May 13, 2012

Mount Isolation

Yesterday was a warm, clear day here in the Northeast, which meant it was a perfect opportunity for Katy and I to get another hike in. With such a great day in store, we considered all of our remaining NH 4000 footers, including an above treeline hike up Madison and Adams, the long drive to Mount Cabot, or the hefty ascent of the tall Twin mountains. In the end, though, we decided to get one of "the long ones" done - Mount Isolation. On paper, Mount Isolation is a curious challenge. While it is the second shortest mountain on the 4000 footer list at only 4004 feet, it is not easily accessible from any trailhead. For this reason, it is actually the most popular "last bagged" peak for those completing all 48. The shortest route mileage-wise leaves from the Glen Ellis falls trailhead, takes you up past Glen Boulder over a side shoulder of Mount Washington, before hiking down to the summit of Isolation. Total mileage is just under 13 miles, but the trouble is you have to hike up to well over 5000 feet in order to reach the lowly Isolation summit. Another slightly longer option but with easier grades is done via the Rocky Branch Trail. This route is just under 15 miles but does not require large swings in elevation. After considering the choices, we opted for the longer but steadier route.

We awoke at 5:00AM yesterday morning and managed to pack up and be out the door by about 5:45AM. The drive to Isolation is a long one, but we were geared up and on the trail at 8:45AM. There were only two other cars in the lot when we arrived and in total we saw only three other groups on the trails all day long. The initial part of the trail began with a gradual ascent up a dry trail, piece of cake! As we continued along, we began to encounter more and more wet and muddy sections of the trail, until we were basically rock hopping down a stream for miles. The mud and the water made it a little slower to navigate, but the grades were still easy and we continued on. After about 3 or 4 miles of hiking, probably the most unusual thing that's ever happened to me on a trail, happened. I had stopped for a second to plan my next step, when something smashed me hard on the top of my head. My teeth crunched and I yelled mostly from being so startled and saw two pieces of a large tree branch fall down on either side of me. Katy was just a few feet behind me and saw the large tree branch fall from a tree above and hit me on the top of the head before breaking in half. I was shaken up for a bit but other than the adrenaline jolt, I appeared to be ok.

We continued on and shortly encountered the first of five very significant river crossings. For the most part, we were able to rock hop these crossings, but a couple of times we weren't able to find a simple route and had to wade through the fast moving current. The water was well above our ankles and made for some sloshy boots but other than that, we were no worse for the wear. Over five miles in, over six miles in, and we reached the final trail junction, which was another mile or so until the summit. At about 1:30PM we arrived at the peak of Mount Isolation, which despite its lowly stature has exposed ledges with great views of the southern Presidentials as well as panoramic views to all sides. It was very windy when we came out from the cover of the trees but there was not one cloud in the sky with the temperatures probably in the 50's at the summit. We took in some views, snapped a few photos, and then retreated to find some cover from the wind to eat lunch.

We descended down exactly the way we came up. Back through the river crossings, and back along the wet, muddy, trail. It was a fairly uneventful descent, with no tree branches falling from the sky, and still the easy, gradual grades. The many miles of hiking began to wear on the muscles, the feet, and the joints, though, and we were both eager to see the car when we finally reached the bottom. We arrived back at the trailhead at about 6:00PM for a total hike time of just over 9 hours. After a post-hike meal at the Red Fox, we headed back home to complete a very long day trip but a satisfying adventure. For those keeping track (me), that's 32 out of 48 4000 footers complete!

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