Then and Now - North Hitchcock

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Sep 3, 2003
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Gorham NH
The Hitchcock's in general are a somewhat maligned set of summits. Back about 30 years ago a friend and I did the standard run up South Hitchcock from Hancock Notch trail then onto Hitchcock and then over to North Hitchcock and down to Cedar Brook. It was an all day bushwhack, no views to speak of and continuous dense spruce/fir with a hint of snow in the woods on the north slopes. Subsequently folks started to turn it into more of a marathon by including 2 more sub summits. Not sure on the other two but the original 3 summits were the typical wide spot with a canister. No view or particular reason to revisit the flogging. In the past year another another friend and I had been trying to get a trip up to North Hitchcock and Hitchcock from the East Side trail for over a year but various roadblocks like Covid factored in the delay until Columbus Day weekend 2021. My friend has maintained Franconia Brook Trial for many years and the Hitchcocks have intrigued him for many more prior to adopting the trail.

The parking at Lincoln Woods was already full with cars parked along the highway. Lots of folks heading across the bridge but the East Side trail was pretty quiet. Now that the need for a septic tank truck to be able to the drive to the campground on the edge of the Wilderness area is over,there is no real need for the road but the FS seems to have decided that since its there they might as well use it to drive to the campground. We saw fresh tire tracks as we hiked along.

Our big debate was exactly where to head into the woods. We decided that North Hitchcock was our primary goal. We also overshot our intended point of heading in the woods and ended up heading into woods across from the short stretch of the East Side trail with the guardrails and great views (this area is heavily undermined by the river). We were doing it "old school" by map and compass so we took a bearing from the map for an intermediate knob in hopes of a view. The woods were open and gong was good, we found the knob but no views. It was then time for another bearing and we headed towards North Hitchcock trying to slab onto the main ridge as we neared North Hitchcock. Along the way, we came into nice open spruce forest and a dugway in excellent condition. It does not show up on the Granite Lidar images but it is quite a nice road. We got spoiled heading up hill until we got onto the main ridge to the west of North Hitchcock. The ridge was the typical blowdown infested somewhat flat ridge so its pick the path of least resistance and avoid dropping off the ridge. On very rare occasions we would catch a obscured view through the woods along our still good bearing. The ridge is not very steep so glimpses of blue sky ahead usually meant a false summit. It was starting to get a bit old and then a piece of man made tech appeared. I had heard there was radio repeater on the ridgeline but thought it was somewhere near the col between Hitchcock and North Hitchcock. I was wrong on my assumption. When I had done this hike in the past it wasnt there.

The deck in the foreground is a helipad. The FS had cleared a large area at one point but there really were no good flat spots so the helipad makes landings easy. The actual tower is quite a piece of heavy duty hardware. My guess is it was designed for more severe service elsewhere but what the heck why not use it on in the WMNF. The summit clearing is in need of some trimming. I am unsure if it was the intent but the edge of the clearing stopped just short of opening up a unrestricted view. North Hitchcock is a distinct prominence on the south rim of the Pemi Ring Dike looking almost directly north to the Lafayette. The entire Franconia Ridge is on display with the Owl in the center looking up Lincoln Brook and the Franconia Brook trail. The Pemi viewpoint that can not be named is quite easy to spot;;). Even the view to the south could be quite interesting but obscured somewhat by summits in the foreground. No doubt with a bit of clearing and a trail this might be incredibly popular summit as the view into the entire western basin is hard to beat especially at or near peak leaf season. I am unsure the eastern wall of the Pemi (Twins and the Bonds) would be visible as the summit cone may block them.

The tower is not at the summit, its just a few hundred feet west of the tower. I headed into the woods and found the summit clearing that I stood on over 30 years ago. 20211009_141848[1].jpg Good to see that the shiny register bottle back them are slowly being adopted by mother nature. Sadly the tree its attached to is dead, its still solid but at some point the canister will need to move onto another tree. The registers were in good shape. There is an older version with visits starting around 2003 and then a newer book, both had many entries by well known members of the bushwacking world. The most recent sign in was April of this year. It looks like the year 2020 had a few more visits.

Alas we took way too much time for a break on the summit and given a 8:20 AM start we would have run out of daylight if we made the trip over to Hitchcock. Lafayette and Lincoln were clouded in so we elected to head down. We took a bearing and dropped right off the summit heading roughly west. This side is steep and as we found out was infested with blowdowns and dense regrowth. The terrain was sucking us down when we really need to slab the slope and my mantra was if in doubt keep left of the fall line. It was a battle, not the worst I have encountered but still some mean stuff. It was slow going until we popped out into some open spruce and we soon encountered the upper end of the dugway we had encountered earlier. From there we continued slabbing the slope (if in doubt keep left) dropping into hardwoods. The woods had transitioned to hardwoods and we started picking up the pace. Going was good and except for a precautionary detour around a possible moose (it getting close to the rut so moose are best avoided this time of year). We also on occasion would follow and cross older roads and dugways but they were far more grown in than the one we saw up high. We eventually hit what I expect is the northerly drainage from the col between Hitchcock and North Hitchcock. Without going into details someone looking for interesting water features in the spring may want to visit this area. We headed down paralleling the drainage until it widened out and then popped out on the East Side trail. It may have technically been daytime but down in the valley in the trees it was well into twilight. We encountered several groups of tourists stretching out the day and at least one pair heading into the wood with only water bottles in their hands in near darkness.

As we came by the ranger station it was almost dark. I could see brake lights through the trees on the bridge. We had parked along the highway and it was bumper to bumper heading into Lincoln past the Lincoln Woods parking lot. Thus began a leisurely 3 to 5 MPH bumper to bumper drive into Lincoln. There was some major event at the ski area and unlike in the winter on ski days, there was not a cop to direct the merge onto the Kanc. From there to downtown was slow until I finally saw Pollard Brook road and thankfully most folks kept right on going down through town so I escaped through North Woodstock via the back way.

Definitely a nice way to spend a crowded tourist weekend in the woods with no one around. Plenty of mushrooms and interesting terrain along the way.
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Interesting trip report. Certainly not something you will ever find me doing, but I enjoyed reading it. I once went to a meeting of the Maine AMC chapter where a hiker did a slide presentation about climbing the 3000 footers of New England. He referred to those peaks at the Bitchcocks.
BTW I did find what looks to be a Garmin GPS belt pouch on top. It was well faded and I hauled it down and its headed to the trash unless someone on a very small list speaks up.

Both my friend and I happen to enjoy getting off trail. The pain from nasty conditions fade far faster than the positive memories of the places encountered. We encountered one tourist quality water feature along the way that we encountered entirely at random which may be worth a spring time trip (through open woods no less).
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