Monday, November 29, 2010

Rocky Branch Trail to Rocky Branch Shelter #2 on Mt. Isolation

This fall, on the weekend of October 15 & 16th, Bill and I planned a trip to Mt. Isolation in New Hampshire. Mt. Isolation is the most remote 4,000ft peak in the White Mountains. The most common route is the Rocky Branch Trail which leaves a trailhead parking area on Route 16. The plan was to hike up to the summit, then descend and camp in the woods or at the Rocky Branch Shelter #2.

This was one of Bill's first hikes in the Whites. The Rocky Branch Trail is 3.7 miles to the shelter, which sits at 2500 feet. The trail is very rocky, hence the name, and at the time of our hike, the trail was extremely wet and in most sections had flowing water. A couple of hours into the hike, we came across another hiker and his dog. This guy looked like he had been beat up by the mountain. We stopped and chatted for a few minutes, but the first thing he said to us, was "You're the first people I've seen in two days." Bill and I looked at each other like holy crap. He told us what to expect at the river crossing, and mentioned that he had to get wet and carry his dog across the river. You can imagine the anxiousness as we approached the river at 3.7 miles.
One of my favorite photos
By the time we reached the river, it was already mid to late afternoon. In addition, it had been snowing off and on for the last hour or so, and the wind picked up. When we got to the river and looked downstream, it was an amazing sight. Steadily falling snow was the backdrop for this usually dry, but today, raging river at 2500 feet in the Mountains. The Rocky Branch refers to the river, which is a source for the Saco River. Although a magnificent sight, the task at hand was now to cross the river, as the shelter is on the other side, where it hooks up with Isolation Trail. The river is usually low, so crossing is not usually difficult. However, the crossing was one of the more challenging things I've faced, as there was literally no room for error. If one of us fell completely into the river, it would have become a serious situation because of the weather. We were astonished to see a small brookie in the river at 2500 feet.

Me and Bill ready for the hike out
We decided to get ready to set up camp at the shelter and hold off on the summit attempt. There was still a few miles to go, and we knew the trails were going to be bad, if not worse than what we had experienced so far. We set up in the shelter, and got ready to go up the hill to cook and hang the bear bag. After about 5pm, the wind picked up, and the mostly snow turned to wet sleet and rain. This was on and off until the very early morning hours. It was very cold sleeping as we were really chilled down by the wet weather. We tried lighting a fire for about 2 hours, but everything was completely soaked.

The next morning, we opted to sleep in a little bit, then get ready to head out. The 3.7 mile Rocky Branch Trail is not particularly easy when its a flowing stream, so unfortunately, extending the trip anymore was not a great idea, especially after such a cold and wet night.
Hiking in snow as we approached 2000ft
This trip was a teaser for sure, we really wanted to make the summit, but I will be back sometime next year. To check out selected photos from this trip, please click here to view the album. Also check out another quick video on my YouTube Channel by clicking at the bottom of my blog.

Hike Stats:
Trails: Rocky Branch Trail
Distance: 7.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,250 ft
Book Time: 7hrs (hiking time)

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