Hancock & South Hancock – November 4, 2017
We jumped into the Subaru (of course it’s a Subaru, Ethan only owns Subarus) and took off from home around 0545, arriving at the Hancock Notch trailhead just before 0700. We were all a little punchy this morning and there was plenty of banter on the way up. Claudette arrive shortly after Ethan, Summerset, and I did, and we prepped to head to the trail, which is across the road from the parking area. Here’s the thing about crossing the road here, though; the Kanc is a beautiful, fun road for “spirited driving” and people often go way too fast on it, this section in particular since the crossing spot is dead center on a hairpin turn that folks with more cojones than cranium tend to zip around at less than safe speeds.
Thankfully, the crossing was uneventful presumably because at seven in the morning the drifters are still asleep.
We crossed the road, hit the Hancock Notch Trail and it wasn’t long before we started seeing the effects of the October 30th storm. There was a noticeable degree of erosion on the trail as well some fallen trees. Ethan and I had discussed bringing a saw with us, as “many hands make light work” and we wanted to do our part to help out. It’s a very good thing we did.
We were able to clear most of the fallen trees off the trail but did leave one particularly tough one behind because we were a bit dubious about our prospects of clearing it with the small $20 saw Ethan had bought.
Then came the bog bridge at the first stream crossing. Wow. The small stream would ordinarily be almost jumpable, but the flood waters had obviously rolled through with such force that it relocated the bog bridge downstream several yards. Ethan and I decided to try to get it back into place. The bridge itself was around 6-7′ long, with ties at either end, and we had a heck of a time getting hand-holds on it, but eventually, we managed to wrestle it back into place. We’re not particularly small nor weak, but it took a lot out of us with each of us essentially deadlifting one end of the 4-500lb (estimated) bridge to move it back into place. Footing was a challenge, but in the end, we got it back to where it should be.
The hike continued and we both commented on how nice it felt to help make the trail more passable for others, especially since we’ve benefitted from the trail crews’ hard work so much. We did, however, notice that our energy levels were a tad lower than normal as we continued to climb. We’re used to our legs bearing the bulk of the labor, so the extra exertion meant we were burning more energy than we normally would have.
We continued to clear brush and trees on the way up, and at some point, shortly before the peak, we both realized that we should be replacing some of these calories, so we stopped for a quick snack, then continued up toward the summit of Mt. Hancock. We reached the top and took in the view while discussing the events thus far and wondering what lay before us as we began our move across the ridge to South Hancock.
We really didn’t imagine the extent of storm damage that we found on the ridge. The storm’s full fury apparently hit the ridgeline hard, with dozens of trees fallen across the trail. We cleaned up as much of it as we could, the bulk of it, in fact. Ethan nicknamed me “Power Saw” for the day because I tore through the trees and branches so quickly. Maybe I missed my calling as a lumberjack? There were a few trees so large that the 12″ saw wasn’t practical, if in fact, even possible to cut through them. We largely limbed these off so folks could climb over/under them. There was one blockage so large that really all we could do was clear a bushwack around to the right of it. The thing we tried to keep in mind was that in just a few weeks there will potentially be several feet of snow on the trails, so part of taking that into account was clearing higher up than we had to for our immediate passage.
We realized we’d been on the trails for nearly 5 hours when we got to the summit of South Hancock, so we decided over a brief lunch that we would only do the minimum possible amount of trail work on the way down and set off.
It turns out that the worst of the damage was on the ridge, so our decent was largely unhindered. We started pouring on the speed, which was possible thanks to the fact that the ground had frozen down the steep slide, but there was no ice on the rocks. This allowed us much better traction than normal for this section of the trail and we were able to cover a lot of ground in short order.
We got down without much incident, except that I finally lost my footing on one of the stream crossings and got my left foot soaked to the ankle. Thanks to the magic of wool, I only had a cold foot for a few minutes, and then was back to normal shortly thereafter. We kept up the quick pace and made it back to the parking lot in 6:59, which was only 45 minutes over book time; not bad for doing 2 hours or so of trail work!
We only realized once in the car that the big blowdown we had left at the start of the hike had been nowhere to be seen when we left. We chalk that up to a gentleman we saw hiking in with a carpentry saw while we were hiking out. Hats off to you, sir!
I’m not sure what the next peak I seek will be, but I’ll be writing about the experience here!