Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Hancocks After the Storm - Feb. 15, 2014

A day before this hike, the White Mountains all received around a foot of new snow from top to bottom. Finally we had a good snowpack on the trails! But it also meant the trails were going to need to be broken out. I enjoy trail-breaking, at least for a little while (until the legs tell me I'm crazy!), but 12" of somewhat heavy snow solo is not something I wanted to break through all day. The original plan was to hike the Tripyramids, but when I arrived at the Pine Bend Brook Trailhead (near 9 thanks to being unable to get out of bed on time...), I saw that the pullover on the side of the road had not even been plowed yet, so I opted for plan B: the Hancocks, just up the road. There were plenty of cars there, and that meant I would be helping to break the trails, versus doing it all alone, a much more manageable task for all.

Snowshoes naturally went on the feet from the get-go, and I was off, following a nicely-established snowshoe trench from those in front of me. I soon caught and passed a group of skiers who were heading all the way to Lincoln Woods via the old logging routes that are now hiking trails in the Pemi Wilderness. In front of them, sadly, was a horrible mess of postholes in the new snow. The next 1.5 miles was extremely rough on my ankles, as I kept rolling my snowshoes into the mess of deep postholes, until I caught the offenders. It was a large group of at least 12 (it looked like it might be a college group), not a snowshoe to be seen among them. Why people think going out hiking the day after a FOOT of snow falls, and don't even contemplate bringing snowshoes, boggles the mind. Asking them why they didn't have them only resulted in a puzzled "no?" from one of them. Not only is it rude to the rest of the hikers to posthole a trail so badly, but it's a LOT more work too. Some folks just don't get it...

Nice snowshoe trench early on on the Hancock Notch Trail

It's hard to see well here, but the barebooters had taken over here and beat the heck up out of the trail.

In front of them was a nice, soft snowshoe trench again. I motored along from here, hooking onto the Cedar Brook Trail for a short time, passing two of the snowshoers along the way. I caught 2 more at the start of the Hancock Loop Trail, and there was still one lone set of snowshoe prints in front of me. The mile to the split in the trail was tougher, as now I was essentially breaking trail, trying to alternate steps with the lone fellow in front of me to establish a nice trench for later. Arriving at the fork, I saw that the mountain was now socked in (which was in the forecast) and the lone snowshoer had gone up to South Hancock first. I prefer heading up to North first myself, so after a snack break and a chat with the snowshoers I had passed at the start of the Hancock Loop Trail (one of whom was from out in Western NY near where I grew up!), I started breaking out the steep trail.

I knew that soon I would run into the lone snowshoer, and I was curious who it might be, figuring there was a decent chance I would know them. Sure enough, roughly halfway up to North Hancock, I saw Dan (DMOutdoors, he keeps a blog too) bounding his way down in the powder. This was pretty funny, as the last time I met him was by the summit of this very mountain, North Hancock, LAST winter! We had a nice chat this time around, before he headed off to hike the Osceolas in the afternoon (Dan is trying to do all of the New England 4000-Footers in this single winter season!). Great to see you again Dan!

The ascent was tough with deep snow and needing to kick in firm steps each step, but eventually (nearly 1.5 hours to do this 7/10-mile stretch!) I topped out on North Hancock, where the wind was light but the view was not to be had, yet again on this mountain. Oh well. I had a short snack during which time the couple caught up to me again (and they decided they would head down from here, foregoing South Hancock), congrats you two on bagging a 4000-footer in winter (the first one for one of them)!

North Hancock's summit

No view today from North Hancock

The ridge was only lightly broken, but it was at least broken thanks to Dan, who did a great job of following the exact corridor of the trail. Soon enough I was on South Hancock, where I was dismayed to see the bare-booting group had apparently postholed their way all the way up to this peak before turning around. The descent was really tough, and I twisted my knees several times in all of their partially-hidden craters. I really wish these people had realized the damage they were doing (especially since I know several of us on the trail that day had spoken to them about it) and changed their plans instead of ruining the trail for everyone else... I do have to admire their tenacity though, it must have been brutally hard work postholing all the way up to South Hancock in a foot of new snow...

South Hancock summit

Looking back at the trail across the ridge from South Hancock now that 2 pairs of snowshoes had gone through.

Down low, I surprisingly caught up to the same couple again that I'd last seen on North Hancock, and the three of us smoothed out the trail from the postholes (and there were 2 more snowshoers still up on the ridge behind me). The barebooters were gone when we reached the parking lot.

Aside from the barebooting mess (OK, some of them were wearing microspikes, which amounts to the same thing), this was an enjoyable hike, with a short stretch of tough trail-breaking. Thanks Dan for starting early and doing the lion's share of the trail-breaking, you animal!

Route: Hancock Notch Trail, Cedar Brook Trail, Hancock Loop Trail (to North, then South)
Peaks: North Hancock (4420', NH4K), South Hancock (4319', NH4K)
Mileage: 9.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 2700 feet
Book Time: 6hr 30 min

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