Trip Report: Mt Hancock, North and South

Easy, except when it wasn’t. Then, it was steep. But afterward, easy again. And throughout? …Wow. 

Mt Hancock and South Hancock. 2019-11-09 (Saturday.) Via the Hancock Notch trail, Cedar Brook trail, Hancock Loop trail.. Approx 10 miles.

North Hancock, 4420; South Hancock, 4319 feet.

35 dF at trailhead, cooler at the summit. Sunny, with abundant clouds. Light breeze at the level of the trail. A dusting of snow everywhere.

Trailhead: 1100. South Hancock Summit: 1400. North Hancock Summit: 1445. Car: 1700.

This hike wasn’t supposed to happen. I was originally planning on hiking Washington and Monroe, heading up Ammo and down Jewell. But then work intervened, and by the time I could say I was hitting the road, astrophysics intervened and said “dude, you’re not getting off the trail even nearly in dusk, let alone sunlight.” As this violated my self-imposed rules on safety, it was slightly easy to put the clamp on hiking le grand fromage. Slightly, because I really want to bag that bad larry again. If it’s good up there, it’s real good.

But as it was, I had to pick something else. And so Hancock it was. Washington will still be there.

I should probably mention that picking hikes is not the easy choice that it once was. I’m  goal-oriented at this point, having accepted that I’m hiking the grid, and in the short term, the 48 in 4 seasons. Longer term, redlining. As much as I hate to admit it, laying this stuff out in a spreadsheet has become a reality. Less is left to chance, more is up to analysis of some sort. Argh.

But… is this not hiking in the Whites? Yes! There is life beyond those pages and cells. I hit the trail after making a few wardrobe adjustments. (Let me say, cold weather hiking… it’s not like the easy planning one enjoys in summer, right?)

And so… the Hancocks aren’t hard, per se, although they do get very steep. One thing to note is that the mountains are, in general terms, shaped like a hockey stick. You’ll hike in about two miles over terrain that is quite tame. But when the ground pitches up, you’ll have little to no recourse, hiking up or down trails that are among the steepest in the Whites. When I looked out at Lafayette, I also looked down the trail, and realized I was really, really looking down the trail. It wasn’t just that right in front of me were the treetops of nearby trees, it was that a lot of those treetops were outright below me. There are a few water crossings, but nothing major, assuming there’s not been a long, torrential rain recently. The col is fairly tame, with mostly easier hiking over some really nice trail. And although the summits are treed-in, there are outlooks on both ends that offer fine views. Don’t let that escape your notice.

Some say that you should hit South peak first, then North, on the idea that you climb up the steepest trail and not down it. I ended up getting that wrong. Going down South is indeed a bit sketchy, but it wasn’t the end of the world. And thinking back, I’m not sure, in the grand scheme of things, that it made a difference to my enjoyment. There was lots of blue sky overhead, with just enough clouds to make the sky look interesting. The air was cold and fresh. What’s not to like about that?

This wasn’t that different a trail from springtime or summer with the exception that Microspikes were the name of the game. With such in mind, I’m going to defer to those posts for finer details. Let me say, however, that this is a great trip out. You get altitude, some exertion, and some fine views, especially of the Sandwich-area peaks. Osceola and Carrigain especially loom large, although I did manage glimpses of the Franconias and Washington here and there.

Also, and this will probably require more examination in the warmer weather, when snow doesn’t occlude the evidence, it turns out that the approach to the mountains themselves does indeed follow an old railbed. More on that at some point. But “yes, Virginia,” that trail is very straight, very wide, and an easy grade.


Trail starts out easy and wide.
Berries overhead against the deep blue sky.
It was pretty snowy on the trail. Microspikes were a necessity.
View of Lafayette on a particularly steep bit of trail.
Chocorua in the distance.
Carrigain right next door.
The wet bits weren’t so wet.
Glimpse of Washington’s bluebird day.
Somewhere between the summits.
Osceolas and Whiteface.
More berries, bright against the snow.

Nuts and Bolts: Getting to the Hancock trailhead couldn’t be easier. From I-93, take Exit 32, and turn left onto the Kancamagus Highway. Drive through Lincoln, and past Loon Mountain. About 5 miles later, you’ll come upon Lincoln Woods trailhead, and about 3-4 miles after, you’ll see signs for the hairpin turn. (Greeley Ponds trailhead is almost one mile before Hancock.) Immediately on the other side of that hairpin turn will be the entrance to the parking area, on the right. The trailhead is… interesting. On the opposite side of the parking area, near the pavilion, is a small gate. Go through that gate and down the path to the apex of that hairpin turn. The trailhead is across the street. Be very careful making the crossing, because you have no sightlines, and neither does traffic. Use your eyes and ears to your best advantage. (Returning, sightlines are much better.)

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