Sunday, December 15, 2013

Freezing on the Hancocks - Nov. 24, 2013

As the title suggests, this was a cold one. The weather all week long had been pointing towards this being a cold and windy day, so a sheltered hike was in order. The Hancocks are a good fit for such days, as 3/4 of the hike is down in the valleys with a short, steep climb up to the ridge, which is well-covered in trees. This hike was also one I was leading for the Northeast Peakbaggers Meetup group, a group I occasionally lead for (and it had been a while since I posted one). Coming along was Theresa, who I've hiked with a lot this year, and HossinNH even came out of a long no-hiking spell to join in on the fun. 2 other great folks I had never met before joined in as well, Jeff and Alexus, and so our merry band of 5 set off from the frigid Hancock overlook parking lot around 8:15.

The Hancocks provide a nice 2.5-mile flat warmup on old logging railroad beds (the Hancock Notch and Cedar Brook Trails mostly follow old railroads), and we moved right along to keep warm. The wind was virtually non-existent here as we were well-sheltered in a valley, and the 2 inches or so of snow that had fallen overnight was coating everything and looked magical as always. It's great to see winter coming, I'm ready for some winter hiking!

There are a number of stream crossings on this route, and just like the day before on the Downe's Brook Trail, there were ice-glazed rocks. However, the first couple of stream crossings offer plenty of rocks to hop on (and are far tamer than the Downe's Brook crossings), and we managed without trouble without adding the microspikes. Reaching the first major crossing on the Cedar Brook Trail (not the one right at the junction with the Hancock Notch Trail), we unanimously decided to take a herd path that bypasses that and the next crossing (only 1/10 mile later). This proved to be a good move as at the second crossing, when we intersected the trail, we saw offered little in the way of rocks to stand on.

The final couple crossings were fairly straight-forward too, and in decent time we were at the folk in the trail of the Hancock Loop Trail. Originally we intended to ascend the South peak first, a direction I have yet to do the loop in, but the wind seemed like it might be in our faces across the ridge if we did that, so we climbed the North link first. It is a steep route, but the trail was surprisingly ice-free, and we had little difficulty getting to the summit aside from the usual huffing and puffing from a really steep climb. We layered up just below the summit, and popped up to the sign were there were no views (as expected).

Hiking towards the Hancock Loop Trail split

A quick picture or two later, and we motored across the ridge to South Hancock. Nearing South Hancock, we were thrilled to see the terrific work done by trail crews this summer in installing a lot of wooden bog bridges through all of the massive mudpits that abound in this area. That will be really nice for those hiking in here throughout the non-snow season, as some of those mud pits were frequently multiple feet deep!

Winter Wonderland on South Hancock

At South Hancock, we all put on the microspikes for the descent, and found the temperature was a "balmy" 2 degrees above zero (and that's why there are only 2 pictures from this hike. My fingers didn't want to come out of the gloves)! Brrr, coldest day of the year so far! We also found that the wind was going to be a little bit in our faces for the first part of the descent, whereas we had hardly felt it at all crossing the ridge...can't win them all. We were all well-prepared for the conditions though, and made it down to the trail split again without any problems. The exit hike was basically a repeat of the entry hike, and in about 7 hours from when we left the cars, we were back. Maybe not the fastest day out on the Hancocks, but a very enjoyable hike with a great group, and we all stayed warm and comfortable all day. Most of us were headed West to Lincoln to get home, and had a quick bite at the Woodstock Inn (4000-footer IPAs!) before heading home.

Route: Hancock Notch Trail, Cedar Brook Trail, Hancock Loop Trail
Peaks: North Hancock (4420', NH4K), South Hancock (4319', NH4K)
Mileage: 9.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 2700'
Book Time: 6hr 15min (actual 7hrs)

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