Thursday, September 10, 2015


I have recently had a hankering to return to Mount Hancock, the sprawling mass of a mountain that anchors the south-central sector of the Pemigewasset Wilderness. Over the years I've enjoyed several marvelous bushwhacks exploring Hancock's wild ravines and ridges. On this hazy, hot and humid day, I opted for the usual loop over the North and South Peaks on the Hancock Loop Trail. Though this trek offers no stunning vistas, there are a couple of interesting views, along with stream scenery, miles of stark spruce woods, a beautiful meandering ridge walk, and a fine sense of remoteness. 

The first 1.5 miles of Hancock Notch Trail follows the grade of one of the early (1890s) Hancock Branch lines of J.E. Henry's East Branch & Lincoln Railroad. Good footing most of the way through this section.

At 1.2 miles a Tropical Storm Irene washout has opened a wide view over the North Fork of Hancock Branch.

The South Peak of Mt. Hitchcock can be seen downstream.

Some good trail stabilization work by the WMNF trail crew.

Where the Cedar Brook Trail comes to its former first crossing of the North Fork (the first two crossings are now bypassed to the right), there is an attractive ledgy area downstream to the left.

A cascade slides down a bed of granite ledges.

A pool at the bottom of the cascades. It felt about ten degrees cooler here than in the surrounding woods.

In this area the Cedar Brook Trail crosses an interesting boggy plateau at about 2700 ft.

Another crossing of the North Fork.

Headin' for the Hancocks.

A fine stand of spruce on the Hancock Loop Trail.

Bushwhacking for miles through dense growth is what early explorers of Hancock faced, before the trail was built in the mid-1960s. Plus, before the Kanc Highway was completed to the hairpin turn, there was a long walk up the valley from Lincoln just to reach the area. Thus Hancock was long considered one of the most inaccessible peaks in the Whites.

Loop Junction.  It's steep either way.

As the North Link drops to a hollow, it offers a window view of the Arrow Slide, a huge gash on the south face of North Peak. This was a frequently used ascent route before the trail was built, and is still used by some today. Having climbed it once years ago, I can say that it is not for novices.

A neat open flat area in the hollow, with a patch of asters in bloom.

Along the hot, relentless climb to North Peak (1100 ft. in 0.6 mile),  a nice rock staircase built by the AMC Trail Crew.

Log retaining steps in an area of loose rock.

The trail tops out on the heavily wooded summit of North Hancock (4420 ft.).

After grabbing a summit geocache, I spent some time at the nearby south-facing outlook. Among several hikers who came by was Georg Feichtinger and his neighbor Bonnie. Georg is a Grid finisher, and after today's hike he needs only Tecumseh this month to finish his "over 70" Grid. Amazing!

The dark, backlit mass of South Hancock, with the Sandwich Range beyond.

A hazy vista down the North Fork valley to the Osceolas.

After an enjoyable sojourn at the outlook, it was time to head across the delightful Ridge Link to the South Peak. The trail makes this mossy meander shortly after leaving North Peak.

The first col along the ridge was wracked with blowdown.

Winding through beautiful high-elevation fir forest.

The AMC Four Thousand Footer Club contributed funds for the placing of these and other bog bridges along the Ridge Link.

The final approach to South Peak leads along a neat narrow ridge.

At South Peak I found the summit geocache, then dropped down the side path to the eastern outlook, which has been "enhanced" by a bit of tree cutting.

Mount Carrigain and Signal Ridge from the South Peak outlook. Part of Hancock's wild east ridge is seen below. The small slide probably fell during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

A haze-obscured vista out towards the Mount Tremont area.

Peering down to a remote beaver pond on the floor of a cirque below Hancock's east ridge. A larger beaver pond is hidden around the corner to the left. These were visited a few days earlier by backcountry enthusiast Matt Lacroix and two friends. One of my most memorable bushwhacks was a solo snowshoe to these ponds in March 1993. The views up to the steep-sided South Peak and the walls of the cirque were remarkable.

A trio of Gray Jays stopped by for some handouts.

North Hancock, seen from the top of the steep trail descending from South Peak.

As the AMC White Mountain Guide notes, this section of trail is "unrelievedly steep." Lots of loose rock, too. The loop over the Hancocks is always a memorable trek.

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