February 6th, 2016
After sustaining an injury on Mt. Moriah (see that post here) that kept me off the trails for 6 weeks, I finally got back in the game today! I’ve been working on strengthening my knee for several weeks on short walks and runs. I knew I’d have to take it slow and watch my footing but it felt like it was ready for the real deal. I’m not sure which I was more afraid of. My knee giving out on me, or my fitness level dropping so much from not hiking or running in over a month!
Mount Isolation would be my 48th 4000 footer and thereby completing my long awaited “New Hampshire 48 4000 footers” list! This was a big day for me and I REALLY wanted to make it to the summit. My buddy Nate Weeks (read his blog here) decided to join in on the fun since Isolation would be his 47th summit in his “Single Season Winter 48” list, an incredible accomplishment that under 100 people are recognized for completing!
Originally I figured I’d better take it easy on the injured knee. Take the easy route up the Rocky Branch trail from route 16 in and out and bag my final peak. However, in a last minute decision we decided to add some excitement to the day and head up the Glen Boulder trail which would bring us up over 5000 feet above treeline…. Then hike back down 1000+ feet to our target destination Mt. Isolation standing a mere 4003 feet in elevation. We’d take the Rocky Branch trail out and utilize a common winter bushwhack to shave some time. The beauty of having 2 cars is that we were able to spot a car at both ends of the hike eliminating the annoying road walk at the end.
Hitting The Glen Boulder Trail
At 8:46 AM we set off from the Glen Ellis parking area up the Glen Boulder trail. We immediately mounted our Microspikes as even the parking lot was covered in ice. The trail started off at a gentle grade which quickly steepened. This trail is steep and gained elevation quickly at a rate of about 1000 feet of elevation gain per mile.
At about 4000 feet the trail popped out of the treeline and onto rocky, icy slabs. There were a handful of steep ice covered scrambles that led us up to the Glen Boulder. The Glen Boulder is a enormous glacial erratic rock that hangs precariously off the side of this rocky cliff. At first glance it looks as if a gentle gust of wind could knock it down the mountain. At this point we started to feel the wind pick up slightly.
Once past the ledges of the Glen Boulder the trail went back into the trees offering us some shelter from the howling winds for about a mile. The grade became less aggressive on the ascent up to Gulf Peak.
Here we popped out of the trees for the second time. This time to the bald exposed summit of Gulf Peak. The wind really picked up at this point. We were experiencing 40-50 mph winds along with a solid 20 below windchill. I threw my goggles on for good measure along with an extra layer under my shell, and my heavy gloves.
We continued on though the foggy, windy, ice capped trail until we hit the junction of the Davis Path. This is the trail that would bring is back down towards Isolation.
A Hiker In Need
As we made our descent through the wind and cold weather. We heard someone yelling “HELP!” coming from behind us. An older woman with two dogs was a couple hundred feet behind us waving her arms in the air. Nate made his way back to see what her deal was. Apparently, she was confused, and disorientated with two small dogs above treeline. She had mentioned that she did this trail several times in the summer, but never in the winter. Her dogs were violently shivering and obviously uncomfortable. I was frustrated and couldn’t understand why she’d bring these dogs on a winter hike like this. They were NOT happy and showed all the warning signs of being too cold. We gave her some guidance and she followed us as we moved ahead on the Davis Path.
On To Isolation!
Here’s a short video to show what the conditions were like above treeline.
After about a mile of cold, windy, above treeline travel we descended back into the trees. This section was very moderate and traveled through some thicker snow drifts. We opted to leave our Snowshoes in the car which was a good decision. The trail was packed out enough that our Microspikes were the ideal traction devices to have.
After about a mile and a half of hiking we came across the junction of Rocky Branch trail. This would be our way out but for now we’d keep on trucking further down the Davis Path.
From here, it would only be another mile and a few hundred feet of elevation to our final destination of Mt. Isolation.
The Summit! And My 48th 4000 Footer!
As we approached the summit my legs were starting to feel the burn. Boy, was I feeling out of shape from not hiking for so long! I pushed through the pain for the last 100 or so feet and finally made it to the top. This was it! My 48th 4000 footer. It was an unbelievable feeling of pride and accomplishment. I reflected back on all the other hikes I’ve done and took in the views of the southern presidential ridge.
The views from Isolation were amazing. Almost a full 360 degrees of visibility.
Nate and I cracked open our celebratory whisky and clinked glass to acknowledge both of our achievements. Nate was now just one summit away from completing his single season winter 48! It’s nice to have good company on trips like this… Even if I was slowing him down today!
We took pictures, made conversation, and ate some lunch on the summit of Isolation. It was incredibly calm compared to the weather we had experienced earlier at higher elevations.
After resting for a bit we both began to get chilled and we decided to move on. Back down the Davis Path to the Rocky Branch trail junction we had passed earlier.
The Rocky Branch
We turned off onto the Rocky Branch trail which was surprisingly beautiful. This trail is so gradual it almost feels flat after the initial drop in elevation.
The trail weaves in and out of birch glades and open forest making for some incredible scenery.
The Engine Hill Bushwhack
We had planned to take a common bushwhack known as the “engine hill bushwhack” before setting out. Luckily for us, the trail was heavily traveled and made spotting the start of the bushwhack easy. The idea of the bushwhack is to shave off an unnecessary corner that leads down to several river crossings which can be difficult in high water. This also reduce total mileage and time.
The bushwhack wondered a bit but generally was pretty straight forward. A few sections of deeper snow could warrant the use of snowshoes but we got by just fine in Microspikes.
The bushwhack continues on for 2 miles and drops back onto the Rocky Branch trail.
The Final Haul
The last 3 miles after the bushwhack are incredibly gradual. Even though this was an easy trail and super gradual my knee began to bark at me a little bit… the descent is always harder on the joints than climbing. I took my time taking several breaks and we eventually popped out by Nate’s car on Route 16.
In total my Garmin Fenix logged 12.95 miles of distance and 4400 feet in elevation gain… no slouch of a day particularly for coming off the injured list! We certainly didn’t break any speed records but we completed the hike in 7 hours 15 minutes including our extended break on the summit. This is well below book time, so I was happy to see that.
It feels good to complete the NH 4000 footers list! I had an awesome day with a good friend. I couldn’t ask for more on my final hike of the NH 4000 footer list. I cannot wait to get back on the trails again and continue to recover and get my full strength back!