Entering 2018, I needed to summit 28 more peaks in order to reach my goal of hiking all 48 of New Hampshire's 4000 footers, before turning 50 in March of 2019. I successfully summited the smallest of the peaks, Mount Tecumseh, in January, and on this day, my sights would be set on Mount Hancock, and the unofficially named "South" Hancock peaks.
As I have done many time in the past, I would be hiking solo on this day. I get asked a lot why I would ever hike alone. Most question the decision primarily from a standpoint of safety, and others simple wonder if I'll be bored or miss the opportunity to share the experience. When looking over all the peaks I've reached so far, I've done just about half of them as solo hikes. And while I absolutely loved the hikes I did with others, and will definitely do more of them in the future, solo hiking (for me) has some advantages I've yet to find when hiking with another person or in a group. When I solo hike, I hike at my own pace. I'm not the fastest hiker on the trails, and combined with numerous stops for photos, not having to worry about keeping up with someone adds to my enjoyment of the day. Once reaching a summit, or a lookout point, deciding how long to stay, regardless of conditions, is solely my own decision. Lastly, as I would do numerous times on this hike, just stopping and listening and sometimes even closing my eyes and resting my head on my hands and trekking poles - can be done whenever I feel like it. This quest for the NH48 patch, can make a person focus on nothing except crossing another peak off the list. I've read about, and talked to plenty of other hikers who, like me, constantly find themselves having to consciously stop... and enjoy the journey. My first, second, and even third hike - this was all I did. Then I heard about 'the list'. The goal of summiting all 48 peaks can act as a great motivator to keep hiking and continuing to experiencing all the benefits of doing so. Yet, when the alarm goes off at 3:45am and there's a three hour ride ahead of you on a cold February morning, It can also quickly become just another task, something that you feel you 'have to do' versus something you want to do. On this hike, I would regularly remind myself to enjoy the journey.
No... 3:45am alarms are not enjoyable. Arriving at the trailhead at 7am to the truck thermometer telling you the outside temperature is 8 degrees, is not very enjoyable. However, clear blue skies, only two others cars in the lot, and essentially no wind to speak of, is enjoyable and makes for a great beginning to the hike. The first leg of this journey, slightly under 2 miles, is very flat. With zero wind, no other hikers in sights, and my own footprints being the first to hit the trail on this morning, it would be an extremely peaceful first few miles through an endless pine forest.
As I reached the first of two trail junctions, the sun was now just rising high enough to peak through the trees.
While there are a few very minor elevation changes, the first 3+ miles of the hike is essentially flat. I didn't see or hear another hiker until after taking the left to ascend the north peak first at the loop junction. For just about that entire stretch, each side of the narrow trail is lined with a curtain of pine trees, all with a fresh blanket of overnight powdery snow.
Once on the trail for the final push to the north summit, the real work begins. Even though it is thankfully 'only' .7 miles to the summit, it is an unforgiving grade gaining about 1000 feet of elevation over the final half mile. The picture below, is the view you get if you stop, turn around, and enjoy what you've just accomplished. That is the south peak in the background, which would be the next target, after summiting the north peak first.
Just a few feet from the actual summit, there's a cluster of a large rocks that create a perfect lookout point and offers an amazing view of the surrounding layers of mountains in the distance.
The other theme of this day, and is usually the case with these specific peaks, would be the gray jays. These tolerant birds with an appetite that seems impossible to satisfy would be thrilled to see the first group of us hit the opening with some fresh trail mix. Cashews always seem to be their preference. I was lucky to catch this one in mid-flip as it rotated the cashew to just the right position in its beak.
As increasing crowds of hikers started to pour down to the lookout, it was time to leave. On to the south peak. The south summit is a little under 1.5 miles from the north peak. The trail rolls along the ridge line between the peaks through more snow-covered pines offering several glimpses of mountain views along the way. Once reaching the wooded summit, a short hike down to the lookout position offers an amazing long distance view on such a crystal clear day.
Not unlike the north peak, the jays would be waiting, impatiently at times, for any and all food you would offer. And, not unlike the north peak, cashews also seem to be in high demand here as well. Yes, that's THREE cashews in his mouth at one time.
Just a short walk down from the summit, you get one last amazing view before entering the tall pines again. Well worth the photo, and a short break before the long hike back to the truck.
After less than a mile, you'll find yourself back at the loop junction. From there, it was a repeat of the very flat, but peaceful beginning to this hike. It would be more alone time on this day, as I didn't see or hear another hiker from the time I left the south summit until about 1/2 mile from the end. Just me, the sound of my own steps, a touch more wind, and views like this.
Once back at the truck, having now officially summited peaks #22 and #23, a three hour ride back home awaited me. A total of about nine miles of hiking, in a little under seven hours. Add to that, approximately six hours of total driving time and it equals about 13 hours of alone time today. No complaints at all. Don't avoid alone time, as a matter of fact, seek it out! I think you'll like the experience. Peak #24, the official half way mark, is next in March.