Flags on the 48 on South Hancock
Updated: Sep 10, 2018
Yesterday was Flags on the 48, an annual tribute to 9/11. Every year on the Saturday closest to September 11th, 48 teams of volunteer hikers climb every one of the NH 4,000 footers and fly a flag for two hours at the summit. This was my first year doing it and it was so much fun! It also checked off two new peaks on my list, North Hancock and South Hancock Mountains, for #36 and #37 on my quest for the 48.
The day started with an early wake up and drive from Boston. I usually stay up in NH when I hike, but with school back in session it's been harder to get away. I think a lot of my hikes in the next few months will start with an early wake up and drive north. I started graduate school on Tuesday, so it's been a pretty overwhelming week. I'm glad that I committed to doing the Flags on the 48 event because I definitely needed that time away to decompress, and I probably wouldn't have taken out the time to go hiking if I hadn't signed up.
I went with a friend and there was only one other guy signed up so I was glad it would be a small group. The plan was to meet in the parking lot around 7:30 and then hit the trail at 8:00 to get to the summit of South Hancock by 11:00. I didn't think it would actually take that long to hike up there, but it was good to have extra time especially hiking with people I didn't know. The drive from Boston took less time than expected, so we ended up getting on the trail at 7:40.
We started on Hancock Notch Trail, and soon made it to the first junction where we went left towards Hancock Loop Trail. The three and a half miles of trail before we reached Hancock Loop were almost completely flat with little elevation gain. There were a few small stream crossings that were very manageable, but I could see them being tricky with high water levels. The gentleman that was leading our group was very knowledgeable about the area, having done all of the 4,000 footers many times. It was great to talk to him about the lesser known routes to the summits and some of his favorite trails.
The trail was beautiful and wide with lots of tall birches and squirrels running around. There were lots of roots, but the ground felt soft underneath my boots. We reached the Hancock Loop junction just after 9:00 and that's where the real climb began.
The ascent up to South Hancock was short but steep. It was about 0.5 miles but gained almost 1,000 feet up large rocks, leaving us out of breath until we got to the summit. We took our time and had lots of breaks going up, but ended up reaching the top at 10:00. The flags fly between 12:00 and 2:00 so we were pretty early getting up there. With some time to kill, we chatted with some other hikers and made friends with the grey jays in the area.
At noon we raised the flag, knowing that all of the teams on the other 47 summits were doing the same thing. We could see the flag at the summit of North Hancock as well as the one on Mt. Carrigain far in the distance. Carrigain must have had a really big flag for us to see it flying off of the fire tower from so far away! The weather was perfect so I bet the team on Carrigain could see flags on many of the other 4,000 footers.
After the four hour break, we took the flag down at 2:00 and headed over to the north peak. It was a pretty easy traverse, only losing a little bit of elevation before climbing again. There were many blowdowns on the trail, but it was easy to follow and we got to the summit of North Hancock at 2:35.
The descent down the north link of the Mount Hancock Loop was slow going, losing elevation dramatically with lots of loose scree. It was pretty steep going down and the small rocks moved under my feet with every step. I had to be really careful where to put my feet with the ground being so unstable. We were glad when we got down to the end of the loop where we knew the trail would flatten out quite a bit.
The walk out was nice and we stayed at a pretty good pace the whole time. After sitting at the summit for four hours we wanted to keep moving quickly, especially with the drive back to Boston. I sometimes find flat trails tedious (flashbacks to Lincoln Woods come to mind), but this was actually a nice brisk walk in the woods back to the car. We made it back to the Kanc at 4:20 to start the ride back to the city with the customary stop at Dos Amigos Burritos along the way.
Yesterday's hike was really special because it was in honor of all of the victims and families affected by the 9/11 attacks. It was an honor to be a part of the tribute from the hiking community showing support for all of those where were affected by the attacks. Flags on the 48 is a really amazing event and I can't wait to do it again in the future!
#36 South Hancock Mountain (4,319 ft) and #37 North Hancock Mountain (4,420 ft) via. Hancock Notch Tr, Cedar Brook Tr, and Hancock Loop Tr [9.8 mi, 2700 ft, 8:40].
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