Hancock Attempt From the Pemi Side – or – Another Glorious Failure

I often like to set overly ambitious goals and see how far I can get before I have to turn back. With alternatives already planned from the start it is easy enough to give something a shot and still have a great time if that doesn’t work out. Of course you have to know when to turn around and some folks aren’t disposed to giving up so this style of trip could actually be dangerous, but it works for me because I have a good time whatever ends up happening.

With that intro I don’t have to tell you I didn’t get to the top on this trip, but it was a really fun couple of nights. If you are in the mood for pictures you’re in luck because I took too many. With my cameras in a new easy access pouch on a shoulder strap it was just too easy. More on the pouch later.

IMG_4192aThe plan was to follow the East Side Trail and the river into the wilderness, then head up the Cedar Brook Trail to some place above 2000 feet to camp for the night. Down low the trail was surprisingly dry for this time of year. The leaves were rustling like October, but there were a few patches of ice remaining in spots.

IMG_4193aLooking back across Cedar Brook where the trail crosses. Way deeper than my boots and icy cold with run off from above so I didn’t put on my water shoes for this one. In the summer this is a great place to take off your shoes and cool your feet though.

IMG_4194aMy usual crossing when I don’t want to get my feet wet is up stream a ways past that tree across the brook. Many of the rocks were under the water a few inches, but that is what waterproof boots are for. Great for taking your time with a full pack and not worrying about wet socks. After crossing dry footed again on my way out I was feeling pretty good til I noticed a man with an expedition pack on his back walking across that fallen tree with a long branch planted in the water as a staff. Sorry I couldn’t get into position to get a picture, but I was bushwhacking back to the trail and didn’t want to shout to him to wait for fear he’d fall in.

IMG_4196aEvery time I’ve come down this trail headed out deeper into the wilderness I’ve always stopped and looked up this path. The sign I’ve talked about before because it is so odd to see this new of a one in the wilderness. This time I made the turn and headed up around that bend to see what I’d find. As much as I love going to places I’ve been and know I like, I really enjoy stepping around the corner into the unknown.

IMG_4198aClearly I wasn’t the first human to walk this way heh. Most of the wilderness hasn’t been wilderness that long and there were all sorts of camps established out there in previous times.

IMG_4199aThis was one of the most extensive areas I’ve seen before and there were several different collections on display along the trail. These things are to be looked at and photographed but otherwise should be left alone as they are considered artifacts now.

IMG_4200aIt was neat to see and realize how active this place had been before in contrast to the reclaimed wilderness it was today. Still, garbage in the woods is garbage in the woods so it made me a bit sad to see how folks just chucked stuff out in those days. I guess some still do since I picked up a bit of hiker produced trash on this trip.

IMG_4202aCedar Brook may not look that big now even with the spring melt still going on up above, but you can see from these couple of pictures that it has had its moments. These mountains are great at scraping the sky so when a storm front or hurricane runs into them deluge is the best word to describe it.

IMG_4203aAll of the brooks and rivers in this area have extra wide channels that show where the waters reach when real floods come. The trees are stripped back as the channel undercuts the banks and eventually rocks of all sizes are rolled in. Most of the time the waters run in narrow channels, but the warning is clear what can happen. You really don’t want to camp too close to the water in this area, especially if it is raining.

IMG_4205aI kept headed up as the trail swung away from Cedar Brook. I went past my planned camp altitude mostly because I couldn’t find a spot that looked comfy. Between the increasing pockets of snow, areas of run off and a well littered forest floor the pickings were slim. I did come across some large bear tracks in a few patches of snow on the trail. I’d guess somewhere around 4″ across which may or may not be large, but any prints I see headed the same direction as me always look bigger heh.

IMG_4206aI came across this little gem and didn’t take more than a couple of minutes to decide to take off my pack. Based on compass heading I took I’d guess it was about 2600 feet. Not exactly flat but enough room to squeeze the Hubba between the trees. Pretty sure it was flood swept from a near by drainage so another bad spot if it was raining, but a smooth enough spot to lay my head and the leaf litter told me it didn’t flood often, just well.

I made camp with plenty of time to get out of my sweaty trail shirt and into a nice dry fleece for camp and sleep wear. The puffy was hung out just in case but ended up only being used as a pillow until morning. The temp started dropping pretty quick after the sun set so I settled in to do some reading before bed. I brought along my Long Trail Guide and enjoyed the first five divisions along with a few pecan short bread cookies. The folksy Vermontese of the guide paints such a vivid picture of the trail that I always enjoy rereading it.

Not sure if it was the bear tracks in the snow or the dinner I ate but I had a very vivid dream about being harassed by a bear that night. In the dream I was in a larger tent with some others and we were trying to scare off a bear. It didn’t work and the bear started pushing our tent. As we went flying I woke up to the very definite sensation of being pushed squarely in the small of my back. The first thing I did was to check to see if there were claw marks in the tent heh. Then I pondered for a moment and decided to say “Hey!” in a manly voice just in case there was a lonely beast of some sort trying to cuddle up to me. Then I laughed about it and went back to sleep. In the morning I could see no sign of anything big having been there so either it was a chipmunk or all just a dream.

IMG_4208aThe morning was beautiful though a bit chilly. It had gotten down to around 35°f. Not quite freezing, but close enough that handling the water bag to make coffee was cold on the fingers. I’m not sure if I got up late or just puttered around a lot but I know I wasn’t on the trail until a bit after 8. There was coffee to drink, granola to eat, a tent fly to dry out and of course the morning light on the snow meant lots of pictures.

IMG_4211aThe early May sunlight on the littered and fading snow seemed to be saying it might be a chilly start, but there would be less snow around by the end of the day. The morning light always seems to do interesting things in these mountains. Any season I find the Whites to be a great place to wake up.

IMG_4213aMy bag is packed, I’m ready to go. Well, maybe just one more pic. Once I pick up that pack you’d never know I’d been there. I love passing near previous camp spots and knowing that I’m the only one who knows I’d been there.  On this trip I found two spots where folks had built a fire right on the trail which seems to be the opposite approach.

IMG_4214aEnough of my complaining, lets get back to that beautiful morning light. I headed up, postholing for a bit in various depths of snow and then hitting dry patches of trail for a while. I continued to see bear tracks now and again and at times I could see remnants of a set of ski tracks. I seem to recall reading a trip report from someone who had climbed Hancock from the other side and skied down this way and now I could vouch for it heh.

IMG_4216aOther than the bears and that one skier the trail was unbroken. I began to hit more snow and went straight from bare boot to snowshoes. The day was heating up and the snow was falling apart under my feet. Even with snowshoes I would sink to my knees and even my hips at times. Seeming solid surface would suddenly give way making for a very adventurous climb.

IMG_4217aBased on the time and progress I seemed to be making I pretty much gave up on making the summit on this trip, but I was hoping to have lunch up at the intersection with the Hancock Trail so I kept stomping on up the notch. All the time I spent on the snowshoes around home and the couple of trips to NH paid off as my legs were up to the task. The knees were a little displeased as postholing is not kind to them, but despite some grumbling agreed to continue.

IMG_4221aI can’t find a name for that ridge on any of my maps, but I could get a glimpse of it with my camera. Hancock was looming right over my head, but with trees in the way it wasn’t very photogenic even if it was easy to identify.

IMG_4222aIt seemed I was making some progress and was looking forward to lunch up ahead. I had this beautiful day all to myself and if things weren’t going exactly according to plan they were still going pretty darn well.

IMG_4224aUnmaintained wilderness trails are interesting enough in the summer. In fall,when the leaves cover the ground and in winter with the snow, you really find out how well you can guess which way to go. There are no blazes so once the path is obscured all you can do is sort of follow the gaps.

IMG_4225aNo really, just aim for the gaps heh. It was all good fun, but then it was time to turn around. I came to a point where the stream I’d been paralleling came boiling out of the unbroken snow in front of me on the trail. I could see where I’m guessing the trail was supposed to go, but no clue where the stream was coming from. It only took one look to know that going on would be a case of each step being a crap shoot as far as when I’d find myself in the creek. I used to enjoy playing craps in Vegas, but not alone on a mountain trail in these conditions. My only regret is that I didn’t get a picture of the spot where I turned around.

IMG_4227aWhat took me a little over two hours to climb up took me an hour to climb down. It helped that I could use my tracks, but even those weren’t stable. Snow that held me on the way up gave way heading down at times. Still, just knowing where the big holes were made things much easier.

IMG_4231aPretty sure that is Hitchcock in the distance through the trees. Buds were just starting to form so leaf out should be soon if the weather stays nice. Last chance to see some of these views until fall. Once the leaves come in it is just a walk in the woods.

IMG_4236aDown lower the day was quite warm. I was looking forward to setting up camp early, but I stopped to get a few more shots. This is looking towards Zealand though that may be the Wileys poking up beyond. Without a compass heading and map they all look alike to me; pretty!

IMG_4237aWell this one was close enough that I’m pretty sure I can identify it as the Bonds. Incredible views up there I’m told but while I’ve come through on the AT I didn’t take time to visit. Have to find some time during the week to sneak up there and try to snag a tent site at Guyot so I can take in the sunset. Very busy spot but I’ll put up with people for a great view if I have to.

IMG_4239aDown at the river it was a beautiful afternoon. I found a spot that only had one tree that looked like it might be thinking of falling on me which is pretty good for these woods.  Filtered a bit of water and thought about how much easier that was compared to melting snow. I broke out some spicy beef jerky I made recently and really noticed how it perked me up. Probably too much black pepper, but it made for a nice recovery snack before dinner.

IMG_4240aThere was time for a few pictures too of course heh.  If the water wasn’t so cold I might have gone for a swim, but I knew better. Instead I broke out a few sips of Irish which was good because my home made dinner came out a bit crunchy. Afraid I may have over dried my pasta, but it might just have been not enough water in the bag. Making your own meals is an art, not a science and sometimes the picture isn’t all that pretty. Have to eat it though, otherwise you have to carry it out.

After dinner I settled in for divisions 6 through 9 of the Long Trail Guide and of course a few more shortbread cookies. This site was much  more open so I could appreciate the full moon better. The previous night I could tell it was out there, but hiding behind trees and mountains. Stepping out of the tent in the middle of the night made for alternating gasps at the temperature and the way the whole woods was lit up like daylight.

IMG_4242aThe sunrise was pretty nice too. Again the temps were down in the 30s. Maybe a tad warmer than the previous night, but not so it really mattered. I put on my puffy, froze my fingers fishing a bag of water out of the river, made coffee and some hot cereal for breakfast. Cereal was thick and the coffee was thin, but that didn’t take away from the morning one bit.

IMG_4244aI was faster out of the gate by over an hour the last day. I think it was because it was a bit warmer, but the practice of the previous day probably helped some too. Changing back to more standard kit, but still carrying cold weather gear and snowshoes means having to stay on top of things. Summer pack up is done in ten minutes without a thought if need be, but shoulder season is complicated.

IMG_4248aThis is what it looks like when a maintained trail fades into a wilderness trail. There will be no trail crew to build a bridge. This washed out years ago and a new footpath has formed around it to the left. It is a bit wet at the bottom some times, but there are worse spots out there.

IMG_4252aThis isn’t a very good photo, but I wanted to show a shot of the Aarn balance pocket. They are meant to work in pairs and as part of a pack system that uses bags in front to balance the load. I just bought the front pockets and crafted my own system to mount them on my backpacks. I found it really convenient for carrying my cameras as well as snacks, lights and other small items. I’m not sure if using only one bag unbalanced me or not, but I am concerned that using both bags will cut down on ventilation in the summer heat. Neat product idea. They have a full line from giant expedition systems down to tiny sets for endurance runners. I can’t afford a new pack right now, but I’ll be keeping an eye on what those folks are up to.

IMG_4258aSome frog eggs I believe. Looks like there should be a good crop at least at this hole. This forest always seem to be short on squirrels, but there are plenty of frogs singing in the wet areas. I guess the lumberjacks who cut timber here were hungry enough to eat squirrel but not hungry enough to eat all the frogs.

IMG_4259aOn the way out I pulled over at the Hancock Trailhead parking area so you could see what the mountain looks like from where most people start their hike. It’s about 4.5 miles to the north peak from here and makes for a nice day hike I’m told. Of course I never do things the easy way so I’ll probably never know heh, but I do think I will be going back to try the route from the Pemi side again. I ran into a guy headed in as I was almost back to the parking lot who told me he was headed out to see if he could do Carrigain from the back side so I know I’m not the only one who prefers the path less traveled. That route is definitely on my list as just the name Desolation Trail has me smitten. Maybe this summer if I can squeeze it in.

IMG_4260aSo many mountains. So little time. It was a pretty nice day out on the highway, at least on this side of the pass. I’d hit some rain on the scoot in a bit, but for now I had time to enjoy the views.

IMG_4261aI have spent the last few years exploring the Pemigewasset and I still have miles of trail to cover with many spots as yet unseen. It doesn’t help that I have so many other places I like to go that distract me, but even just this tiny bit of the Whites is quite the undertaking to digest. Then I look around at all these other peaks and valleys and realize I’d better get going if I’m going to see them all in person. Hmm sounds like another one of my unobtainable goals, but chasing those always seems to take me to the most beautiful places.


3 thoughts on “Hancock Attempt From the Pemi Side – or – Another Glorious Failure

  1. Thanks for the story and pics! I certainly can relate to your philosophy of alternate strategies, as well as your preference for certain ranges or areas. The mountains really get under one’s skin…

  2. Pingback: Two Year Blogiversary | Less traveled by

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