Backpacking a Hancock Notch Lollipop

by | Oct 25, 2017 | Hiking

Dramatic landslide debris in Hancock Notch

When people visit the White Mountains, the two geographic features they remember the most are the mountains and the notches, which are giant mountains passes that link different regions of the area together. When you drive down the narrow two lane roads that snake through Franconia Notch, Crawford Notch, and Pinkham Notch, or the less well known Grafton Notch and Evans Notches, you can’t help but be awed by the cliff faces towering overhead.

A careful study of the White Mountain’s topographic maps reveals many such notches including Hancock Notch, Carrigan Notch, Mad River Notch, Mahoosuc Notch, Haystack Notch, and Miles Notch, just to name a few. These notches can only be experienced by hiking into them since they’re deep inside the interiors of the National Forest, but they’re just as magnificent as their paved counterparts.

My objective on this trip was to visit Hancock Notch and nearby Carrigan Notch by hiking a big loop through both. My route also included  a short detour to climb two nearby four thousand footers, North and South Hancock, which are linked by a dramatic curved ridge that spans the two peaks. This is a 32 mile hike w/ 5000′ of elevation gain that can be enjoyed in a brisk 2 day hike or a more leisurely 3 days, depending on your pace.

The route:

  • Park at the Hancock Notch Trail Head Lot (hairpin turn on the Kancamagus Highway)
  • Hancock Notch Trail: 1.8 miles
  • Cedar Brook Trail: 0.7 miles
  • Hancock Loop: 4.8 miles
  • Cedar Brook Trail: 4.8 miles
  • Wilderness Trail: 4.1 miles
  • Carrigan Notch Trail: about 6 miles
  • Forest Service Road #85: 1.5 miles
  • Sawyer River Rd: 1/3 mile
  • Sawyer River Trail: 2.7 miles
  • Hancock Notch Trail: 6.9 miles

What compels us to climb mountains that we’ve climbed before? I pondered that question as I started down the Hancock Notch Trail towards North and South Hancock, two peaks that I’ve climbed numerous times previously. While I relish the views from their summits, I periodically re-climb mountains as a way of gauging my physical and mental fitness as I age to reaffirm that I’m still able-bodied enough to get up them. A friend of mine recently remarked, “we’re older, but not old,” which seems a kind way to acknowledge the inevitability of aging, without succumbing into despair about it.