Thursday, April 2, 2015

Visiting the Birch Glades and Mount Isolation - March 7, 2015

Route: Rocky Branch Trail, Engine Hill Bushwhack, Isolation Trail (East), Davis Path, Isolation Spur
Peaks: Isolation (4004', NH4K)
Mileage: 13.25 miles
Elevation Gain: 3250 feet
Book Time: 8hr 15min (actual 8hr 40min)

The day after an awesome traverse of Franconia Ridge, I was scheduled to lead a group of 6 others from the Northeast Peakbaggers Meetup group in to Mount Isolation. I set this up after Jim had mentioned on the Wildcats hike a couple weeks before that he really wanted to visit Isolation this winter, and I told him I was itching for another visit too. All 6 other people showed up, but when we set off on the trail, we were down to 6 total people thanks to a car locking itself with the keys inside...the owner got a ride down to the Pinkham Notch visitor center to call someone and get that issue dealt with. The rest of us set off, most with snowshoes strapped to their packs as the trail was well-packed at the start, but I and one other started in snowshoes, preferring not to carry them. The forecast for the day was for mostly cloudy skies and maybe even some snow, but we had mostly sunny skies to start with and that never changed!

Heading up the Rocky Branch Trail

Well-broken trail the whole way made for great snowshoeing!
The Rocky Branch Trail wastes no time in beginning a steady, though not overly steep, climb up to the height-of-land where the normal winter bushwhack begins. About a mile in everyone not already in snowshoes switched over to them as the trail was softer up high and we wanted to preserve the snowshoe track. Steadily we continued the climb, enjoying great conversation and keeping a nice pace up to the height-of-land. The broken path on the Rocky Branch Trail ended at the usual start of the bushwhack, at a tree with a fading "T" carved in it (and currently some flagging nailed to it too...I wish people wouldn't leave that garbage in the woods...). But the broken path continued through the bushwhack, though at a much different route than any of my 3 prior visits. It stayed much lower than normal and missed much of the upper birch glades, but it did still avoid the major water crossings and cut a fair bit of distance off the hike. I love the birch glades on this bushwhack, they are one of my favorite spots in all of the White Mountains, and we had some awesome bluebird skies as we headed through them.

The start of the Engine Hill birch glades

The group starts to emerge into the glades and experience them for the first time.

Mount Isolation from the Engine Hill birch glades

Partway through we ran into my friends Chris and Whitney (Tip-Toe) on their way out from an early-morning trek out to Isolation, it was great to catch up with them for a few minutes after not seeing them since the Maine trip over the New Year's weekend! As we exited the bushwhack onto the Isolation Trail, we had a ways to go to get to the upper 3 crossings due to the lower-than-normal track, but we made fairly short work of that stretch and took the short bushwhack (which was also broken out) around the 3rd and 4th crossings (the Engine Hill bushwhack avoids the 1st and 2nd), and had a very solid snowbridge crossing the final (and only of the day) crossing.

Looking upstream at the one crossing we made on this hike.

Normally I'm not a fan of hanging out on snowbridges, but this one was feet thick and not going anywhere.

There is an extra, short bushwhack that cuts the corner at the Davis Path/Isolation Trail junction which was also broken out, so we took that, cruised up the Davis Path, and scrambled up the steep but short spur to the mostly open summit. Thanks to the much sunnier than forecast weather, we had tremendous views of the Southern Presidentials, part of the Pemi Wilderness, and the Carters/Wildcats/Baldface region. The winds were mild and so we enjoyed a lengthy stay up top during which close to a dozen others came and went, it was a busy day for this isolated peak! Even the gray jays came out in force, there were at least 3 of them at one point flying around looking for anything they could steal from us.

There is now a stick sign on the summit. Not sure when that happened.

Mount Washington and the Southern Presis from Isolation

Mount Carrigain

Mount Pierce, with the Willey range behind

The Baldfaces, such an awesome hike!

The Wildcats with part of the Carter Range on the left.

One of the only clouds was covering the summit of Mount Washington - of course!

The crew on Isolation

Mount Washington tries to shake the cloud

Pierce, Eisenhower, Monroe, Washington, and Boott Spur all shining bright in their winter finery.

Gray Jay on Isolation

Our exit hike was faster than the hike up of course, but along the way we got to enjoy the awesome Engine Hill birch glades a second time. The hike down from the height-of-land always seems to drag on, but with a great group of folks, it went by pretty fast and soon enough we were back at the cars, and 5 more people had Isolation in winter checked off their 4000-footers list!

Back out the Engine Hill birch glades


The red route is the one we broke out last winter, gray is this year's route.

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