Dry River Wilderness

7/21-7/22, 2017.

A somber start to this hike as I head up on a Friday night hoping to hike three days and stay out two nights. The plan is to finish the rest of the Washington tab on my redlining spreadsheet. I'll be heading back into the Dry River Wilderness finishing the Dry River Trail by heading up over the Oakes Gulf headwall and then back down via Mt Eisenhower Trail. Another night in the woods and an exit out along the Davis Path for the finish. Arriving at the Dry River Trail head there were a dozen Fish & Game trucks lined up along the road. It was pretty evident what was going on as I slowly passed by and stopped at the campground to see if I could park there for a few days. Finding noone I headed back up the road and pulled in behind all the vehicles and walked up the road to see if it was OK to park here. Talking to one of the officers and he confirmed what I thought...they were bringing out the body of the hiker from NJ who had been missing for almost a month. Last Saturday they found his tent and backpack and yesterday they found his body. A sad ending to someone who enjoyed the woods. A brief article can be found here.

A walk back down Route 302 to the campground as I needed the connector trail between the campground and the Dry River Trail. A quick walk around the loop road in the campground and I reach the Dry River Connector. It's a short trail and within ten minutes I am at the other end where it connects with the Dry River Trail. In that short period the Fish & Game officers have already brought the body out as I never saw them beyond this point.

 

The goal is to get up to the junction with Isolation Trail West and find a spot to setup camp for the night. It's about a five mile hike in and arriving at the trail at 4:30 gives me just enough time to hike the five miles in. Across the suspension bridge as I make pretty good time meeting only one other hiker who is setup just below the Mt Clinton Trail junction. The tracks in the muddy areas confirm there were quite a few people bringing out the deceased hiker. One spot along the trail has never been rerouted and I am not sure why but it must have been a real struggle getting through with a litter. The trail is along the banking where there are boulders and a downed tree one has to use the tree as balance points. Further up a freshly downed spruce tree is completely blocking the pathway.

 

At 7:20 I arrive at the intersection and start looking for a spot to hang the hammock. Heading up the Isolation Trail I find a spot good enough to hang right near Isolation Brook. It doesn't take me long to get setup and then into the hammock for the night with the sound of the brook lulling me off to sleep.

 

Up pretty early as I know I have a long day ahead. I have read horror stories of the trail ahead leading into Oakes Gulf. My night in the hammock was not all that great as I kept getting woken up by cramps in my legs. It started in the feet, then the calves, to the thighs and moving all around throughout the night. A breakfast of Mountain House scrambled eggs with bacon and a package of oatmeal to hopefully provide me with enough fuel for the morning. All packed up I left the hammock, tarp and sleeping bag behind to shed some weight. The plan is to pick them up on the way back when I head up Isolation West. It's 7:15 as I head across to Dry River Trail where a shot from the trail reveals how well my setup blends into the forest. Just past the junction is a designated campsite that leads out to the left. Oh well my spot was quiet and secluded! Moving past the junction with Mt Eisenhower Trail and I am now on new territory with the Dry River Trail. This section is pretty rough with erosion and downed trees in the trail.

 

Fifteen minutes into this mornings hike and I reach a side spur trail that leads down to the left to Dry River Falls. At the bottom of the trail is a campsite and I wonder if this is the spot where the found they missing hikers' tent. Below the campsite is a path leading steeply down to Dry River where the falls are located.

 

Back up on the trail and further up the trail pulls away from the river through a section where the young hemlocks are reclaiming a section where a weather event killed the older trees. A few minutes later I am back at the Dry River for a crossing that is uneventful.

 

Through a wet section and then across an eroded section where the banking has let loose at some point. Just below the shelter the blowdowns that are the norm for Wilderness Areas are littered across the trail. This is just a taste of things to come and I am glad I left the extra weight back at my overnight spot.

 

A little over an hour into the hike and I reach the last shelter in a designated Wilderness area, Dry River Shelter #3. Once it falls into disrepair it will fall upon the same fate as the others...dismantled and gone forever. It's a damn shame that this is the attitude of the government as they slowly remove everything manmade from these areas. Personally I think it is more about economics as they are too cheap to maintain these structures that have been in existence for a long period of time. Anyways...a very short break then across a tributary that feeds into the Dry River as the trail heads up a bouldery section. Further up more blowdowns litter the trail.

 

Entering into Oakes Gulf and this area takes a constant beating as old dead trees topple across the trail and the new growth fills in every possible void.

 

The trail begins the climb back up as it skirts around a southern shoulder of Mt Monroe. A short dip down and then more climbing and at a spot where the trees open up a look across Oakes Gulf and the avalanched scarred headwall.

 

Getting closer to the headwall and the trail passes through an odd grassy plain in comparison to the rest of the terrain. A look ahead to the headwall and I try to see where the trail goes up and over but to no avail. The rock slide in the picture looks like the most logical route but it would turn out not to be.

 

The trail instead takes a left turn and makes a large square "U" turn as it first heads towards Monroe. Then turns again to the right almost paralleling Crawford Path before one more right turn and now cutting across the contour lines as it heads up the headwall.

 

At the boundary line for the Dry River Wilderness a great view back down into the valley I came up out of. As I am coming up over the headwall a strange optical illusion as the towers of Mt Washington look a lot closer than they actually are.

 

One more push as I come up and over the headwall and over a mile away is Mt Washington.

 

Then for the first time today the Lakes of the Clouds Hut is visible where the Dry River Trail ends. A short distance later and one of the lakes as the trail skirts around the left side of it.

 

Finally after a little more than five hours since leaving my hammock this morning I am at the hut and the Dry River Trail is officially done! I know I should be happy with the time as it's 4.7 miles from where I started this morning. But time seemed to be at a standstill as the constant blowdowns really slowed my pace. Crawling over, under and around with a full pack made it that much more difficult. I head inside the hut for a break and it is crowded as it is Seek the Peak weekend on Mt Washington. I find a seat and have my snacks and then a bowl of soup that the hut offers for a mere two dollars. After a good half hour break it is time to move along as I head down Crawford Path making my way to the Mt Eisenhower Trail.

 

This is one of my favorite spots in the Whites as I make my way down with views galore since I am above treeline. I remember my first trip along this path when I was pursuing the 48 4000 footers back in March of 2012. The affect is still the same as this is my third time walking along this ridgeline. Within an hour I make it to the junction for Mt Eisenhower Trail and say goodbye to the masses as I turn left onto it.

 

The trail leads across the open area and then begins the drop back down into the Dry River basin. At first the trail is relatively good then soon the upper portion is a closed in unmaintained trail as I have to push through the brush. The trail is easy to follow just overgrown and who knows when the last time it was brushed out.

 

Getting lower and the trail improves tremendously as the woods change. I had hoped my time would improve as I make the descent but it seems I am in this time warp.

 

Eventually I make it to the junction with Dry River Cutoff and the Mt Eisenhower Trail is another one knocked off my list. Reaching the Dry River and once again I am thwarted at finding a rock hop across at this location. I remember last year I encountered the same problem and finally resorted to using my waders. This time I just don't feel like stopping to put them on. Upstream is definitely not an option so I head downstream and finally find a spot to cross and unfortunately need to whack back through the woods to the trail. Once back on the trail I don't remember the steep climb back up to the junction with the Dry River Trail. After that it is a short jaunt back to where I slept last night. Needing some energy I stop and make my dinner as it is 4:00 and surprisingly it took two hours to do the three miles to get down from the ridge. I was hoping to move quicker and as I prepare my Mountain House meal I start rethinking what I am going to do. The muscle cramps I went through last night are still fresh in my mind. I still need to get up out of here via Isolation West, an uphill climb, to the Montalban Ridge and find a spot for the night. Then there is the issue of water being scarce up there which is a problem for tomorrow. As I am eating my meal I figure it is best to throw in the towel and just pack everything up and make the five mile trek back out and head home. It is what it is as the terrain and elevation always slow me down. So without much fanfare I beat it back to Route 302 and oddly enough I come across the same guy I met on the way in last night. I stop for a quick chat as he is setting up for another night in the valley. Determined to get out before dark I make the five mile trek out in two and half hours and pretty satisfied with what I did. Revenge will come as I will find a way to finish up what was planned for tomorrow.


Final numbers: 19.4 miles, 15 hours 00 minutes.

Redline Miles: 7.2, Total to Date: 1359.2