North & South Hancock 12-19-11
Mt. Hancock & Mt. Hancock, South Peak
Hancock Notch Trail -> Cedar Brook Trail -> Hancock Loop Trail
Distance: 9.2 mi.
Elevation Gain: 2,284 ft. (overall) 2,555 ft. (total)
Time: 3:24 (North Hancock) 4:38 (South Hancock) 6:53 (total)
The Trail starts out straight, smooth, and gentle. It has very few turns and is a great warm up for the hike ahead. There is one early small brook crossing that is pretty easy. Today there was some ice on the logs at the start, so I just had to be careful there. After a while of easy hiking, the trail comes right up next tot eh river. You can stand on the edge of the high bank and look up an down. Now there are trees down across the river in both directions and even with a thin layer of snow, you can make out damage from Irene. The trail goes on for a little more before coming to a few quick and simple brook crossings before the start of the Cedar Brook Trail. Each of these crossings were pretty easy with rocks to step across right near the trail.
Gentle climbing trail
One of a few quick crossings
Just after one of these crossings there was a pile of feathers where it appears a small gray bird met it's demise in the trail. At the start of the Cedar Brook Trail, the trail heads uphill a little more, but is still pretty easy. Before long on this trail you start coming to multiple brook crossings as well. The first two crossings that the guide book mention, seem to have a side path that avoids them. Not sure if this is new or just a winter thing. There was brush to discourage you from using them. This isn't all bad since they are very close and the ice on the river didn't look all the best for crossing at these. There are still plenty of crossings though in this section. Again, these were pretty easy. Being a bigger hiker and seeing open water on the brooks, I made sure to cross where I knew ice was thicker or there were rocks under it to help support it/me.
Cedar Brook Trail brook crossing
When in the woods between the crossings, the trail was starting to have what would be some wet sections that are now iced over puddles or ice flows. Luckily for me I always where waterproof hiking boots, since I had my foot go through the ice in one place and a few inches into the water before I could stop it. Most of the ice in these sections could be pretty easily avoided by walking next to it while still staying on trail.
Some ice now showing up in the trail
At the last water crossing before the Hancock Loop Trail is where I finally put on my microspikes. The ice didn't look completely safe and the only safe way quickly noticeable was the downed tree partly out of the ice that was also covered in ice. I didn't want to slip off of that and into any water. After the start of the loop trail is the last crossing. For this one I went about 30 feet up stream (as others had too) to cross at a narrower section with more rocks. The ice at the trail didn't look all that good and poking it with my pole showed the top inch or so was more like slush than ice.
On the Hancock Loop Trail, the grade gets a little steeper and rockier, but still not bad. There is still plenty of sections of trail with a good layer of ice now too. You pass by the river on your left one more time before coming to the split in the trail. Now you can climb 1,028 ft in 0.7 miles on the left or 927 ft in 0.5 miles on the right. I had planned on hiking North Hancock first and stuck with this. The trail dips down into a gully briefly before heading up steeply.
River next to the trail
Fork in the trail
The trail aims mostly straight up the mountain and doesn't give you much of a break. It goes over various terrain including built stone steps as you get nearer to the top. This would be the only section of trail today where I saw blue sky above me. It gave me the hope that the sky would clear a little before I got to the summit, but it never did. After a while of steady climbing, the trail turns left some and levels out a bit more. Soon you are at the summit on North Hancock. I went to the left to the outlook. I didn't have my weather meter I ordered as I hoped I would, so I can't be sure how windy it was here. But it was windy enough for me to get out my goggles and face mask. I also almost got knocked over by a couple of the gusts.
After only about 15 minutes and a few pictures, I grabbed my stuff and headed back into the trees. The trail between the summits was nice and easy with no real steep sections. It seemed like it would be a great section for a strole in the summer and was one of the nicest parts of trail today. It doesn't seem like it takes that much time to go the almost mile and a half over to South Hancock through here. Just before reaching South Hancock, there is a bit of a viewpoint to the West that allows a limited view towards Franconia Notch, but a good view back to North Hancock.
Heading to South Hancock.
Soon you are at the summit of South Hancock and can take the short trail down to the outlook here. I grabbed something eat here on the less windy side of the mountain. I watched as the sun tried to come out to the East, but never really did. After a little while here, I decided I should head out as I still had quite a walk back to the truck. I headed down South Hancock and was happy I choose not to come up this way. Going down, it seemed this trail would have been harder to come up with more big rocks to get up over and more ice on those rocks as well. As it was, it was still a little slow going down so I could be safe.
South Hancock outlook
Heading down South Hancock
It didn't take long and I was back to the fork in the loop trail. I stopped here again briefly before heading out with a gentle walk from here on out. The walk back to the truck went well and passed pretty quick. In the end it was a good hike even though it was cloudy and windy. The wind felt to be about 20mph pretty consistently on the summits and was certainly gusting higher. The thermometer in the truck said 14 when I started out and 30 when I got back. On the summits I would guess it was in the low 20s. I was surprised today by a couple of things though. First, for only the second time hiking in the whites I didn't see a single person all day. Second, for how hard the hike seemed like it would be from the guide book and trip reports, I didn't think it was all that bad. It has a good length to it, but in the end I wasn't all that tired.
Iced up brook on the trail
For all the pictures from the hike, just go HERE