Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Dog Day on the Hancocks

"Dog Days" (Latin: diēs caniculārēs) are the hottest, most sultry days of summer. In the Northern Hemisphere, the dog days of summer are most commonly experienced in the months of July and August, which typically observe the warmest summer temperatures.

While it was still August, it certainly didn't fit this description of Dog Days.  After last week's great trip to the Bonds we had planned to wait for a couple of weeks before heading to the Hancocks.  A nice mid-September day would be perfect.  The forecast for Wednesday was sunny, 71, no humidity, 0% chance of rain.  Hmmm.  Sounds like September to me!  Once again, we couldn't pass up such a great opportunity.

When we mentioned that we were planning this hike we got a note from our friend Kevin saying that he and Emma would like to join us.  Kevin was one of our inspirations when we first started hiking, and we've become great friends with he and Judy (and of course Emma) over the years.  We haven't spent nearly enough time hiking together though.  Emma was just getting back out on the trail in recent weeks after recovering from surgery last spring.  These would be her first 4000 footers since her return (to add to the well over 200 that she's done over the years).  We were so happy that she and Kevin would be joining us for this.

We met Kevin and Emma in Concord and rode up together.  It was an absolutely spectacular day - the kind of cool, crisp fall day that we look forward to all summer.  Wait, it's not summer yet.  No matter.  We were on the trail by 9am and enjoying the walk through the cool morning woods.

Wading already Emma?

Are you coming??

Followin' the stream

Many crossings

In the lower sections, the trail winds back and forth over the streams many times.  The crossings were all easy rock hops for us two legged creatures and were a wonderful constant wading opportunity of Emma.

Beautiful streams

Signs of things to come

Great trail companions

Going up...

Happy girl!

After several miles of nice flat walking we reached the Hancock Loop junction.  At Kevin's suggestion we chose the clockwise option, heading up Mt Hancock first.  The trail immediately gets very steep and quite rough and stays that way to the top.  It's only 0.7 up though, and we were soon up on the summit ledges.

South Hancock from the trail up Mt Hancock

Almost there - beautiful woods

Views from the Mt Hancock ledges

Beautiful day on Mt Hancock!

Taking in the views

We hung out on the ledges and had our first lunch.  It was cool and breezy - almost enough to pull on another layer.  Nice!  Emma still looked for shade under the scrub next to the ledges.  It must be tough wearing a black fur coat every day.  We met another hiker who shared the ledges with us for a while before she headed out in front of us.  She was one of only a couple of people that we'd meet on the trail that day.  I had almost forgotten that this was a Wednesday.

The whole time we were sitting there we kept hearing barking from somewhere below.  We couldn't figure out where it was coming from but figured we'd maybe meet whoever it was somewhere down the trail.  We finally dragged ourselves away and headed off for the summit and then over to South Hancock.
South Hancock ahead

Nice shady nest

The summit of Mt Hancock is just a short distance past the ledges and we stopped for our official summit photo and then were off across the ridge.  Like so many others, the ridge between the two peaks is one of the most beautiful parts of the hike.  It was just a wonderful trail.

Mt Hancock makes #46

Heading across the ridge

Fungus amongus.  Shrooms everywhere!

Lovely walk

Not directly through the mud?  Really?

About half way across the ridge we heard a big commotion ahead.  There were a couple of barks followed by a flurry of wagging tails and dancing paws.  It seems we'd found the source of that barking we'd heard a while ago.  The group was two guys with an unlikely collection of trail doggies - a large Pit Bull (who was the one doing all the talking), a Greyhound and a Golden Retriever.  They were all extremely friendly and so happy to be out on the trail with their people!  The Greyhound was a rescue dog and the Pit Bull had been found in the parking lot of a Burger King when he was a puppy.  How lucky for these dogs to have found a good home and to be out now enjoying the mountains!  Emma joined the romp and there was much doggie joy until we finally had to say our goodbyes and head in opposite directions.

So this is who we've been hearing


Mt Hancock and Arrow Slide

Kevin on the Hancocks' version of Harvard Rock


We arrived at South Hancock and took a break for our second lunch.  #47 - we're at the finish line.  The breeze had picked up and it was downright chilly!  Looking forward to many fall hiking days like this ahead.  We made a quick stop at the viewpoint off the summit and got a peek at our one remaining peak - Mt Carrigain.  Just a few weeks to go.

South Hancock for #47

With our favorite little girl!

Views from South Hancock ledges

Carrigain peeks through the trees.  See you in a few weeks!

Mt Chocorua

Second lunch

The way down from South Hancock is similar to the way up North - steep and rough.  We made it down pretty quickly and grabbed a few last views along the way.  Before long we were back on the flat and making the nice 3 mile trek back out to the car.

Mt Hancock and Arrow Slide

Color study


Gnomes?  Dwarves?  Fairies?

Emma ponders their handiwork

A Numbers Game

On the last part of the walk Kevin and I were talking about what a great spring and summer (and entire last year) Nat and I have had in the mountains.  I did quite a bit of mental arithmetic and came up with this.  In the first four years of our White Mountains journey we had checked 24 4000 footers off of the list.  For most of that time we hadn't really been sure we were even doing the list - we were just enjoying the hikes in new places.  Over the last 12 months we've made 20 trips north to NH and ME (driving somewhere around 10,000 miles) and added another 23 4000 footers in NH and have been able to hike a number of other wonderful mountains as well (best of all Katahdin a few weeks ago).  Have we all of a sudden become peak baggers?  I don't think so.  Life has presented us with a number of wonderful opportunities and we've been fortunate enough to be able to take them.  Not once have we felt that we were doing a hike "because we had to".  It is truly a time to look back over this year, and those before it, and count our many blessings.

The last miles passed quickly and we were soon back at the car.  Some time ago one of our hiking friends had told us that hikers often referred to this one as "the stinkin' Hancocks".  They were certainly anything but that on this day!  We're so glad that Kevin and Emma were able to join us on this penultimate hike in our NH48 journey and particularly to see them both back on their feet after being away from the mountains that they both love so much.  On 9/29, if the stars continue to align, we'll close Chapter 1 in our hiking journey and hopefully celebrate with many of our wonderful friends on Mt Carrigain.  It's sure been a great trip so far...

Headin' home

A boy and his dog

Caution:  Hiker Crossing - Next 0.01 Miles

Packing up

End of a wonderful day

Pretty nice views from down here too

So this is why we do it...

Oh, to be young at heart!  Looks like we've got a few good years ahead

Here's the route and some views from above courtesy of Google Earth...

Mt Carrigain stands beyond the Hancocks.  #48 ahead...