500 ft. As I ascended to here, I could see that skies had grayed up and that the Twins and Mt. Bond were socked in. When I arrived at the viewpoint at about 10 am the vista was still reasonably clear.
A few minutes later I was hit with a fairly heavy rain shower. It was raining over on the Bonds, too.
The rain stopped, and the sun shone briefly on Owl's Head.
I took in the long view up the East Branch valley out to Mt. Nancy.
But soon thunder started rumbling off to the north, and it kept up for a good twenty minutes. When a black cloud started rolling south towards me, I decided it was time to head down and forget about continuing to the summit of Flume. I followed a group of three guys who had gone a little ways above the Down-Look but turned around as the thunder persisted. Meanwhile, there were a few other folks still heading up.
Another heavy shower hit as I was descending the trail in the woods below the ladders. Then it started to clear up and breaks of blue appeared. The day was not lost! I had a backup plan to bushwhack to a nameless knobby little peak, known merely as "Peak 2779," that juts up east of where the Osseo Trail first gains the ridgecrest. Last winter on a bushwack to the SE cliffs of Owl's Head I had spotted a small slide (which showed as a snowy swath) on the N side of this knob. It promised to offer an interesting view into the western Pemi.
Fifteen years earlier I had made a snowshoe bushwhack to this knob from the Osseo Trail, seeking some ledges on the south side. The woods on this little peak were uinformly thick and scrubby. A whack of less than a mile round trip took three hours through the dense snow-covered conifers. I found the ledges but with the slippery snow could not find a safe perch, and it was foggy with limited views anyway.
The prospect of the view from the north-side slide, and unfinished business on the south-side ledges, spurred me to undertake a whack to Peak 2779 as a consolation for my abandoned climb of Mt. Flume, even though the woods were wet from the rain showers.
This time I used a more northerly route to Peak 2779 and found somewhat more open woods down on that side of the ridge. After a half-hour of weaving through the wet branches, I found my slide, a small gravel swath below a ledge and scrubby area. I used a small and rather precarious seat for a lunch break.
As it turned out, this little knob was full of surprises. First off, the slide offered one of the most interesting views of Owl's Head I've seen in years of whacking to viewpoints in the Pemi.
I especially liked the angle on the mountain's sharp south peak, which may have been the origin for its name.
The lower SE cliff of Owl's Head, which I visited with two friends last winter, presented an interesting profile, with Galehead Mtn. beyond.
Just across the remote valley of Birch Island Brook was a 2857-ft. knob, a spur on the long NE ridge of Mt. Flume, with a prominent ledge. I visited this ledge back in the 90s, and getting this closeup view of it had me planning for a return visit.
From a scrubby area by the slide there was this view of Mt. Flume rising above the bowl-like upper basin of Birch Island Brook. A beautiful hidden valley.
The weather had improved, with partly sunny skies and a brisk wind. Even Lafayette emerged from the clouds.
From another vantage point the entire Twin-Bond range was revealed beyond the Franocnia Brook valley.
The three Bonds.
Bondcliff has an especially jagged look from this perspective.
West Bond, looking rather pyramidal.
A good angle on the northern of the two cirques at the head of Redrock Brook, between South Twin and Guyot.
The Twins, anchoring the north end of the range.
A parting shot of Owl's Head and the Twins.
From the slide I pushed up through dense growth to the summit of Peak 2779, which was open on the south side and warm in the sun.
From here there was an unusual view up to the headwall of the Osseo Brook valley. Some wild country out there.
Even wilder, perhaps, is this 3400-ft. eastern spur of Whaleback Mtn., with naked rock slabs spotting its flanks. Wonder when the top of this blasted, remote ridge was last visited?
To the SE were several other Whaleback spurs, with the aptly-named Scar Ridge beyond.
Looking up the ridge to the W, I could trace the route of the Osseo Trail up the steep nose of the eastern spur, and beyond across a plateau and up to near the summit of Flume.
Next I descended to the south-facing clifftop ledges, which were guarded by a dense collar of mountain holly shrubs.
Taking care to prevent damage to both me and the bushes, I gingerly made my way out to a small flat shelf of granite - a dramatic perch indeed, with a true "Down-Look" to the floor of the Osseo Brook valley.
The long view down the valley was beautiful, leading out to the Osceolas on the horizon.
A nice angle on the O's.
Though not spacious enough for a nap, this was a great place to hang in the sun for a while.
To catch the full range of views from this lower ridge, I decided to cap the day with a repeat visit to a steep slab on the side of the ridge farther up the valley.
The whack from Peak 2779 back to the Osseo Trail was as thick and prickly as I remembered from my snowshoe visit. Patience and eye protection recommended. You really have to earn the great views from this surprisingly scrappy little peak.
The whack to the slab wasn't quite as thick, but it did entail a very steep downhill approach through some nasty, bone-hard old blowdown.
The slab is too steep to get out on without ropes, but I was able to find a seat in the trees at the upper corner.
This spot had an even longer view down the curving Osseo Brook valley, with the Hancocks and Hitchcocks beyond.
The evening sun lit up the west-facing slide on the north ridge of Hancock, which fell during the great November 1927 rainstorm.
From here there was a close-up view of the great slab on the flank of the Whaleback spur across the valley.
I weaseled down a little ways to get a clear look at Peak 2779 down the ridge. A striking little nubble, from this vantage.
One last look down the valley, and it was time to head for the trail and home. What started out as a disappointing climb had turned into a great little adventure with a wealth of interesting vistas.