Member Trip report
Hancocks Snowshoe Hike
Trip Report/Photos from shep5
On Sunday, March 25th, it was forecast to be a nice, clear sunny day, so I headed up to the White Mountains to hike the Hancocks. I arrived at the trailhead parking lot along Route 112 (Kancamagus Highway) at about 7:20AM. The parking lot had barely been plowed and it took me three tries to get into the lot. There was only one other car here, but they had apparently already headed out. After getting ready a woman showed up and we got to talking, while she waited for the rest of her group (it turned out she had only hiked the Hancocks once before using the Arrow Slide, so that peeked my interest).
By 7:50AM I finally started hiking the Hancock Notch Trail wearing snowshoes. The trail was fairly well-broken out, but it was it was clear that many hikers from the previous day had bare-booted it. The snow was soft, so it was perfect for snowshoes. I made pretty good time as this portion of the trail had only minor elevation gain...making it to the Cedar Brook Trail Junction by about 8:30. The snow was up to the base of the sign, so there was probably about 3 to 4 feet of snow on the trails. The trail began to climb a bit more, but then this also moderated as it meandered through the woods and along the Hancock Brook (North Fork). At 9AM, I reached the Hancock Loop Trail. This was where the trail began a persistent climb up towards the Hancocks. The trail was still mostly broken out. I began to get views through the trees of Mount Hancock and the Arrow Slide. I made it to the junction of the North and South Legs of the loop at 9:40. The hiker ahead of me had taken the northern leg of the loop, but I started up the southern leg. With the winds over the last couple of days, the trail was mostly filled in by drifts. There were spots where I couldn't make out the trail at all and some areas where I could make out the faint track. I looked like I would be breaking trail. This section was very steep, but with the rocks buried in the snow, it didn't seem that bad. After a while I did raise up the elevators on the snowshoes, which helped me get better traction. By 10:20 I was getting views over towards Owls Head and the Franconia Ridge. After this it was only another 20-25 minutes to reach the summit of South Hancock (4319'). I descended carefully down to the view, but as this was unbroken, sloped snow, it was difficult to tell where the ledge was. After creating steps in the snow with my snowshoes, I only went far enough to get a bit of a view. Mount Carrigain was in sight along with Mt. Chocorua. Back on the Loop Trail, there was another vantage point not much farther along. I bushwhacked about 10 feet off-trail to this other ledge and I got a little better views with Mts. Whiteface and Passaconaway also in view. I stayed back from the edge, since it appeared that the snow had created an overhang.
As I continued to the north along the trail, it was pretty clear that signs of the trail were faint or non-existent. Every now and then I could make out traces of the snowshoe track, but for the most part these had been drifted over. Also, since the trail was about 3-4 feet off the ground a clear path through the trees was not always evident (it felt more like bushwhacking as I pushed my way through the branches). I was surprised along the way that there were open views that I had not seen before...views of Hancock, Carrigain and of Mt. Washington. After descending off of Middle Hancock there were open areas in the trees, where there was absolutely no sign of a trail. I meandered a bit, but luckily after re-entering the woods and starting to climb up Mt. Hancock I ran into footprints. The trail still wasn't especially broken out, but at least I had something to follow now. As I exited the woods near the summit, all tracks vanished again. I was in a forest of dead trees. I knew this wasn't the trail, but I was close to the summit. I just made my way in that direction and by 12:15PM, I was standing atop of Mount Hancock (4420'). It felt so wrong though. Normally, this summit is treed, but with all the snow on the ground it was more like an open summit. I had never seen Mount Carrigain from here, but it was prominent to the east. I couldn't find the "view" spur path, but since the summit provided the view, it didn't matter. The Osceolas were prominent to the south and the Franconia Ridge could be seen through the trees to the west. It had been windy on the other summit, but the winds had died down, so I decided to take a break here. I had the summit to myself. It was also kind of strange that I hadn't run into the person who was ahead of me earlier (they must have just went up and down Mt. Hancock).
After my break, I started down. As soon as I descended back into the woods there was a distinctive path of footprints. By about 12:40PM, I began to run into other hikers who were ascending the peak via the North Leg. They were unsure how much they were going to do, but were relieved to know that the trail was broken out now. I continued to descend this steep section. I was looking forward to the slide down this trail, but with the warming air the snow was stickier and wet. I tried a section, but it didn't work too well. Oh, well, I just hiked it. At 1:10 I reached the Hancock Brook at the bottom and reclimbed the opposite bank to get back up to the junction for the two legs of the loop. Afterwards, I just backtracked the way I came...reaching the Cedar Brook Trail by 1:50 and the Hancock Notch Trail at 2:15. Along the way I noticed a Pine Marten running across the trail. When I got up to that spot, I looked up in the trees and sure enough, he was perched on a branch watching me. He didn't seem bothered by my presence and I was able to get a few pictures. A definite highlight...I had seen a Pine Marten only once before out near Stillwater Junction and he was running along a brook. After this I was back at the trailhead by 3:10PM.
This was an absolutely spectacular early spring hike up the Hancocks. Even though it took some effort with breaking some of the trail, the views were quite unique and beautiful (the prominent views were normally confined to a couple of ledges). Spotting the rare Pine Marten along the trail, put the icing on the cake for me!
Total mileage and elevation gain: 9.8 miles with approximately 3000 feet in cumulative elevation gain.
There are 27 photos in Album (Note: Move mouse pointer over larger pic and click on NEXT for better viewing)
Perfect day for that hike!
Interesting how the views change standing on that amount of snow. Great closeup of the Pine Marten!
The Pine Marten is beyond cute - what a great shot - that is a keeper! Sunday was the pick of the weekend - stunningly blue sky - rock on mate!!