Friday, October 5, 2012

Inside The Moments: Episode 3 - Winter In Fall, & the Rocky Branch Defeat

Ahhh....Mt. Isolation. Even before I set out to take on all of the White Mountain 48 last year, the remoteness of this mountain made it attractive to me . It was mid-October 2010, (the weekend after Columbus Day two years ago) and it was a partly cloudy, mainly overcast and cool fall day. Our plan was to summit Isolation and then camp the night at the Rocky Branch Shelter #2 before hiking out the next day. We could do this, we thought. All was great, except that we were new to hiking, so we were much slower than we thought, apparently. It was afternoon already by the time we were getting close to the river crossing of the Rocky Branch. Perhaps it was those monstrous packs and obliviousness to the magnitude of this hike.

As we made it to the height of land, it started to snow. I remember being in awe at how cool it looked as the snow lightly swirled down and blanketed the pines along the trail. I think it was the first snow of the season in 2010 - it was awesome to be surrounded by the hills and the falling snow. It was something completely new and wild for us.

Looking off the Rocky Branch Trail
We came to the crossing of the Rocky Branch, and as I looked downstream, the falling snow and frigid river raging past created a picture and atmosphere that I'll always remember as one of my favorite moments. I was standing there, several miles into the Dry River Wilderness, looking at this beautiful sight. We could tell that there were hills now surrounding us completely, and no doubt about it, the remoteness we felt was purely there in full effect. We crossed the river, which was not easy at all. I don't think I had ever crossed a river like that until that point - which was why it was tough then. In fact, it was the toughest of all 3 times. It seemed as if it had taken a day to get just to this point. With the uncertainty of snow continuing or it getting colder than it already was, there was no way we could have continued on to the summit, especially at 2pm or so. I remember spending quite a bit of time to find the best spot to cross. Although rookies at the time, this might have been the best hiking decision we ever made.  We decided to forego the summit and set-up camp at the shelter.
The Rocky Branch on Isolation in October
We got somewhat of a window in the late afternoon when we attempted to have a fire, but didn't get anything going. We tried lighting it in the fire pit, and then in a can that was left behind, but to no avail after a couple of hours of trying. We also did the right thing in hanging a bear bag and eating away from camp. We did this way up on the hill across the trail from the shelter. Outside of that window of no precipitation in the afternoon, it was a rough night. It rained, it sleeted, it snow showered in bits, and of course the wind howled at times. Since we weren't attempting the summit, there was extra time just being at the shelter; it seemed like it was forever until the next morning. Everything was soaked, including our boots from the day prior, which we had no way to dry out. The next morning was torturous as we got ready. We had just about every layer we brought with us on, and we put our feet into our soaked boots for the haul out. But by looking below, you can see we were still smiling :)

If you have ever peered out of your tent or the shelter while camping at Rocky Branch Shelter #2, perhaps some would agree with me that it's quite an eerie spot. In November of 2011, I camped solo at the shelter when I did a trek to Isolation and North Isolation, for which my goal was to bag North Isolation, A Trailwright 72 peak. There was a good amount of snow on the ground, and it was the only time I required snow-shoes in 2011. I've since camped there solo too. It was even more eerie camping there alone.

Since this attempt back in October of 2010, I've been to the summit of Isolation twice. Looking back on the experience, I think this stands out because it was the first experience of not getting a chance at the summit, but I now see how it takes a lot of learning and experience to be able to take on some of the long and tough hikes in the White Mountains. Isolation had pushed back on us. While there have been only a few summits that have pushed me back, I like to be able to use this one as a reminder of what its like to not make it. There was so much awesomeness I remember on this hike, but later I would realize why this one stands out - and it was because of the experience gained. Both my brother and I returned to claim the summit on a wet, but decent day in June of 2011. One of our top summit photos together was on that return hike to Isolation in June 2011. It was an awesome feeling for both of us that day; it was a great feeling of redemption and assurance of confidence in our hiking abilities. At that time, Isolation was peak #21, and I was in the heart of my quest for the 48, and I would finish just two months later.
1st Isolation Summit - June 2011
Click here to read the trip reports from my hikes to Mt. Isolation.

Anyone else have any similar stories of going back to a summit you didn't get?


  1. For me, that taste of defeat goes a long way to evaluating the situation, learning new skills and inspiring future hikes. BTDT with the one day Presi Traverse. The first attempt wasn't an epic fail (mostly due to my awesome hiking partner!), but I will say the whole experience taught me a few things and made the successful traverse three weeks later that much sweeter.

    1. Summerset, I agree with you completely. Going three weeks later must have definitely felt sweet. The other two times I've experienced this feeling was my niece's attempt and then successful hike to Mt. Washington in May/June, and back in 2010, I tried to do a Presi Traverse, ended up getting bad knee pain and was clearly beaten by the Northern Presis.