August 27, 2016.
A return to Isolation as Phil and Jen wanted to knock this off their list of Four Thousand Footers. After batting around a couple of ideas we settled on doing a big traverse with a car spot. The final plan was to spot a car at the Rocky Branch Trail head and drive over to the Glen Boulder Trail to begin the hike. I had already done the Glen Boulder Trail but figured I'd stay out over night and do a big loop on the Montalban Ridge to pick up some new redlining. So the plan was to meet at Rocky Branch parking lot and after stopping at the Dunkin Donuts in Conway, the one just before the Kanc, I was the first to arrive. A few minutes later Phil and Jen showed up and as I was moving my gear into their car a bad feeling came over me that I was missing something, my wallet! I looked everywhere hoping it had slipped into a crack between the seats...anything. But it was nowhere to be found. There was only one other possibility, I left it at DD somewhere. So in the car for the forty minute trip back and up to the counter to ask if someone found a wallet. Sure enough they indeed did have it and after confirming it was mine I was on my way back to the trailhead. With some great relief we finally got back on track and headed over to the other trailhead losing a crucial hour and a half.
Finally we started up the trail just before nine on a glorious looking day. Glen Boulder Trail was a repeat for me so there was not much picture taking as we made our way up. But once we got up the scramble that brought us out of the trees the lens cap came off. Just above the scramble and Glen Boulder comes into view looking ominous on its perch above us.
Hopefully this icon never succumbs to the fate that befell the Old Man but I'm sure that one day the weather will take its' toll and reduce it to crumbled pieces. For now Phil is doing his part in making sure it does not topple over! A short break at the boulder and then the climbing resumes as we make our way up the exposed terrain. Back into the woods for a bit and then we break out onto Slide Peak. How this spot received "Peak" status is a mystery to me. A great spot but hardly a peak. It is a flat spot along the way with great views all around so I'll accept its' status. Moving along and there is still a ways to go just to the junction for Davis Path.
Just below Davis Path we pass by some snacks as the Alpine Cranberries and Blueberries are ripe. Who can resist some fresh berries...not this guy as I stop several times to enjoy them. Bedsides it was lunchtime as we passed thru.
We reached the junction at 12:30 and still needed to go 2.5 miles to Isolation, the main goal of the day. On the bright side it is all down hill from here! Well not quite but for the most part it is. This was all new territory for me down to the junction with Isolation Trail East. The walk above tree line was awesome as everything is right there in front of you. All the places I have been and the places I still need to get to on this journey. But like all good things the above treeline portion came to an end and we were back into the woods. Walking along the ridge and soon a reminder of the power of the winds as we passed through several sections that were severely hit.
I'd like to say we were moving at a pretty good pace but when looking back at the time stamps on the pictures time seemed to drag on. Our first junction on the Davis Path was with Isolation Trail West which leads down into the Dry River basin. It took an hour to make it 1.6 miles. We stopped for a quick refuel before pushing on and a slow twenty minutes to go just 0.3 miles to the next junction. From here it is just under a mile to the spur trail that leads up to Isolation. When I did this section in the winter of 2012 it was a lot more pleasant of a trail. Without the snow cover it is a muddy section of trail with the rotting remnants of bog bridges that will probably never be replaced since we are in a Wilderness Area. I remembered a spot along the trail where I had some views over to Washington and wondered if it would be there today without the snow pack. Sure enough it is viewable during the summer also.
Thankfully our pace picked up on this section as it only took thirty minutes to reach the spur and a short steep pitch up and we finally arrived at our destination five and a half hours from starting.
A much deserved lunch (very late lunch) break as we sat down to rest and eat. Immediately the grey jays appeared looking for handouts. Everyone had their hand out waiting for the birds to land and scavenge whatever food we had in our palms. Jen was basking in the feeding which helped improve the morale after such a long and hard hike to get here.
From here the views are pretty spectacular as I pick out the places I have been and still need to get to. Looking towards where we came from are Monroe, Washington and Boott Spur. Just to the right of Monroe is where the Dry River Trail comes up out of Oakes Gulf which I haven't done yet. On the other side of me are the Baldfaces over by Evans Notch on the Maine border. I am trying to save those two for that perfect fall day. People always find it odd that I have not done them yet but I have been patient all through this quest and hopefully will be rewarded for my patience.
A good forty-five minute break and it is time to get moving as we still have 7.2 miles to get out the woods. Now mind you when I did this peak back in the winter of 2012 it took me just under five and half hours to do 12.5 miles via a different route. It took us the same amount of time to go just six miles so far. I kept questioning myself if my previous time was correct and when I got back home sure enough the GPS log confirmed it was indeed correct. Why it went so fast was due to the snow making the hiking easier and faster. Plus the elevation gain is quite a difference coming up the way we did today compared to what I originally did. I was also carrying a full pack today with the intent of staying out overnight doing a big loop along the ridge knocking off some new trails. I kind of nixed that idea as we got further into this hike as I knew that water would be scarce along the rest of the way. With the heat, tough terrain, lack of water and pace there was no way I would be able to try and stay out tonight. So off we went retracing our steps to the junction for Isolation Trail East. Just past the junction where we turn onto Isolation Trail East there is an odd blank sign on a tree to our left. On the opposite side of the trail is a path leading into the woods. Heading in due to curiosity it leads to a camping site and possibly the site of the old Isolation Shelter.
A fairly good search on the Internet and I can find no pictures of the old shelter or when it was torn down. It is on the old maps of the AMC 1969 version though. Another oddity is when I did this hike back in the winter of 2012 I think I cut off this corner of the trail via a winter route. It shows up on my GPS tracks and I vaguely remember reading something about the winter route back when I was researching my first trip to Isolation. I wasn't looking hard for the route but never saw where it might be and no matter at least now I have officially done the trail today. Heading down the Isolation Trail I also never saw where the Engine Hill Bushwhack came in. In the winter this route cuts out a chunk of the trails and saves quite a bit of time. Today it wasn't about time it was about redlining the pieces I skipped that winter four years ago. For the most part Isolation Trail is a nice walk with four crossings of the Rocky Branch.
We reached the last crossing of Rocky Branch at 5:30 where the Isolation Trail ends and junctions with the Rocky Branch Trail. All I have to say is this section of trail between the stream and height of land just plain sucks. Rocks poking up out of the very wet trail. Which in itself is unusual due to how dry this summer has been.
Thirty minutes after crossing the brook we reached the carved tree where the Engine Hill Bushwhack begins. After that it was pretty much all downhill to Route 16. It took us two hours to do that section of trail as we got out of the woods at 7:30. The only thing left was to drive back to Glen Ellis and drop off Phil and Jen before making the long drive back home. A long but satisfying hike and even though I didn't stay out to get more trails I did knock off some sections that I needed. I even saw some spots I'd like to check out some other time on a return trip.
Final numbers: 13.3 miles, 10 hours and 40 minutes.
Redline Miles: 3.1, Total to Date: 1164.7