Mt. Martha and Owl's Head: A Little Hike Making Great Strides
A few months ago I realized that I've been so focused on completing my New England 4,000 footers that I kind of lost sight of why I started hiking in the first place. In the past year and a half since I started hiking the Whites, more than half of my hikes have been without my dog Lucy. This is because most of the hikes I've done have been too difficult for her. But now I'm trying to do more hikes that include her because after all, what is Hiking Up with the Pup without my pup?
Lucy and I recently started working with Boston for the Dogs, a balanced training company working to help owners advocate for their dogs, recognize their needs, and create a safe space to help them reach their behavioral goals. They are welcoming of all breeds and temperaments, and are one of the only companies in the Boston area that take on aggression rehabilitation. Although Lucy doesn't have a history of aggressive behavior, she had gotten more and more leash reactive and unruly off leash, which led me to avoid hiking on busy trails.
With BFTD's help, Lucy and I have been getting out for local hikes more and more. With the start of her e-collar training for off leash recall, we all agreed she was ready for something bigger. So over the long weekend we took a vacation with the whole training crew up to Sugar Hill for a much needed weekend away packed with local breweries and lots of hiking! On Sunday, we hiked Mt. Martha and Owl's Head in Carroll. Let me be very clear, this Owl's Head is very different than the extremely remote peak in the Pemigewasset Wilderness. It's only 3,258 ft and boasts amazing views of the Presidentials.
We started the morning spotting a car at the Owl's Head trailhead so that we could ascend Cherry Mountain trail and traverse across. I'm taking every chance I can get to do some red-lining, so doing a traverse is usually preferable to an out and back when I have another car to shuttle. As we started up Cherry Mountain trail, our group of four humans and three dogs shuffled through the light snow easily.
Lucy had been working on her e-collar recall for the past few days, so we were all eager to test her new skills on a quiet trail. As Lucy practiced recall with Corey, one of our friends and beloved trainers, I enjoyed the scenery surrounding us. The two inch dusting of snow made it really feel like winter, with little flurries showering down when the breeze shuffled the heavy branches. I breathed in the crisp, dry air feeling it's cool presence reach the deepest parts of my lungs. I had forgotten how much I loved winter.
As we wound our way up the increasingly steep trail, we came across a group with three dogs one of whom was not dog friendly. Our well trained pups came quickly to be leashed before we passed the group by. In that moment I really valued the responsibility this group showed in regard to their pets. They had let us know that their dogs weren't friendly when we were about 100 yards away allowing us time and space to leash our dogs (which we would have anyway), and they had all of their dogs under control making for a positive experience for everyone involved.
I've realized in my hiking experiences that there are a lot of off leash dogs out of control on the trails. Full disclosure, Lucy was one of these dogs not too long ago. She's always been dog friendly but her recall has never been good. I didn't realize what a dangerous problem this was until I met people and dogs that were not comfortable with an energetic pup prancing up to them. We also had a scary encounter involving a frozen pond last spring due to her lack of recall, but I'll get into that story some other time. I think many dog owners forget to consider that random puppy greetings are not always welcome on the trails, but it's so important for everyone's safety and enjoyment.
After climbing for a little while more, we reached what looked like an old logging road. It was nice and wide letting the sun shine down on us between the trees. It was getting colder with every foot gained, so we threw on layers as we went. The dogs all had a great time on this wide stretch of trail, prancing through the fluffy snow. Hazel loved smushing her face into the ground, collecting snow in her party hat (muzzle) to lick off as she walked. Lucy rolled on her back, covering herself completely in the light snowflakes only to shake it all off making her own personal flurry. The trail was gentle until the junction with Owl's Head trail where we turned north for the short climb up to Mt. Martha. When we reached the summit we were greeted with views of the Presidentials.
Mt. Martha's views were pretty nice, but slightly blocked by trees. Had we been here in late winter it may have been more expansive, but with no snow pack it was a bit obscured. I'm also 5'2" so maybe someone taller would have a better view of the mountains. We stopped here for a quick pizza break before continuing on to Owl's Head.
We were warned by a fellow hiker that the rest of the climb might be tough with no traction since I was the only one with a pair of microspikes. I had told the group we would probably not be doing anything that would require traction, so they didn't bring all their gear up for the weekend. Although I worried we might be a tad under-prepared, I was confident we could retrace our steps to the car easily in case we got to the point where ascent would be difficult in bare boots. So we continued on under the assumption that we would turn around if we were faced with anything treacherous.
I'm really glad we kept going because the short hike to Owl's Head was fairly easy without spikes. We descended gradually for about a half mile before ascending to a gorgeous outlook a quarter of a mile above the small col. There was one steep icy spot, but both the dogs and humans got up it without too much difficulty and we were soon rewarded with amazing views of Mt. Washington and its counterparts.
Owl's Head is a cliffy outcrop boasting big views of New England's tallest mountains. We could see from Mt. Madison to Mt. Jackson with the rock pile standing tall between them. I looked across fondly, knowing that many of my fellow hiker friends were climbing in the Presidentials. Instead of being jealous of the high mountain hikers, I felt so lucky to be with my people. Not for a second did I wish that I was up there because this hike with Lucy and all my dog people was so much fun. We took lots of pictures and enjoyed each other's company in the mountains we all love.
The descent back to the car was very muddy and wet but not technically difficult. The trail got a bit hard to follow as we got back down in the valley, but there were a few signs just above eye level indicating the direction of the trail. As we descended down the gently sloping Owl's Head trail back to our car spot, I though about how far Lucy and I have come. I never imagined that we would be able to hike off leash because of her excitement around other dogs and people. Now here we were with the help of an amazing training community, reinforcing her new recall skills. One of the BFTD mottos is "do more with your dog," and I'm so excited to put that into action with lots of practice and training this winter.
I'm also overwhelmed by the family we have gained through Boston for the Dogs. A few months ago in the wake of losing my most trusted dog sitter, I contacted BFTD looking for a replacement walker. I didn't know then that I would be welcomed into a community that fiercely advocates for our dogs and one another. They have supported us through training and dog life like no other group of people I've ever met. Living in the city in such an opposite environment from my mountain happy place, it's been really hard for me to connect with people, so I feel so lucky to have found them.
Mt. Martha (3,573 ft) and Owl's Head (3,258 ft) via Cherry Mountain Tr and Owl's Head Tr [5.27 mi, 2080 ft, 4:20].