November 25, 2016.
Oh what a difference a week makes. Determined to keep pushing on my redlining I'm heading up to get the southern portion of Rocky Branch Trail. The only thing that could stop me is if Jericho Road, where the trail head is located, is closed. Arriving up north and there is an inch or two of snow as I turn onto Jericho Road. The temps have warmed up just enough that instead of snowing it is a slight mist as I pull into the trail head parking at the end of the road. There is one other car and it is has been here overnight as it has a coating of snow on it.
It's 7:15 when I head out into the elements wearing my raincoat to help keep me dry. This will be a pretty straight forward out and back with no views as I finish this trail today. There is no need for traction as I set out crossing the bridge over the Rocky Branch.
The Rocky Branch Trail used to be part of the old railroad logging system so the going is pretty easy, flat and straight. About a mile in and the trail splits off to the right and becomes narrower. Still for an old logging railroad run that has not seen any logging traffic for over a hundred years it is pretty recognizable.
A few slight detours here and there combined with some downed trees breaks up the straightness of the trail. Less than an hour and I have reached the short spur for Rocky Branch Shelter #1. It is the last of the shelters on this trail as #2 was recently torn down.
Right back to the trail and the junction for Stairs Col Trail is just beyond the spur. Won't be doing that portion today. Up the trail about a hundred yards and there is a huge log pile stacked in a jumbled mess. This is the first signs of the devastation that Irene left back in 2011. The trail skirts to the left of this mess and on the other side a look back.
Just a few minutes away is the one of the many reroutes that bring the trail up and away from the river. The rock strewn Rocky Branch River is freshly coated with white frosting as I get a peek from the trail.
Entering the Presidential Range-Dry River Wilderness Area and it's not long before I am on another reroute this time high above the river. Coming down a small switchback that is reinforced with log cribbing I reach the river for the first crossing of the day.
Surveying the rocks in the river and there doesn't look like any viable way to rock hop across. Especially with all the snow covering the exposed rocks. So no better time then to break out my secret weapon...the Wiggy's waders which can be purchased here. Sliding them over my boots, one of the great features, and it is off into the water to walk across dryly. Halfway across and a look upstream at the erosion caused by Irene as the western bank is completely denuded of trees for a good chunk. Looking straight ahead and I don't see where the trail re-enters the woods. A quick scan and I see an opening off to my left and head over to where the trail continues.
On the other side the trail is a bit unrecognizable as I think the original trail has been obliterated. A look behind is evidence of where the old trail use to be but ahead it looks like a regular trail.
Not far up the trail is the next crossing and the waders come back out. A short straight stretch of trail and then the third crossing of Rocky Branch.
About the same distance and the last crossing which is a bit more challenging even though it is shorter in distance. It is deeper and some swift spots but the waders make the crossing effortless. Finding the trail on the other side took a bit but I found it and the old railroad grade continues on.
Another reroute and beyond that the straight and narrow is the theme for the day. One more section where the trees are piled up making a wall of debris. Can't even imagine what it might have been like out in the woods when Irene rolled through. But it must have been one extra ordinary spectacle.
One more reroute and when I reach the opposite end and look back it is tempting to explore these closed pieces of the trail. But today is not the day as the misty rain has started to change over to snow. I can see a return trip when the vegetation has yet to take hold or has died off. Reaching a stream crossing and to my left is an unmapped tent site that the forest Service has made available. They are prevalent in this area of the Whites as I remember seeing quite a few in the Dry River Wilderness last month.
A wet section just before the site of where Rocky Branch Shelter #2 stood. At the small clearing where the shelter was just recently removed there are still a few remnants left behind. A minute or two up the trail and I reach my turn around point at the junction with Isolation Trail. Rocky Branch Trail continues off to the right across Rocky Branch where Phil, Jen and I crossed back in August when we had that long day doing Slide Peak and Isolation.
Heading back and in between the third and second crossing I meet up with the only people I would see the whole day. They had spent the night at the shelter and are heading the opposite direction. They wanted to know if I walked on water as they could not see any prints on the snow covered rocks. I showed them my waders and assured them that I was not Jesus just a smart human. Not sure where they were heading off to but they were certainly a bit under prepared for the conditions. The trail went by fairly quickly as I got back to the trail head in pretty good time. An interesting trail that was just recently reopened a year ago after having quite a few sections destroyed by Irene.
Final numbers: 12.2 miles, 7 hours and 25 minutes.
Redline Miles: 6.1, Total to Date: 1270.9