Perched on a wooden shelf in my house, the maps of the White Mountains lay wrinkled, their edges beginning to wear from years of reference. Lined up against each other, each map displays in detail different sections of the mountains. Before each hike, we always press the map we need out against the kitchen table, drawing our finger up and down the contour lines. We zip it into pack pockets, pull it out in front of the steering wheel, and occasionally at trail intersections. You see, the main goal of the maps is to orient yourself against established hiking trails. While the red lines are any map’s focal point and have even sparked the creation of “red liners,” hikers who strive to lay their bootprints across every trail, it’s often the terrain off the trail that seems to be the most compelling.
As I was planning out my path up to the peak of Owl’s Head, the red lines were little help. They led my finger in loops around the route that I wanted to take, and up an incredibly dangerous ice slide in the winter. The real and only way to ascend Owl’s Head in the winter is through a course of two bushwacks.