I finally took a couple days off. The boys went up Lafayette and Lincoln on Saturday, I needed some rest. So Sunday was to be a solo day, and a much needed one. What to do, what to do. I finally decided on an open-ended agenda, heading up the Hancock Notch Trail, connecting to the Cedar Brook Trail and see how things were. I had the option of climbing the Hancocks, or following some old logging roads that are cut all into this mountain, or checking out a particular road that I believed led to one of the old logging camps. Driving up, I noticed Lafayette in the clear, and was tempted, but dealing with a lot of people seemed to defeat the purpose of a solo day.
So with warnings of bad off trail travel I struck off on the Hancock Notch Trail, testing the snow here and there, and indeed finding unsupportive crust. It was cold, but not windy, but my hands were still cold and in pain for a bit. The jacket at least came off quickly. I love this trail, it gives such a nice mix of woods following an old logging railroad used to strip out everything before the land went to the government.
I was hoping to follow the railroad grade where it branched off the trail, but sinking knee deep prevented that. I could've strapped on the shoes, but the crossing looked dicey at best, and even so, I wouldn't see any relics at its end, if they were there.
In 40 minutes from the start I was at the junction of the Cedar Brook Trail, and was surprised to find old signs of activity continuing on the Hancock Notch Trail. Indeed, the surface was firm. For all I knew, that only carried on for 50 feet, or maybe the whole length. I went up the Cedar Brook Trail, still well packed out, and made the junction an hour after I left. Woo-hoo, making great time!
Now what? Again, I was surprised to see old activity on Cedar Brook forward of here, as pretty much all traffic turns to the four-thousand foot peaks of the Hancocks. The surface was again firm, but trailbreaking once I got off trail would be arduous. That and I had the feeling with open woods and snow cover, following the dug-in roads would be difficult. No point in the camp road, as the snow was too deep to notice any artifacts. Besides, it was such a crystal clear day, not grabbing some views would be a shame, so up the Hancock Loop Trail.
I had done these peaks in 1986 and remembered nothing about them. I had seen enough trip reports to know there were views, and that some steepness was involved. Oh well, the plan was for long non-steep miles, so much for that (little did I know that the whole trip would be 9.8 miles, so much for not long). Now it was time for some climbing, and this was taking a bit out of me. Nothing major, just needed some minor stops to catch my breath. I came to the loop junction, and now had to choose. Longer but no climbing at the very end (the north loop has a 100 foot drop right after the junction), or shorter route to the first peak. I for whatever reason wanted to go CCW, so I assured myself the 100 climb at the end would be after I was rested. As I was deciding, a couple of women came up, and I decided I wasn't so fast after all. They told me the owner of the dog who kept coming up to check me out was behind them. Energetic pup! I went up the south loop, and as I had expected it steepened. After all, I had over 1000 feet to climb in a half mile. And then it steepened more and just stayed that way. Things slowed down a lot here, and I let the group with the dog go on by.
I huffed and puffed, going up 50-100 feet at a time, slowly counting down the elevation remaining. This trail was clearly ideal for butt sliding, and much butt sliding had been done, unfortunately erasing much of the traction, so I was kicking in with my microspikes a lot. The slope just shy of the summit finally let up, and one of the doggie group asked if I was doing ok. Cripes, do I look that bad?! It had taken me almost 1.5 hours to get here from the Cedar Brook junction. They headed off for the north peak, and I went down to the outlook, pleased at the view, with Chocorua and Tremont dominating.
I set off now for the north peak, and spotted what looked to be a view to Franconia Ridge. It was about 75 feet off trail, thought, and the snow was knee deep, but no way I was putting on shoes for 75 feet of walking. I hemmed. I hawed. I couldn't resist. Plunk plunk plunk PLUNK! Crap, of course the view was in a blowdown field, which meant deeper snow and spruce traps. I sunk into my waist and wallowed about. Maybe 15 feet ahead was what appeared to be a clear shot as the ridge dropped away, but I wasn't going there. Taking one step was an achievement. So I just held the camera up high and hoped for the best.
Back down the trail, along the way I spotted Zeacliff and Zealand (though I didn't know it at the time). The climb up Middle Hancock wasn't too bad, but I was feeling it. Other folks went by the other way, and finally I came to the climb up to North Hancock, dreading it, but again, it wasn't too horrible. Not nearly as steep as getting up south. On the plateau, I couldn't help but notice pretty woods here. On the north summit outlook, there was a gentleman there, and we talked a little bit, but we were both more interested in the view. I snapped away, getting views from Chocorua to Moosilauke. Damn, no northerly views.
I suddenly remembered there were Gray Jays on this peak, and sure enough, 2 feet above my head, there was one, and his mate came by in short order. Out came the raisins. Here came the Gray Jays.
I finally managed to lure on in close and actually get an awkward shot off to get the one picture I've always wanted.
Back to the views, I could see one getting ready to rob me of my pack of raisins that I hadn't put away (thus their nickname Camp Robbers). I could also hear them softly chirping away, somehow sounding pitiful. Yeah, sure. The Gray Jays cover their food in a sticky saliva and hide it in the bark of the spruce for later. Given the amount of traffic this peak sees, a man could probably survive on that food for a month (if he could find it all, anyway).
I saw a nice view of the talus fields on Huntington, having been on one last winter. Definitely a place to go back to in clearer weather than when we were there.
Looking around at all these little bumps, most folk have no idea what those hills are, but they are full fledged mountains. Having been on many of them, I have a lot of good memories, and the occasional not so good ones, but that's the way it goes. It's pretty cool knowing about those areas in between all the trails. Then again, there's the mountains I can never seem to get to, like Ascutney which was visible today (and less than an hour up the road from me), and a surprise once I looked at the pictures, Stratton Mountain right behind it, 95 miles from here.
Killington and Pico were also there, as was Sunapee. Kearsarge, I believe is blocked by Osceola. Closer by, there's a spiffy contiguous view of the Osceolas and Scar Ridge. Well, time for one last shot of the Grey Jay all puffed out.
Heading down, the grade was easy, steepened a little, and finally what I was looking for. Steep and long. Time for my own butt sliding. I had a couple of great long runs that were a blast, and before I knew it I had dropped 600 feet from the summit. I only found one shorter run after that, but the going was quick with the grade. In short order I was in the ravine below the Arrow Slide, and there was my 100 foot climb. Sigh. Yeah, this sucked and seemed to take too long, but the junction did indeed come. From there it was a steady march down to the Cedar Brook Trail. At that point, I was feeling sore. From there, it was a death march out, with nothing more for thoughts than how much further. I got back to the car at 1:45, so I guess the pace wasn't too bad. More importantly, it was a good workout after not really hiking for the past 3 weeks. I really enjoyed these peaks, and this whole region is worthy of much exploration in the future. I can hardly wait.