Friday, January 25, 2013

A Visit to the Hancocks in a Snow Squall - January 20, 2013

This day started out with needing to make a final decision on either the Hancocks or Garfield. With a long, hard day the day before and snow forecast for the 12-2PM block, in addition to 60+mph winds, the decision was easy: Hancocks. On the trail at 8:15, I left nice blue skies at the parking lot.

Osceolas (L) and Scar Ridge from the Hancock Parking Lot - nice day on tap?

I put the snowshoes on right after crossing the road to the trailhead. Things looked pretty well-packed and I probably could have gotten away with microspikes (which my sore legs would have welcomed!) without causing damage to the track, but I opted for the snowshoes in case things changed quickly. Ultimately it was yet another car-to-car snowshoe, 5/5 on the winter (versus only 1 all last winter!), though I would have been fine in the 'spikes on all but the ridge.

Taking the Hancock Notch Trail to the Cedar Brook Trail up to the Hancock Loop Trail (have I lost you yet?) I ran into the first people just a few yards from the Hancock Notch/Cedar Brook junction, on their way OUT already (it was 9AM)! I hit the latter junction exactly 1 hour into the hike (2.5 miles and several hundred feet of elevation gain later). Not bad I thought! The numerous water crossings were in various states of open, decently-bridged, partially bridged, and weak-looking bridged, but none were difficult with the low water, even with the clown shoes (snowshoes) on. It was a wonderful snowshoe to this point, but I knew the climbing would start to pick up now, before the STEEP climb up to North Hancock.

Arrow Slide on North Hancock - the trail goes up next to this!

Though I was slowing down, I made my way to the split in the Hancock Loop Trail, watching as the sky had started to cloud up quickly. A quick stop at the split, and I dropped the 100 feet of elevation to the old stream bed and began the climb as it began to snow. From this bottoming-out point, the trail climbs roughly 1100 feet in merely 0.6 miles, paralleling a major rock slide (Arrow Slide) most of the way.

The trail here was crusty ice with no real snow on top of it, likely blown off by the winds and butt-sliders descending. But the trusty MSR Lightning Ascent snowshoes worked great on this, with nary a slip or slide all the way up (plus the televators - heel lifts - were wonderful!) I had brought my Hillsound Pro baby crampons for this just in case, but they really weren't necessary with the good snowshoe crampons. As I got higher the winds picked up and the snow did likewise, to the point where I could no longer see South Hancock, less than 1 mile away, through the trees. Slowly and steadily I made my way up to the summit of North Hancock, topping out a little under 1 hour from leaving the junction. With the winds blowing strong and no views to be had, I snapped a picture of the sign and moved on, not bothering to visit the view ledge nearby.

North Hancock - no view to be had right now
Just past the summit I ran into the second duo of the day, who had come across the ridge from South Hancock. We had a short chat before we parted ways; I later realized it was Dan, who keeps a terrific blog HERE, and his brother. Dan is working on a Single-Season Winter 48, a tough accomplishment most years, this year being no exception thus far. I hoped to maybe see them later on my hike out as they mentioned they were moving slow that day (having started at 6:30AM, though Dan had done 2 separate 4K hikes the previous day so that pace was very understandable!), but I never did.

The ridge hike went quickly, as it is 1.4 miles, but the col to South Hancock is barely the 200 feet minimum to count on the 4000-Footer List (well, actually, it misses by at least 1 foot, but that's another story for another day...). Again, it was blowing hard and snowing a little during this stretch, though the snow did seem to taper off towards the end. However, the wind was whipping it up all over, and so I actually put the goggles on shortly after leaving North Hancock until I was off the ridge, as the snow was stinging my eyes. With no views still to be had, I didn't check out the South Hancock view point either.

South Hancock - #37 on my Winter 48 List!
From here it was time for a steep descent back to the split in the Hancock Loop Trail. I had always heard this section of trail was awesome for butt-sliding, but I was a little concerned about bowling people over who were on their way up. But maybe 4 steps down the trail, I slipped, and just gave in. Using my snowshoes as brakes to keep me from going too fast, I slid over 1/10 of a mile before stopping and getting up as I had run into the first person coming up. As I passed him, well, I slipped again, and slid another ~1/4 mile before stopping! Since the trail surface was crusty ice, with about 1/2" of snow over it (what had fallen while I was climbing up and on the ridge I assume), the sledding conditions were great! Now that I was off the steepest parts, I walked the rest of the way to the split, passing several people on their way up.

With little pause, I plowed right on by the trail junction and headed for Cedar Brook. Partway down the 1 mile to the Cedar Brook Trail, I noticed there was some blue in the sky now...though within 30 minutes it was snowing again (lightly this time) so I didn't kick myself too hard. A slightly later start might have netted some views, but that's OK, I imagine I'll be back some day! I passed many groups of people on the Hancock Loop Trail, all heading up to the Hancocks, and all in snowshoes even! With the trail in good shape already, I imagine it was immaculately-packed by the end of the day.

With little need to pause, I merely focused on keeping my sore legs moving forward, and enjoying the snowy woods, and before I knew it I was back to the parking lot, exactly 5 hours after leaving. Not bad, especially for day 2! And now I was down to 11 peaks left on my winter list (and 7 hikes, as most are singles). There was also a decent view at the parking lot again... In planning the weekend I had originally thought I could add Tecumseh on my way home and there was indeed time, but the day before I had determined this was crazy, and with the sore legs I fought early in this day and on every ascent, I just drove home and was home by 4PM, the earliest ever for me on a hiking Sunday!

Peaks: Mount (North) Hancock (4420', NH4K), South Hancock (4319', NH4K)
Trails: Hancock Notch Trail, Cedar Brook Trail, Hancock Loop Trail
Mileage: 9.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 2700 feet
Book Time: 6.25 hours (5 hours taken)


  1. Hi Matt,
    Thanks for the mention and link! We had a great view from the South Hancock outlook while we were there (we took a lengthy break there), but as we left, it started to snow and the view was going away. When we ran into you, we had no idea the North Hancock summit was just around the corner, so we were surprised, in our minds expecting another 1/4 mile or so! We hadn't gone that direction before so it was a nice surprise. The ridge walk sounded similar, as it was nice, but the snow and winds picked up a little. We butt-slided the North side of the loop down, so we were out of there pretty quickly. It was the first time my brother hiked in over a month, so his pace matched mine after me hiking the day before :) Nice to run into another blogger (even after the fact)

  2. Dan, I figured you knew you were maybe 25 feet from the summit! I felt like I recognized you from somewhere, but it wasn't until a few minutes later that my slow (frozen?) brain made the connection. Oh well. I thought maybe I'd catch you, but figured it wasn't likely since you had a solid mile lead on me. Still, I was out by 1PM, probably the earliest I've ever been off a 4K. Nice to get home before sunset!

    Love your blog by the way. My dad and I are hoping to do Whitney this summer ourselves, your series from last year was great in helping ponder logistics.

    Good luck on that SSW4K, perhaps we'll cross paths again (I've got 11 left to finish my non-SS W4Ks). And good luck with big K in a month!