Brian and I were both looking for something short and quick on Sunday. Out of the short list, E. Hitchcock (or is it Huntington? I keep screwing these names up) appealed to me most. It’s only 0.3 miles west of the Cedar Brook trail after a quick jaunt up the Hancock Notch Trail, not a lot of elevation gain, how easy is that? Well, that 0.3 miles at least doubled after a closer look at the map and Google Earth, showing some ledges and steeps. Ah well, stay with the plan. Despite swearing I would do a trailed hike next time, I was up for another one.
But let’s go back to my most expensive hike ever. Two weeks ago on Savage, I lost a bunch of gear. A stop at EMS cost me a whopping $100 to replace it. Ugh. Suddenly paying to go up Croydon didn’t sound so bad. We arrived at the Hancock Overlook, where I had to try mightily to remember to put my new WMNF parking sticker on (thanks BobC). Down to the road, I already couldn’t find my GPS. What the heck? Back up to the car, no GPS. Good grief, oh well, it must be at home. As was my compass. No GPS, fine, no compass, bad. Brian had two - good man. Well, the GPS was hiding behind my water bottle. Never decide to switch your bottle from one side pocket to the other, it gets confusing.
OK, off on the trail. Everyone’s probably done this trail, and I like it with its nice pleasant grades, proximity to the North Fork and some interesting woods. We came to the Cedar Brook Trail, Brian’s favorite junction. You see, someone had inscribed on it “I love New Hampshire” on the back of it, and it pleased him to still see it there, although barely so. Coincidence, stalker or secret admirer? You decide.
The Cedar Brook Trail went quickly, passing by the Hancock Loop. The trail’s in great shape, water crossing were easy, and minimal mud. We scouted the area of our bushwhack start, finding a swampy area as we went on, which scared us that Swamp Thing might suddenly appear and swallow us up. We went back a short ways, and started our whack in open woods, with only sparse knee to thigh high fir. We were aiming for the south ridge, and the going was great for some time. Brian did the jinxing this time, unlike me on Savage. “All whacks should be this easy!” My response: “Easy”, as in go easy in talking like that. More laughs.
So of course, we hit thick young spruce and blowdowns, a ledge or two, but this didn’t last long as we gained the ridge. The ridge would be open, were it not for the maze of dead fir branches sticking out like one of those subway doorway turnstiles. Crack, thwap, “Owwww!”. Both of us were in shorts and short sleeves expecting nasty hotness, and were paying for it. We left skin, we left blood. I also left my bug spray at home. Black flies and mosquitoes were thick. This at least kept us moving. It was a seemingly long walk to the summit, but again, we made it in pretty good time, 2.5 hours after leaving.
A nice break, and a plan for the exit. Genius me figured going down the steeps to get to the trail quickly would be OK, and we could just skirt right as needed. 50 feet into it, that stopped us dead. Thick woods presented themselves, with no skirting allowed. Ooooooookayyy, Brian, lead on. He dropped us below the ridge to the west where we found better woods. I kept unnecessarily (and probably annoyingly) kept trying to steer him left to avoid dropping off too far, but we were fine the whole time. I had plans for the afternoon, so any surprises or extra distance at this point would be unwelcome, but we made good time with his plan and then turned back towards the trail, hitting more patches of thick stuff, and a dry swamp we could walk across. That was a pleasant 50 feet.
It’s always nice to hit the trail, except when you discover your buddy’s bonking because he forgot his food in Bow. I knew he forgot his goody bag, I didn’t realize he was out completely. So Chez Salty was open for business. Sugar did a Brian good, and we cruised down the trail, coming across 3 or so groups of dayhikers and a backpacker heading up. Wow. Well, plenty of daylight for the hike. “Hey, how come we don’t do 11 AM starts? I could sleep until 9!” At the last crossing of the North Fork, several paths led away and we got horribly confused as to which one was the trail. Most were well trodden and seemingly brushed. This is one place a blaze would’ve been most helpful. A check of the map and the GPS gave the answer, stay close to the river, go downstream.
We heard jets, which sometimes sounded like thunder. The trail droned on and on, now taking on a Lincoln Woods or East Side quality to it. Oh, wait, that is thunder, isn’t it? After getting caught in two thunderstorms on Savage, we were quite happy we were going to avoid it. The sky to the west started getting ugly and we were figuring the folks doing Hancock were in for a soaking and a fun descent. On arriving at the trailhead (5.5 hours total) and on the drive back to Lincoln, we were now pretty sure of it, as the mountains disappeared behind a dark wall of rain. I guess that’s why we don’t do 11 AM starts in the summer. Hmmm.