Hancock Notch

October 1, 2016.

With about 230 miles left to go for redlining one would think choosing a hike would be easier. But that is not the case since the days are getting shorter and colder the leftover trails that I can do in a day are also getting shorter. I was hoping to go back to the Mahoosuc region but none of the hikes I have left up there would fit the timeline. I have some big mileage hikes left up there and today is not the day. So back to the Kancamagus Highway to Sawyer River Trail for starters. From there I'll make my way on to Hancock Notch Trail to do the portion I have left to Cedar Brook Trail. Once done I'll return the same way to get back. At least that was the plan!

An 8:30 start as I put the boots on the ground at the pullout along the Kancamagus Highway. Looking up the road and the colors are beginning to change. The trail winds down through the woods and brings me to the Swift River. As enticing as it looks this is not where the trail crosses.


Instead the trail parallels the river for a short ways before reaching the crossing. Just above the crossing is a small step fall where the slabs of granite have broken away. An easy river crossing and the trail follows the old logging railroad bed of the Sawyer River Railroad. A map of the railroad can be found here.


It's easy walking as I stroll along the old rail bed with Meadow Brook off to my right gurgling away.


Further up the colors appear as the trail is lined with hardwoods. At the bog I am glad the water level is low which makes the travel through it quite dry.


A few more minutes up the trail and I have reached a spot I have not been to since June of 2013, The Switch. Straight ahead is where Sawyer River Trail continues on. This is the section of trail I messed up on back when I did that overnighter in 2013. To my left is where Hancock Notch Trail begins (or ends whichever is your perspective) and the logging railroad grade continues.


The trail is flat making the walking easy and quick. Shortly I reach the first crossing of the Sawyer River which is an unchallenging rock hop. The year long drought continues to make these crossings uneventful. Around the corner is significant washout from Irene back in 2011. I'm always amazed when I get into these remote areas and the damage wrought by that storm. I can't even begin to imagine what the rivers looked like when all that rain dumped on the state that day.


The easy hiking continues and at the next crossing there is even more destruction where the two tributaries convene. Taking it all in I decide to stop here for a short break while perusing the mess. The banks are severely eroded and it would be cool to see a before picture.


Moving along I climb the eroded bank up to the trail to find this section has been washed out also. Just ahead is an example of the power of that storm as a pile of trees thrown together like matchsticks line the river.


Beyond one of the last eroded crossings and the trail returns to normal as it makes its way through a spruce forest where the new trees are filling in with the old waiting to take their place someday. The trail eventually changes becoming a lot more rougher as the logging railroad bed does not go this far into the notch.


There are some curious sections where granite slabs have broken off in huge chucks and one can only wonder how long ago this happened and where they disappeared to.


The trail mellows out again as I get closer to Hancock Notch, a spot surrounded by Mt Huntington on my left and South Hancock on my right. With the tree growth in here though it is hard to tell you are standing in a notch. Coming down out of the notch I saw the only creature of the day as he was trying to camouflage himself with the tree he was hugging.


Four hours from starting and I made it to the end of today's objective, the junction with Cedar Brook Trail. I pause at the junction as I make the decision of which way to go. Turn around and go back the way I came or keep on going and head out to the hairpin turn on the Kancamagus making a roadwalk back to the trailhead for the finish. I had always kind of planned this to be a gigantic loop with the road and not liking some of the rough sections of the trail I decided to keep on going. So my plan changed just like that.


I had just done 7.7 miles of trail and I knew the remaining part of the Hancock Notch Trail was fairly flat and fast so all things considered this would be a bit quicker even though the mileage was a bit more. Besides once I reached the Kancamagus Pass it would be all downhill from there. It only took forty-five minutes to reach the Kanc with a stop at one of the picnic tables to refuel before moving on. The uphill to the Pass was a bit more than I would of liked but nothing too steep as I kept plugging away. Less than an hour and I was at the highpoint on the Kancamagus.

The highway was quite busy at it is getting close to leaf peeping season but no one stopped to offer me a ride as I made my way down back to where I was parked. It took a bit more then an hour after reaching the Pass to get back and all in all my decision saved me an hour of hiking. Besides instead of driving the Kancamagus Highway like everyone else leaf peeping at a fast speed I got to enjoy the views at my walking pace.

Final numbers: 15.5 miles, 6 hours and 55 minutes.

Redline Miles: 7.7, Total to Date: 1214.6