Monday, November 28, 2011

Mt. Isolation & Isolation, North Peak Overnight - 11/27/11

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving weekend! I really had trouble deciding where to hike this weekend, so I just went to the Trailwright's list and chose one. That crazy choice would be North Isolation. I was at my place in NH on Friday night, and after packing up all my gear, I noticed I completely forgot my camera that was charging at home in MA. My cell phone camera would have to do for this one.

I started my trek up Rocky Branch Trail just after 7am on Saturday morning. There were only boot marks leading up the trail in the 6 inches or so of snow, which went to about 2500 feet, where the tracks may have turned around. From here, I broke the trail all of the way to the shelter, and then to Davis Path. The wet snow was close to a foot in some "isolated" areas. 

The crossing of the Rocky Branch was not difficult. It still required focus as the rocks were covered with several inches of snow. I crossed about 20 feet to the right of the end of the trail. I checked in at the shelter, and shed some of my weight (tent, some extra clothes, stove, extra drinks). I put them in a trash bag and placed them out-of-sight nearby. I had decided then that no matter what I would camp at the shelter, even though there are some other campsites around that would have been nice to try. I didn't waste any time and continued up the Isolation Trail, still breakin' it out, which is tough work especially when the snow is so heavy and wet. It was warm out, but the snow had not been turned into slush yet. I remembered the area well from my hike in June, and felt confident breaking the right trail. This section is not easy to navigate with snow or without snow, and its easy to get messed up near the spot of the campsite a short distance before the Davis Path. But, not this time, as I remembered and continued on, making my way to the junction with the Davis Path, where I saw snow shoe tracks in both directions. I made it to this point in 5hrs and 20min. 
Rocky Branch crossing
Rocky Branch to Jericho Rd. Closed
Isolation Trail (east) and Davis Path junction
I took a right onto the Davis Path for .3 mi and arrived at the junction with the Isolation Trail (West). Here, I dropped my pack, taking a few essentials and headed the approximately 1/4 mile up towards North Isolation. As I neared the top, I could see the range rise to the north directly above the trail. I stopped as it started to descend, and realized I definitely went far enough, so I went back to the high point on the trail. I knew the actual high point was some where off-trail a short distance, but couldn't see any ideal paths into the scrub, so I felt my effort (and craziness to go there anyways) was good enough, so I took a couple of moments to enjoy my 33rd Trailwright peak. After, I quickly shoed my way back through the nice snow along this section to where my pack was.
Me on North Isolation, 33rd Trailwright
I continued on the Davis Path, passing the Isolation Trail junction where I came from. I had a mile to go to reach Isolation. It was nice to have some tracks to follow along this easy section of trail. After the short steep climb to the summit, I was greeted with a decent overcast view of the high peaks to the north, and a satisfactory view of the southern Presi's and other mountains all around. I could hear the wind hovering over the high peaks several miles away. This was my second time to the summit of Isolation this year, and first time solo. I spent a little less than 10 minutes on the summit, before I became chilled and retreated to the protection of the Davis Path to eat a turkey sandwich for lunch.
From the summit of Mt. Isolation
Although the elevation gain is pretty easy throughout the hike, when standing out there on top of one of the most remote peaks in the Whites, it's an interesting realization of how far away help is, if needed; it's a challenge one must accept when hiking Mt. Isolation (or any remote peak). Don't go to Isolation expecting dry boots and don't expect a hike here without falling on your ass a few times, because I sure did.

As I started my way back to the Rocky Branch Shelter, it was around 1:30pm. I had allowed myself plenty of time to get back in time before daylight faded. I actually had a much better wind than on my approach, and I was moving pretty swiftly on the way back, following my tracks. I made it back to the shelter about one hour before daylight faded. I tried scouring the area for some dead twigs or anything I could use to attempt to get a small fire going in the ring, however I had no luck when I tried, as everything was soaked from the melting snow. That was a buzzkill, as I realized that my boots would not get dried out. These are waterproof hiking boots that had not spilled a drip since I bought them, but Isolation's wet melting snow, and water-filled trails can be no match for any boot. I set up my tent, got situated, and then I fired up my stove and had a nice freeze-dried pasta meal, and got settled for the night pretty early. After all, it was about 4:45pm, and it was pitch black!
Rocky Branch Shelter #2
I awoke a few times during the night, but for the most part slept really well. I call it a success because I got more hours of sleep and rest than I do at home, so that was good. The Rocky Branch roared below me, and it was the only thing I could hear. I almost seems as if the river changes and makes different noises at different times but who knows, maybe its just imagination. I heard the wind pick up for a few hours right in the middle of the night. It made my rain fly shake, which of course woke me up. When I did wake up, I remember eating a few snacks, as this keeps the body working on the inside, generating heat. I fared very well through the night with all my gear, and used just about everything on this trip except for some of the emergency essentials. I was warm all night, although I will admit if it had gotten down below freezing, my boots would have froze, and I would have had to work to stay warm.

When I woke up, it was cool out. There was a fog that floated near the tops of the trees. It was about 8:30ish when I started packing everything up. It's nice to sleep in when camping out. However, it took me a few minutes to get the juices flowing after eating my milk and blueberry granola and coffee. The one thing I didn't want to do this morning was take off my down booties. The very last thing I did before descending to the river crossing was put on my soaking wet boots. Thankfully, I had brought a pair of sock liners AND 2 extra socks, so I put on my liners with my really thick wool socks and got going.
View from the shelter in the morning
The hike out was long, as always, and felt the same as any other 4 mile haul out of the woods. After about 15 minutes, I could feel the squishing in my boots again. The snow was much more slushy today, but the snow shoes still helped a ton, and I wore them to about the wilderness sign. Throughout the whole hike, I startled two birds, and I was lucky enough to spot a third that had not fluttered his way through the trees and allowed me to snap a picture. The rest of the way, I was remembering certain landmarks I've come to remember on the Rocky Branch Trail, and I knew that I was making great progress on my trek out. I reached my car around 11:30am, and was back on the North Shore in time to watch the Pats. What a hike! I love Mt. Isolation!

Hike Stats
Trails: Rocky Branch Trail, Isolation Trail, Davis Path
Distance: 15.6 miles
Elevation Gain: 3500 feet
Book Time: 28hrs 30min

To view the full album from this hike, view or click on the slide show below.

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