Hike Distance: 9.8 miles round trip
Time: 6-8 hours
Difficulty: Weekend Warriors
Elevation: Mt. Hancock, 4,420 feet; South Hancock, 4,319 feet; elevation gain 2,700 feet
Recommended Gear: Trekking Poles with winter baskets or a Mountaineering Axe; Crampons; Winter Hiking Boots or Mountaineering Boots; Alpine Snowshoes
Winter hiking Mt. Hancock and South Hancock via the Hancock Loop Trail is a long and enjoyable walk in the woods. Entirely below treeline with limited views, this ten-mile hike is a good choice when the open summits are enshrouded. Anyone not already familiar with the Hancock loop will want to consider the following factors before strapping on the winter hiking boots:
1. The approach is 3.6 miles before the ascent of either Mt. Hancock or South Hancock begins. If you’re an early riser who loves breaking trail after a snowstorm, grab the snowshoes and have at it! If that doesn’t sound like fun, then you might want to avoid this one the day after a storm. It will get quickly packed.
2. The hike encompasses segments of the Hancock Notch Trail and the Cedar Brook Trail, as well as all of the Hancock Loop Trail. The route to the loop trail is typically well packed and easy to follow, but if you’re the lucky one breaking trail, you’ll want to pay attention at the junctions to make sure you’re going the right way.
3. There are several stream crossings. These aren’t a deterrent in the winter as they’re easy to rock hop, or are frozen over, but this is something to consider in the spring when water levels are high.
4. The ascents/descents of the North and South peaks at either end of the loop are short but seriously steep. You’ll need traction and likely more than microspikes in most conditions. Winter hiking is all about conserving energy, so I utilized snowshoes with the heel bar up for the ascent and then switched to full crampons to avoid snowshoe-skiing on the descent. This strategy worked well for me, but on a well-packed trail day, you could easily view it as a crampon-only hike and keep the snowshoes in the car to save weight and conserve energy that way. To each their own.
A mountaineering axe could be used on the steep sections of this hike, but I found trekking poles with winter baskets to be adequate. That said, the slopes on this hike would be a good place to practice mountaineering footwork and axe usage—just not self-arrests, too many trees!
In regards to preferred loop direction, I don’t think it matters. On a map, it’s 0.2-miles longer from the trail split to Hancock’s North Peak than it is to the South Peak; however, there’s easily 0.2 miles of casual hiking on the north ascent, so there’s no real difference in the steep portions.
Thanks to @hiker_nate on Instagram for showing us there is a view from Mt. Hancock’s summit:
One year later, we recreated the image we l made on our very first hike in the Whites. Alton looks better, I look worse, and Cole is still looking at me. #hike #hikenewhampshire #hike365 #hikenh #hiking #hikethewhites #whitemountains #wmnf #traildog #trailromance #traillove #girlfriend #girlswhohike #alpinebabe #getoutsidenh #optoutside #goeast #llbean #bpmag #shibasofinstagram #shibainu #werehikers #relationshipgoals #hikingdogs #hikingwithdogs #hikingwithgirls #nehikes #hikers
From the main summit to South Hancock, the ridge hike in between is 1.4 miles of wooded trail with no real views until a lookout below the South Peak. There’s enough elevation gain/loss between the two peaks for them to both count on the White Mountains 48 list, but it’s barely noticeable.