52 With a View – Mt. Martha & Owl’s Head, New Hampshire
If you have traveled through northern New Hampshire you know that there are tall mountains wherever you go. The concentration of peaks is extraordinary. As a hiker, you have probably heard of the “ 48-4,000 footers”. These are the 48 highest peaks, but they are not the only mountains that have some incredible views. In fact, there are more than a handful of the 4000 footers that don’t even have a view. So after conquering the “48-4000 footers” you will look for another hiking goal to achieve. A worthy successor to the 48 is the “52 with a view.” These are mountains that for the most part are less frequently traveled, not as difficult to summit, take less time to hike, but are no less spectacular.
On Saturday, I planned to hike Mt. Martha/Owls Head, one of the “52.” Although it is considered only one peak on the list, there are two actual summits, 0.8 mile apart. I had contacted an old college friend who lives in the White Mountain area to do the hike with me. Both Mike and his wife, Celeste agreed to accompany me.
The hike almost didn’t happen. We both went to different trailheads and I couldn’t contact Mike because his phone was off. After waiting for an anxious 20 minutes, and by chance, Mike decided to check his phone and turned it back on. Crisis averted. With two cars at two trailheads it afforded us the opportunity to make a one way traverse. The decision was made to travel south to north starting on the Cherry Mountain trail. The first part of the hike involved a 1900 ft. ascent in 1.9 miles. That’s a pretty healthy uphill jaunt. But the reward was some of the most outstanding views in the White Mountains. From one vantage point on the Mt. Martha summit (Elev. 3573) you could see Mt. Washington and most of the other peaks of the Presidential range stretched across your field of view. Then take 30-40 steps to the west and you have the Franconia Ridge and the peaks of the Twin Mountain range in full view. Lastly, a turn to the north-west yielded views into Vermont, including Mt Mansfield. There are not too many vantage points that allow views of that many peaks without being above 5000 feet in elevation.
Once we left Mt. Martha we traveled north on the trail called Martha’s Mile. This is a 0.8 mile down and up trail that connected the two summits. There were short sections that were steep, but overall this was an easy and quick connecting trail. The summit of Owl’s Head (Elev 3258) was a bit lower in elevation than Mt. Martha, but it had some marvelous exposed rocks that faced the Presidential Range and the summit of Mt. Martha. What made this view so extraordinary was the fact that you could see every peak of the Presidential Range from Mt. Madison in the north to Mt. Webster and Crawford Notch to the south. It was a great place to relax and have a high summit lunch.
The final portion of the hike was along the Owl’s Head Trail. This was a 2000 foot descent in 2.5 miles. There were no really steep sections on this trail and it was entirely in the woods with no additional views. The final ½ mile on this trail was a bit peculiar. It appears a new trail was cut to get around a logging road. It felt like we had walked almost in a complete circle. The total distance for this hike was 5 ¼ miles. A pleasant time was had by all.