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Saturday, January 23, 2010

North and South Hancock, Jan. 23, 2010, winter 4Ks #9 and #10

Hancock Notch Trail, Cedar Brook Trail, Hancock Loop Trail

9.8 miles

Since the wind speeds were supposed to be minimal, we decided to ascend Mt. Madison this weekend. However, the day before our hike, Alex had a six hour ski lesson. As we drove home from the slopes, she told me she now felt worn out and would prefer to hike something mellow. We looked at the maps after dinner and she decided on the Hancocks.

Morning arrived. I packed up the car and off we set. Unfortunately, my usual hat, balaclava, facemask, liners, wool gloves, and waterproof mitts were missing when we arrived at the trailhead. I let out a choice word or two as I realized they were piled in a comfortable heap on the kitchen table.

There were a few seconds when I thought we'd have to abort, but then I realized that, as MadRiver says, I carry an EMS store on my back. Out came my spare balaclava, facemask, and heavy woolen socks from my emergency stuffsack. The socks worked just fine as gloves. I had small trashbags to use as a make-shift, extra waterproof layer, but I never needed to use them.

After I finally finished putting myself together, we began our hike.

The Hancock Notch Trail is flat, flat, and flat again. We had a nice and easy amble over the well packed snow.

Cedar Brook Trail proved almost as easy as Hancock Notch Trail, and we were at the intersection with the Loop in no time.

We noticed these "snow shelves" just past the signage...

Now the fun began. This is the only steep uphill section of the hike, but it was enough for me today, thank you very much. Alex and I continually slipped, fell over, and slid on the slick snow as we grunted our way toward the summit. There was one section we ascended three times, because we'd almost make it to the top, then we'd lose our footing and end up back where we had started, ten feet down the trail. Our microspikes were simply not up to the task.

I admired my daughter's good cheer during this ordeal. She never complained. In fact, she actually seemed to enjoy the challenge. She was a buoyant bundle of glee when we finally arrived at the summit. Good for her. Her tired and grumpy mother felt quite the opposite.

The day was clear and we were able to catch a bit of a view over the trees.

In spite of the forecast, there was quite a bit of cold wind flying around up there. We huddled down among the scrub and ate our lunch. Then we continued toward the South peak, fighting our way through a multitude of gear-hungry trees whose limbs reached out to tear everything off the outside of my pack.

Alex didn't mind the arboreal attack. She thinks maneuvering through sharp and pointy branches is great fun.

The hike to South Hancock returned me to a happier state of mind. The trek was easy, and at one point we were treated to a lovely view back toward North Hancock and Arrow Slide.

We arrived at South Hancock...

...and checked out the view from the "Outlook."

The wind was roaring through the trees at this point, so we didn't stick around for long. We ate quickly, then buttslid down the South peak in about 1.5 seconds.

The rest of the hike was, as usual, fast and furious. Alex ran, jumped, and slid most of the way down, only slowing when we were about a mile from the car. As we walked the rest of the way toward the Kancamagus, Alex spoke about wanting to live on top of the mountains. Just before we reached the highway, she turned to me and asked, "So when can we? When can we just live outside, on the summits?"

I told her she'd have to settle for a lot of camping trips this summer. With her sister, of course. Alex appeared satisfied with this answer, and she crossed the hairpin turn with a big smile on her face.

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