Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The First Snow Hike of the Year - Isolation - Nov. 8, 2014

Route: Rocky Branch Trail, Bushwhack, Isolation (East) Trail, Davis Path, Isolation Spur
Peaks: Isolation (4004', NH4K)
Mileage: 13miles
Elevation Gain: 3350'
Book Time: 8hr 10min (actual: 7hr 55min)

With the calendar flipping over to November, I still sat with 2 peaks left for a full round of the New Hampshire 4000-Footers in the year 2014: Isolation and Garfield. So for this day, I set my sights on Mount Isolation, which barely makes the 4000-foot threshold, but has tremendous views from its summit. In the interest of hiking new trails (and avoiding the Rocky Branch Trail that is soaking wet every day it isn't frozen solid), I intended to go via the Glen Boulder Trail, but a high winds forecast sent me back to the same trailhead I've used the other 3 times I've visited this peak. However, the weather had been cold of late, and in fact several inches of snow had recently fallen in the higher elevations, so I decided to at least see how viable the winter bushwhack route along the side of Engine Hill through the awesome birch glades there was going to be this time of the year.

Setting off a few minutes behind a pair of other gentlemen, one of whom looked rather familiar but I couldn't place him, I chugged up the trail. There was a light dusting of snow in the woods at the trailhead, but it soon began increasing steadily. Sadly the depth never increased enough to bury all the rocks, it was generally just enough to hide the smaller rocks for me to trip on, but it was a reminder that smoother trails are not far away!

I passed the 2 gentleman partway up to the height-of-land, and continued on my way, reaching the initial height-of-land that signifies a lengthy contour around to the actual height-of-land a little ways past the Wilderness Boundary. This stretch, which descends some, climbs some, but overall doesn't change much in elevation, was pretty wet in places, and in others a thin coating of ice covered several inches of water, so tip-toing on the rocks (some of which had a little black ice) was the order of the hour all the way to the height-of-land and the traditional start of the bushwhack. Here I ran into a fellow hiker whom I hadn't seen in quite a while, JustJoe, who was on his way into the birch glades to explore some ledges. We chatted for a few minutes, it was great to run into him again! Read his trip report here.

After Joe took off I had a snack, during which time the 2 gentlemen from the trailhead caught up and I finally realized that I knew the one from a group hike back in February, and he was working towards a grid completion in a few months. The other one, it turned out, was a grid finisher! With such experience with this peak in front of me, I opted to hang with them and let them lead the way through the bushwhack, curious as to how their route would compare to the one some friends and I broke out back in late December 2013. The route was different, and wandered a bit more than the other 2 times I'd been through this bushwhack, but in places it was also right on top of those prior trips. I love the birch glades in here, and once again they didn't disappoint!

Trekking through the birch glades along the bushwhack

Winter is coming!
 Exiting the bushwhack onto the Isolation Trail, we bypassed the nasty-looking 3rd and 4th crossings via the herd path on the bank (helpfully marked by the Forest Service as a revegetation area...), made the final crossing, punched a few holes through ice into the mud below (OK, that was just me), and eventually made it to the Davis Path junction where we ran into the first people we'd seen on the trail (other than Joe). They had come via Glen Boulder and said that while windy, it had been manageable. Oh well, one of these days I will go via that route!

The final 0.9-mile push on the Davis Path always seems to drag on, and the snow depth increased to roughly 6", but we made it up, dropped our packs, and scrambled up to the awesome views under mostly overcast skies. Unlike my last 2 visits, the wind wasn't even that bad, and so I hung out for a while taking pictures and enjoying the views.

Mount Washington and the Southern Presidentials


Mount Lafayette

The Doubleheads and Kearsarge North

The Baldfaces

Monroe, Washington, and Boott Spur

Mount Pierce

Mizpah Hut below Mount Pierce

The Wildcat Range

The exit hike was uneventful, and the reverse bushwhack was easy to navigate given our footprints from the morning though the minor ups and downs drove us all nuts. The muddy stretch between the height-of-lands on the Rocky Branch Trail had dried up a fair bit and was far simpler to negotiate this time around, and in fairly short order I was off to dinner.

There were a bunch of these birds hanging out below the summit of Isolation

Hiking through the birch glades on the way out

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