Apparently part of my enjoyment (whether I will or won’t) has a lot to do with expectations. I’ve had hikes that I was very frustrated, upset, or disappointed in because I expected them to be “easy”. I’ve had hikes I expected to be “meh” or a grind that I ended up liking. Today I expected a grind and terrible conditions. I had a lovely hike.
First expectation, the weather.
The weather forecast was for clear skies until the afternoon when clouds move in with light snow/heavy rain. Those 30/35/45s? That’s 30-45 mile per hour winds. Temps dropping from 32 at the start of the hike down to 27, with windchills 21 dropping to 9.
Second expectation was that the hike was long, with lots of elevation gain, and some steep conditions. On the ascent to Hancock, the trail gains 1,030 feet in half a mile. Coming off South Hancock, the trail drops 846 feet in 0.39 miles. I expected the hike to take us about 10 hours. Since it’s November, that meant getting an early start in hopes of finishing before dark. Hence a 4AM wake up alarm.
Third expectation was around trail conditions. While we’ve had some unexpectedly warm weather, the area did get some snow and the weather had turned cold. The steep section of the trail is loose rock, which would likely have a coating of snow or ice on them.
So basically, I was expecting the hike to be long, dangerous, and miserable. Spoiler alert: I had a really nice hike.
Back in June of last year, I worked with the White Mountain National Forest, on a backcountry steward hike, which covered the first 2 1/4 miles of our hike to the Hancocks. It’s a nice fairly flat hike. There are several water crossings. They were fine as long as you’re slow and careful, which should be my trail name. We did see a guy slip and fall in, but in fairness he was being pulled by a dog. Another woman apparently fell in, we saw her changing her socks (always bring extra socks!).
Then you get to the junction. I had read that clockwise was the way to go as Hancock has the steeper trail with South Hancock slightly less steep. We took the left part of the junction to head to Hancock. As expected, the trail got steep with loose rocks. While there had been snow along side the trail up until this point, none was really on the trail. Some icy/snowy patches began to appear, but nothing unmanageable. The steep does start to get a bit relentless. But at least another hiker referred to me as a train, so there’s that.
Part of the reason I chose this particular hike was that there aren’t much in the way of views (so we wouldn’t miss them if it got cloudy) and it’s mostly in the trees. With 45 mile an hour winds, I wanted the shelter of trees. Even still, as we got close to the summit, the trees thinned and it got much colder as the wind broke through.
One of my goals for this hike was to have more frequent snack and water breaks. Mission accomplished…
It’s cold when you stop moving, hence the hat and puffy jacket, those weren’t needed when I was actually hiking. I think those may also be ice crystals on my pizza.
Friday was my birthday, and Right Turn brought BIRTHDAY CAKE. We tried to light the candle but it was too windy! We saved it for the trailhead, too, since we were too cold to stop and eat.
One of the cool things about hitting multiple peaks in one hike, is looking back and seeing where you’ve come from. This was on South Hancock, looking over to Hancock.
This was as snowy as the trail got, luckily this was a fairly flat portion. We only wore our microspikes from Hancock over to South Hancock and then down to the junction. The rest of the time, we were fine with just our boots.
This grey jay came to check us out when we stopped for a snack, and then I swear followed us down to our next stop. Maybe it was just another jay, but I kept hearing something behind us.
Did you even write a hiking blog post if you didn’t include a picture of mushrooms?
All in all, it was a very lovely hike. The steep parts were steep and rocky, but this is New Hampshire. And at least they were in two short sections. We made it out before dark, but thanks to my sunset hike a couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t worried about it getting dark. Right Turn and I had a great time, even though (because?) we both expected a grind.
- Distance: 9.8 miles
- Elevation gain: 2700 feet
- Total time: 9 hours, 28 minutes
- Moving time: 6 hours, 52 minutes