Peaks: South Hancock, North Hancock
Trails: Sawyer River Trail, Hancock Notch Trail, Cedar Brook Trail, Hancock Loop Trail, Wilderness Trail, Carrigain Notch Trail, Signal Ridge Trail
Mileage/time: 27.9 miles, 5626 feet of gain, book time of 16:45, actual time of 17:45
Catching up, that's what I'm trying to do, on several levels. Distractions, and life in general have been getting in the way. Now that I have a bit of time, I can spin this tale.
In perusing the White Mountain Guide Online, I've noticed, and mapped out, several loop options. This particular one nets the Hancocks and Carrigain from Sawyer River Road, and it's been on my radar for a couple of months now. Things didn't go exactly to plan, but as usual, I'm getting ahead of myself.
I was joined by Heather and Scott (who I met when Heather finished her 48), and I told them I wanted to be on trail by 5:30, so we set a meet time of 5:00 at the Signal Ridge Trailhead. Some things happened, causing us to roll into the lot at about 5:20, where Scott was waiting patiently. He loaded his stuff into my car, for the 2 mile ride to the end of Sawyer River Road, and our start. Boots/shoes were on trail at 5:45, and the clock was off and running.
In the still fairly dim, early morning light, the Sawyer River Trail was a nice soft walk in the woods, running fairly close to its namesake. The temperatures were comfortable, though very fall-like, and would continue to be nice for the balance of the day. Near a crossing, the just risen sun lit up some lingering clouds, and provided a nice start to the hike.
The 1.2 mile section went quickly, and we soon found ourselves on one of several long legs of our trip, the Hancock Notch Trail. While the section from the Kanc gets a lot of use from peakbaggers, the section we would be traveling doesn't get much traffic. There were some really nice sections, but there were also some really grown in areas, and quite a bit of mud in spots. Some areas received severe erosion from Irene and possibly Sandy, and there was flagging tape to mark where the trail continued on either side of the washouts.
|A particularly narrow stretch of trail|
Once at the Cedar Brook junction, we took a break. Now we were in familiar territory, a bit more than 3 hours into our day, so far, so good. Break done, we headed in to the Hancocks. The crossings along the way were all dispatched easily, and we soon found ourselves at the loop split, with a decision to make.
I left the decision up to Heather, as to which way we would ascend to the ridge. Thankfully, she chose the option I would have chosen, going up south peak first. The two other times I've been to the Hancocks, I've gone up to the north peak first, and both times were in winter conditions. Not a trace of snow today! The climb up to South Hancock was short and sweet, but steep and loose in spots. There were some decent views back through the trees towards the Franconia Ridge, and across to the Arrow Slide on North Hancock.
Once on the summit, we dropped down to the outlook for some more views, ranging from the south ridges of Carrigain (you can't see the summit from the outlook) all the way to Passaconaway, with many other peaks in between.
|Chocorua, Paugus, and Passaconaway|
|Carrigain's southern ridges, with Kearsarge North in back|
|Mt. Tremont with the Moat Range in back|
|The Sandwich Range over South Hancock|
We returned to the split, then down to Cedar Brook Trail, where it was decision making time. Heather's foot had been bothering her throughout the day thus far, probably due to some footwear issues in the days prior, and both Scott and I were concerned about her continuing. She made the decision to continue with the plan, and though it was later than I would have liked, I wasn't going to argue, it was a beautiful day to be out. So onward it was, and the trails continued to be gorgeous. Cedar Brook Trail climbs up to a height of land between Mt. Hitchcock and the Hancocks, then descends along its namesake, towards the Pemigewasset River and the junction of the Pemi East Side, and Wilderness trails. There wasn't any wildlife to speak of, but we did find some human excrement, and toilet paper, right on the trail, as we stepped over a downed tree. No need for that! For one, go off trail... and for two, bury that shit (all pun intended)!
Minus the poo, the trail was in awesome shape, and for a seemingly lesser used route, it appeared to be well trodden along its length. It seems to follow old logging roads, and a railroad grade, for most of its length. We passed the site of Camp 24 (I believe), now a clearing along the trail, with some artifacts nearby. There was a nice vista as well along Cedar Brook itself, with massive damage upstream, numerous trees down in the waterway up around a corner. It would have been both amazing and scary to see the water that caused such destruction.
After filtering water from Cedar Brook, we continued on until we came to the Wilderness Trail, and more railroad grade walking. There were some rerouted sections, off the grade, that were nice and soft, and the on grade sections reminded me, in places, of Lincoln Woods Trail. What with all the old railroad ties! We also passed another logging camp (Camp 18), just beyond the junction with Thoreau Falls Trail (the junction of which I should have taken a picture of, it's pretty sweet looking). There is an old stove, right next to the trail, and it made me wonder when the last meal was cooked in/on it.
We (really just me) limped into Stillwater Junction, and took a short break in the waning light of the day. This is a super remote place, that I hope to visit again soon, maybe even this weekend? It lies 9.2 miles from Lincoln Woods, 9.1 miles from Zealand Road, 8.6 miles from Ethan Pond Trailhead (off of 302), 8.7 miles from Nancy Pond Trailhead (on 302), and 7.2 miles from Signal Ridge Trailhead... if that gives you any idea as to its remoteness. Far flung indeed! With the coming darkness, I didn't want to risk climbing up Carrigain via Desolation (per the plan), and having issues on a trail I wasn't familiar with. I made the call to hike to the junction of Carrigain Notch Trail and Nancy Pond Trail, take a break before it got fully dark, then push out on trails I knew.
We didn't last long on the trail without headlamps, as darkness enveloped us. The trail was in good shape, and easily followed, the going was just slow. We reached the wilderness boundary at about 10 past 9, and continued the slog out. Conversation was minimal, the day, long. Eventually, we came out on Sawyer River Road, done, beaten, at 11:30. We had talked about the likelihood that if we had made the summit of Carrigain, that we would have hunkered down for the night, on the summit, as the moon was out and the skies were crystal clear. It would have been epic, though it wasn't meant for this time.
Retrieving my car, we set off for Scott's camp, in an undisclosed mountain location. Both him and I started to drift off at the wheel on our drive north, and he finally pulled over, said screw going to get food, let's just get to the camp. Once there, sleeping arrangements were figured out (I was happy with a sleeping pad and my sleeping bag), and we all crashed.
I awoke the next morning, not long after Scott got up and was putting around, and spent a while chatting with him over coffee. Once Heather got up, we went to the Wagon Wheel in Jefferson, where they served up one of the biggest, cheapest breakfasts I've ever had. Well played! We then set off for home. Thanks to Heather and Scott for joining me on this one, next time, we'll finish the plan!