Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Quick Trip to the Hancocks - June 30, 2012

Saturday it was time to get back to some New Hampshire 4000-footers. I am still wanting to finish a full round of the 48 before the end of the calendar year, and had 15 left coming into the weekend. Most of these are the peaks in the Sandwich Range, but the Hancocks are very close by as well. The plan was a standard out-and-back of the 2 Hancock peaks (North and South).

There is really only one way to dayhike these peaks, aside from some very long approaches from Lincoln Woods or the Sawyer River Valley. Therefore, I would not be getting any new sections of trail checked off on this hike, but that is perfectly fine with me. The hike would involve the Hancock Notch, Cedar Brook, and Hancock Loop Trails. Just under 10 miles, with 2700 feet of elevation gain, but nearly half of that gain is after the Hancock Loop Trail splits, with a 0.7-mile, 1100-foot climb (all in 0.6 miles) to North Hancock, or a 0.5-mile, 900-foot climb to South Hancock. Thus, this hike really isn't too hard, the approach is flat and easy, just a short, stiff climb and descent in the middle of the hike.

It was a warm, but not terribly humid day, already 65 degrees when I left the trailhead at 8:40 on the Kancamangus Highway, at the hairpin turn. The Hancock Notch Trail mostly follows old railroad grades, and so is flat, wide, and mostly empty of rocks. The 1.8 miles flew by, despite me not trying to break speed records, and I reached the Cedar Brook Trail in roughly 35 minutes. Just before hitting this junction I came upon a group of SCA (Student Conservation Association, or something to that effect), a volunteer student trail crew group working on putting a rock staircase in an eroded section of the trail (due to Hurricane Irene last fall). Thanks again to all those that do trail work out there!

Stream crossing near the Hancock Notch/Cedar Brook Trail junction

Cedar Brook is also flat, but crosses a stream numerous times, and was heavily impacted by Irene. While passable, there are many eroded spots that will eventually need to be addressed. Also, there are several bog bridges in this stretch, and one was apparently moved mostly off-trail by the excessive water from the hurricane.

The trail is to the left, this bog bridge got moved!
Shortly past this spot I ran into the first hiker of the day, on his way out. He beat the heat I guess, and I later found out that I knew him through Hike-NH. Wish I could get such early starts, but I have a 2.5-3 hour drive to the Whites most Saturdays.

Cedar Brook Trail past the Hancock Loop Trail to the wilderness - path less traveled

Cedar Brook Trail towards Kanc from Hancock Loop Trail

I hit the Hancock Loop Trail in a mere 55 minutes from the road, at the 2.5-mile mark and ~800 feet of elevation gain for the day. Now the trail gets a little rockier, but still not bad. 2/3 of the way to the split in the trail I ran into Phil, a local hiker whom I'd had a long conversation with on the summit of Moosilauke back on St. Patty's Day. We had another nice chat before we parted ways, as he too was on the way out.

After hitting the fork and taking a short snack break, I descended the 100 feet on the North Branch of the Hancock Loop Trail and began the steep climb. Nothing fancy here, it is all in the woods with reasonable footing most of the way. Just steep at 1100 feet gained in 0.6 miles. I saw a couple of people descending as I slowly ground my way up, but it only took about 45 minutes to complete this climb, which is not bad.

An eroded section of the North Hancock Branch

Rock staircase heading up to North Hancock
The summit itself is treed-in, though with a few feet of snow this would have some great views, so maybe this winter I'll get some nice views of the Bonds! There is, however, a short spur path to a South-facing ledge that provides some nice views.

Scaur Peak and the Tripyramids

Next destination - South Hancock on the right

Scar Ridge

Sandwich Dome on the horizon, Osceolas to the right
I was visited by a handful of black flies at this ledge, but they weren't too bad overall and I stayed for about 15 minutes in the sun, enjoying some food and the view. Then it was off to South Hancock. There isn't anything tricky about the ridge here, it drops about 300 feet, hops over a minor know that I'll call Middle Hancock, and then climbs up briefly to South Hancock. South Hancock in all surveys I have ever seen only has at best 199 feet of prominence relative to North Hancock, which ought to exclude it from the 4000-footer list (200 optimistic prominence is the cut-off), but it is on the list. There are a few mud pits, one pretty significant and deep, around both sides of Middle Hancock, but the walk overall is easy and took a "leisurely" 35 minutes for the 1.4 miles.

South Hancock is also viewless, and has only a small overlook towards the Sawyer River Valley.

Moat Range, Chocoura on far right

South Hancock summit
I'd seen a couple people on the ridge going the opposite way, but now is when the crowds started in. It was near lunch time now. I took another break, and then began the tricky descent down the South Peak. I did not realize the South Branch was loose rubble like it is, had I known this I would have done the loop in reverse. But I made it down, stopping to take a partially obscured picture of Franconia Ridge first.

Franconia Ridge
I decided at the bottom to see if I could get back to the car in under 5 hours total, which would mean a 1:20 exit from this point. I charged away, and sure enough hit the car right at the 5 hour mark. A nice time, despite taking plenty of time to enjoy the few views, and I briefly toyed with visiting Tecumseh, a 3-4 hour hike in Waterville Valley, but by the time I would have gotten there and back out, it would be after 7 before I'd make it to camp, so I opted to just call it a day and enjoy the afternoon at camp.

Peaks: North Hancock (4420', NH4K), South Hancock (4319', NH4K)
Mileage: 9.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 2700 feet
Time Taken: 5 hours (6:15 is book time) which includes 3 15-minute stops.

13 left for a 2012 NH48 finish!

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