Sunday, April 10th
We got a late start today and didn’t get on the road until 9AM. So I decided that we’d head up to the Hancocks as it’s a shorter drive than most of the White Mountains from Massachusetts.
We parked at the Hancock Hairpin turn off of the Kancamangus highway and hit the trail by 11:45… Late! The scariest part of this hike might be crossing the highway to get to the trail head!
The forecast started the day out in the 20’s but it would eventually warm up to the mid/high 30’s.
Hancock Notch Trail
Off we went down the Hancock Notch trail. We had a fast pace for the first section of the day. The trail started out dry and frozen but eventually lead to some ice patches.
After a couple of miles the trail had iced over completely but was soft enough that Micro Spikes were working great. Conan wasn’t having any trouble gaining traction here either. This first part of the trail is so gradual it’s almost flat.
There are several river crossings along the trail. All of them were pretty mild today. Rock hopping across wasn’t an issue.
In all my excitement to be out in the woods. Conan and I had set brisk pace. So brisk in fact that we ran right by the Cedar Brook trail junction. We stayed on the Hancock Notch trail by accident for about 1/4 mile before encountering a HUGE blowdown. I thought to myself “This can’t be right, how could such a popular trail have this giant blow down in it?” That’s when I realized we missed our turn.
So we turned around and backtracked to the junction.
Cedar Brook Trail
The Cedar Brook trail is also pretty tame. There are a couple more river crossings to deal with, one of which was a little sketchy. The rocks that poked up from the water were all covered with glaze ice making it difficult… but we still managed.
After a mile or so the Cedar Brook trail meets up with the Hancock Loop Trail junction.
Hancock Loop Trail
This is where things get interesting. The Hancock Loop trail has some impressively steep sections. We opted to go up South Peak first.
The ascent up South Peak was steep and icy. This was our slowest pace of the day.
I had my Microspikes on but Crampons would have served better here… I was just too lazy to stop and switch. Conan weaved through the trees off trail to make his way over the larger ice bulges.
Nearing the top, there was a dusting of snow over the ice which offered some additional traction.
Looking west we could see the Arrow Slide on North Hancock. An impressively rocky steep bushwhack alternative to hiking the standard trail. This is on my TO DO list!
South Hancock Summit
Eventually we popped out on South Hancocks summit 4,319′ in elevation. This would make #26 for Conan in his quest for the 48 4000 footers!
We hung around for a couple of minutes, then headed off down Hancock Ridge towards North Peak.
The ridge hike leading to North Peak is a pleasant walk compared to the steep approach to South Peak. It meanders through some open forest which offer some incredible views.
The walk is gradual and today had a coating of fresh snow on it. It was beautiful!
After about a mile the trail steepens and leads up to North Hancock’s Summit.
North Hancock Summit
We popped out at North Hancock’s Summit 4,380′ in elevation a few moments later. This would make #27 for conan!
The view from the outlook on North Hancock is amazing and offers the best view of the day.
After a short break and some snacks we headed off down North Peak. I decided to mount my crampons for added traction knowing the steep icy terrain ahead.
The trail started out with the typical ice and snow mixture.
It soon turned into a loose rock slide that was difficult to gain footing on. It was very steep here and the ground was crumbly shale.
The ice returned for the remainder of the descent. My crampons made easy work of the ice and I crunched my way down the trail.
When the terrain flattened out a bit, I swapped my crampons for my Microspikes and continued out the same way we came in.
I really enjoy the Hancock loop. It offers a diverse array of terrain and scenery. It is deceivingly flat and easy for the first 3 miles before the steep sections! Once the steeps come they really get your heart pumping.
In total we completed the 10 mile loop in 4 hours 50 minutes including our 1/2 mile error down Hancock Notch Trail. we kept a decent pace at 2.1 MPH… I’m finally starting to get my speed back from my knee injury in December! It was a beautiful day! and I’m glad to add 2 more to Conans list!