Wednesday, January 6, 2010


For my first hike of the new decade, I joined John Compton for a leisurely trek into the snowy forests at the base of Mt. Hancock. As John noted in an internet report, on this cloudy day with comfortable temperatures (mid-20s) and no wind, the purpose of our journey was " mainly for the pure joy of being out in the woods on a winter day."

With over a foot of newly fallen snow in the woods, we were pleased to see a couple of cars at the Hancock Overlook parking area. We would not have to break the new snow from the start! After we crossed the Kancamagus Highway at the hairpin turn and dipped into the woods, we found a nice, softly-packed track that was ideal for snowshoeing.

The first 1.4 miles of the Hancock Notch Trail mostly follows the bed of a J.E. Henry logging railroad from the 1890s.

At about 1.5 miles, where the trail (now off the RR bed) runs along a high bank above the North Fork of Hancock Branch, we got a ghostly glimpse of the high, wild tip of South Hancock over the trees.

At the junction with Cedar Brook Trail, we noted that there was an older track leading ahead towards Hancock Notch. We turned left here on Cedar Brook Trail, continuing on the well-packed route trodden out by Hancock peakbaggers.

The five crossings of the North Fork were all easily doable. The second one was in midwinter form, with the brook completely buried.

We soon veered off trail into open spruce woods for a short bushwhack to a bog I had visited three winters ago. Deep snow and prolonged cold are prerequistites for going to this type of place, both to protect the snowshoer from an unplanned dunk and to prevent undue damage to bog vegetation.

We encountered deep, soft snow as we approached the bog.

It was soon in sight, with a low spur of Mt. Hitchcock beyond.

It's a large opening, partly visible from the summit outlook on North Hancock.

A big old, weathered trunk on the bog.

The bog has some unusual views. Cloud-veiled South Hancock is on the L, and its southern spur, called "Juno Peak" by Guy Waterman, overhangs Hancock Notch on the R.

To the SE is the mass of Mt. Huntington, with its talus slopes overlooking the other side of Hancock Notch.

We returned to the trail and followed the broken track to the junction with the Hancock Loop Trail. Here, as expected, the broken track turned right onto the loop trail.

Ahead, the Cedar Brook Trail was a deep, unbroken blanket of snow, with no old track beneath. From here north, this trail receives little use, especially in winter.

Our goal was to reach the high, remote, boggy saddle (3100 ft.) between Mt. Hancock and Mt. Hitchcock. In the time-honored tradition of snowshoeing, we rotated trail-breaking duties through the two feet of powder.

The snow deepened as we ascended.

At one spot a huge clump of snow attached to a bent-over spruce blocked the trail. It took a few minutes to knock enough snow off to make a passage.

There was some serious snow depth here.

It was slow going as we approached the height-of-land amidst a winter wonderland forest.

Near the high point we entered the Pemi Wilderness. It had taken nearly an hour to break out 0.6 mile of trail.

We continued down about 0.1 mile on the north side to our turn-around point at a semi-open spot on the trail. At one spot we got a miniscule glimpse of part of a ridge out in the Pemi. From here the trail continues 4 miles down the Cedar Brook valley to meet the East Side Trail. No way we were going to break trail that far today!

A small bog beside the trail at our turn-around point.

We took a break here for some refreshments and to absorb the wintry remoteness of the place.
We also marveled at the fact that a couple of weeks earlier, epic bushwhacker J.R. Stockwell had launched a solo off-trail ascent of North Hancock from the trail somewhere in this vicinity. Presumably Guy Waterman used a similar route during his four-points-of-the-compass-in-winter tour through the 4000-footers. Wow!

Heading back up to the pass, we had a nice partly broken track to follow.

The trail makes a little jog to skirt around this small bog.

We made a brief excursion off-trail to poke around another mini-bog.

The skies had cleared somewhat, so on our return trip we made a repeat side excursion out to the large bog to catch the slightly improved view of Hancock.

Interesting lighting on Mt. Huntington.

The sharp peak of South Hancock briefly emerged from its filmy shroud.

We obtained a peek at the whitened Arrow Slide, but North Hancock was solidly socked in.

Here's a full view of the Hancocks from the bog, taken on a visit in April 2007.

Sunset light on the trail sign as we emerged after a satisfying deep-winter snowshoe ramble.


  1. Love the way you can churn out such interesting write-ups!! I was on the hike, and yet I was still captivated as I read it. You've got a genuine knack for writing!


  2. Thanks, John - you do pretty well yourself!