Sunday, February 13, 2011

Mt. Hancock & South Hancock - February 12, 2011

Summit of Hancock South (6th peak of 2011)
With the last week at work being a complete nightmare, and wanting to wake up from that, I chose to keep my quest going in February by adding another two winter peaks to my list. I chose Mt. Hancock (4420') and South Hancock (4319'), and set off solo for this trek.

I set off on the Hancock Notch Trail leaving the hairpin curve on the Kancamagus Highway at 6:30am. The trail starts right from the parking lot and crosses the street. Once into the woods, the trail is pretty flat and gentle, which allowed me to set a good pace early. After 1.7 miles, I joined with the Cedar Brook Trail for another .7 miles of the same, which I completed in just over 15 minutes. I then turned right to pick up the Hancock Loop Trail, which again, was straight and fairly gentle until you reach the next junction where one decides which mountain they'll do first. Wanting to hike Mt. Hancock first, I opted to go left, and that is when the ascent really started.

Summit of Mt. Hancock
I had been treated to such gentle terrain until now. The snow being so deep certainly made the trail a very steep .7 miles. Despite it being broken out, the outer part of the trail were loose, so on occasion I would sink in to the side or slip on the loose snow. It was not before long until I was nearing the summit. It's really impressive when you approach a summit in the winter because it feels like your about to stand on top of all of the trees. On the summit of Mt. Hancock, my 5th 4,000 footer of 2011, I could see the Osceola's. The lookout on Hancock was completely snowed in, but I took the few steps over to check it out. The wind was blowing steadily and the temperature had dropped significantly from when I was in the trees. I tried getting a few pictures of myself, but my hands couldn't take it after about a minute. I was ready to continue on to South Hancock.

Unbroken Hancock Loop Trail
View from Loop Trail between summits
Looking at the sign for the loop trail at the summit and the completely untouched snow beyond the sign leaving Mt. Hancock was a bit intimidating. It honestly looked like no one had hiked the loop trail between mountains in at least a couple of days. Accepting the challenge, I continued on carefully trying to be as sure footed as possible. Along the ridge, I was completely breaking the trail and sinking several inches. I think this extra effort was what caused my left leg to become a little strained, which I'm feeling right now. The hike along this part of the trail was one the most intriguing and beautiful stretches of trail that I've done in my quest. It's an intense experience snowshoeing at 4,000 feet over many feet of untouched snow. The part that minimized the intimidation was that the trail is extremely well marked along the ridge (even though the blazes are near the kneecaps).

Sign at summit of Hancock South
Before long, I arrived at the sign for the summit of Hancock South, my 6th 4000 footer of 2011. It was about 11am or so, and unless there were hikers flying up Mt. Hancock (North) after I had, I'm officially claiming that Mt. Hancock and South Hancock were mine today. I opted to not descend towards the South Hancock outlook due to the deep snow and it not being broken out. I'm all set taking a step and having 5 feet of snow fall out from beneath me and I start tumbling down the east side of the mountain. All set; I would have if I was more familiar with area without snow. I nearly took a spill on North Hancock when a couple feet of snow gave way between the rocks on North when I walked over to that outlook; I just didn't want that to happen since I was by myself. There are limited views on South Hancock anyways, plus after leaving North Hancock, the clouds had rolled in and it was snowing lightly.

I began the descent down South Hancock, and after about a half mile, near the junction, I came across a good-sized group of hikers, the first sign of people that I saw, heading up South Hancock. I then passed another group, and then another group as I continued down the Loop Trail to the Cedar Brook Trail. Near the Cedar Brook Trail and Hancock Notch Trail junction, I noticed a group had set up camp and tents just off the trail, but I do not recall seeing the tents on the way up.

At this point, I removed my snowshoes and put on my microspikes (I didn't really need them, but they still add some traction in loose snow). It was not before long until I saw the road signs at the hairpin curve. This hike was just as enjoyable as the others, and I love how each mountain offers something different. It's mostly the same, but theres always something different about each hike. The total length of this trip was 9.8 miles and about 2,700 feet of elevation gain. It seemed shorter than 9.8 miles, but with the length being divided into a few different trails, I think, makes it seem like that, which is good, because you can more easily get a sense of where you're located along the entire planned trip.

Six of NH's 48 done, and 42 to, it's onto the next, which ever mountain(s) that will be. In my post where I announce my quest, I mention that winter hikes would be required, but I never imagined that I would have 6 winter peaks under my belt in my first year of winter hiking. Be sure to check out my album below for a few more pictures of the snow-covered trail on the ridge.

Here is a video of me hiking the .7mi of the Cedar Brook Trail.

Hike Stats
Trails: Hancock Notch Trail, Cedar Brook Trail, Hancock Loop Trail
Miles: 9.8
Elevation gain: 2700 ft

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