After a winter of being off the trail, my son was back on the trail on Saturday for a hike to the Hancocks. Although winter is officially over, that doesn’t mean that the snow is all gone in the mountains. Coupled with a nice weather forecast, the trail conditions were good opportunity to give him a little winter hiking experience, plus bag a couple more peaks for his list. After reading a nice, detailed trip report and a bit of planning between a hiking friend and I, my son and I picked up our friend at the usual meeting spot and we were headed toward Lincoln and the hairpin turn on the Kancamagus Highway.
The day started a bit overcast and cool, but we knew that the skies would clear up and get a bit warmer. The beginning of the trail was bare, but quickly we encountered some fresh powder. Not enough to need traction, but enough to be careful. As we progressed down the trail, we encountered enough slippery stuff to add the microspikes. The stream crossings were low and fairly easy – poles made crossings much easier and soon we were making the turn onto Cedar Brook trail and quickly after that onto Hancock Loop Trail. A few inches of snow on the ground and a dusting on the trees was enough to add a little winter sparkle to the trail, which was welcome since the ground and plants at home are mostly bare and brown.
At the Hancock Loop junction, we took a break and got ready to ascend South Hancock. We had already decided that given the trail conditions, location of trails, and weather exposure, that going up to South Hancock first was probably the best idea. While it certainly had a thick layer of ice with a layer of powder over the top that made it a bit tricky in spots, it made much more sense to ascend this than descend it. With a watchful eye on Cameron in the lead, we started up the trail. This was a new experience for him, and with a some coaching and encouragement he made his way up the trail, sometimes using poles, sometimes not, finding out what worked best for him. Although the progress was slow, he did a great job on the steep ascent (even by adult standards, this a steep ascent, gaining 1,000 feet in a half mile), and every time we turned around we could see that we were quickly making progress on the ascent. Each time we looked back, we could see the arrow slide from a higher vantage point. At one point, we were high enough to see Franconia Ridge, with its new layer of snow. Soon enough, we could see an opening in the trees, quickened our pace and were at the top of South Hancock!
With congratulations all around, a snack and photos, it was time to head across the ridge. Cameron wanted to try out his new MSR snowshoes (he did carry them the entire trip!), and although the trail didn’t really require snowshoes, it was a good chance for him to get some practice. The trail was narrow solid monorail, with postholed sides, so we figured if he could snowshoe that, then regular snowshoe packed trail conditions would be no problem. He did just fine on the ridge between the two peaks, and enjoyed being able to actually use the snowshoes. The clouds had just lifted while we were on South Hancock and we had brilliant sunshine and bluebird skies all across the ridge. By peeking through the trees, we even got a view of Mt. Washington and Boott Spur, white with new snow.
The North Peak sign came into view and we had made it to the second summit of the day. After a quick peek at the views, it was time for some leftover pizza, snacks and a drink. Cameron even had time to work on his tan.
After packing up and switching back into microspikes, we were ready for the last tricky section of the day, the descent down North Hancock. The descent was as my partner and I had thought, softer snow over some ice patches, with some bare spots here and there due to the exposure of the trail to the sun. We all agreed it was much easier to descend the north side than to descend the south side. Dropping altitude rapidly, we ended up right back at the junction and ready to start the easy walk back to the car. With Cameron in the lead, we made quick time heading back, noting how much snow had melted since we had come through that morning. With less than a half mile to the car, the snow and ice was just about gone, so we put away the microspikes and enjoyed traveling traction-free back to the car.
We had a great day and it was good to see my son back out on the trails. He was very excited to be back out and gain some winter hiking experience on a low risk day, with only a few steep sections and easy approach and exit. Special thanks to our hiking partner, John in NH, who was great company on the trip.