After the heavy, flooding rains that fell in northern NH this past Saturday, it was a given that today’s hike would be wet and muddy, and the water crossings could be a challenge. Cat and I met up with Lucy and Devon at the Hancock Overlook along the scenic Kancamagus Highway (Route 112) at 6:00 AM. Even though it’s a long holiday weekend with prime tourist traffic, the parking lot still had plenty of space remaining, due to the early start. By 6:10 AM we were on the trail.
The first 1.8 miles to the Cedar Brook trail were easy-peasy. After taking a left on Cedar Brook to head toward the Hancock Loop trail, we encountered some more rocks and roots. And mud. And in some spots a bit of a stream flowing down the trail, due to the continued drainage from Saturday’s storm.
As expected, the water was high. We made it across the first couple of water crossings by rock-hopping. Another two water crossings proved a little more difficult – no rock-hopping over those, instead we donned our water shoes and trudged right through the icy water. I think there are supposed to be five water crossings, but I may have actually counted six. There was one water crossing described as a “dry brook” in the guide book, which was decidedly not dry (if it was indeed the area referred to in the trail description).
Continuing on to the Hancock Loop trail, the terrain became rockier and steeper, but still moderate. But once the trail split, heading up to North Hancock on the left and South Hancock on the right (we went up to North first), the trail became extremely steep and had lots of loose gravel, some of which may have been additional wash-out from the storm.
At the North summit of Hancock, a spur trail leads 50 yards to the left to a stunning overlook. Nobody seemed to want to bother with it, but I didn’t climb this far to miss a great view! Devon, Lucy and Cat quickly changed their minds and followed me – and were glad they did. After a few pictures at the overlook and by the sign at the summit, we started on the 1.4-mile trek over to South Hancock, which (unless I’m mentally blocking something) was a relatively easy down and up (maybe some slight difficulty just before the summit). Again, there was an overlook off to the left, a shorter walk than the previous one. Definitely worth the extra steps. Returning to the summit, we sat on several rocks and took a short lunch break before descending.
The descent from South Hancock is just as steep as the ascent up North Hancock, but over here there are more rocks/boulders and just slightly less gravel. It made for very tricky footing on the way down, and most of us relied on our trekking poles for extra security. We were all really glad to reach the bottom of the summit loop!
From here, we were retracing our steps back to the trailhead. The stream crossings weren’t much of an issue on the way back. For one of them, we crossed at a different spot further downstream, over a fallen log. For two of the crossings, we just walked right through, this time not even donning our water shoes.
We made pretty good time, too. Including our lunch break at the South summit, we had a total hike time of 7 hours and 14 minutes. This is supposed to be a 9.8-mile round-trip hike, but my fitness app tracked it a little shorter at 9.7 miles, including the extra hikes to the overlook spurs.