I did a short 22 mile backpack over the weekend into the Dry River Wilderness, south of Mount Washington. My main goal on this hike was to climb and bushwhack North Isolation Mountain, a 4293′ peak situated below Boot Spur Mountain in the Montablan Range. The weather was absolutely fantastic both days, with crystal clear skies and cool evening temperatures in the 50’s.
The White Mountains were very crowded this weekend, just one week before the labor day weekend, but that wasn’t an issue in the area I was hiking in. Although North Isolation is just a few miles south of Mount Washington, which is overrun on popular weekends, I didn’t see more than a dozen people the entire 2 days I was out. That’s because North Isolation and its better known neighbor, Mount Isolation, are two of the most remote peaks in the Whites, and close to 7 miles from the nearest road.
The hiking here is also fairly arduous. Large parts of the Montablan Range are dry, so you need to carry extra water. There are many stream crossings and the trails are choked with boulders and roots. Hurricane Irene also caused major damage to the trail system washing away an entire 4 mile section of the Rocky Branch Trail and blasting huge swaths of trees to smithereens. This being a Wilderness area, reconstruction and trail cleanup efforts are doubly difficult because power tools and motorized vehicles are forbidden.
I parked at the Rocky Branch Trailhead and hiked up the Rocky Branch Trail to the site of the removed shelter. There’s a pretty nice campsite there, at the base of Engine Hill next to the Ellis River. From there I headed north along the Isolation Trail, crossing back and forth over the river several times. At the last river crossing, I loaded up with 5.5 liters of water because I planned to dry camp later that evening, and continued north until I came to the Davis Path trail junction. I’d hiked 6.3 miles to this point.
From here, I continued north in the direction of Slide Peak, passing the now closed Isolation Path, another Irene casualty, arriving at North Isolation after 0.5 miles of climbing.
North Isolation is one of the bushwhack peaks on the Trailwrights 72 list, which I am now close to finishing. When I arrived, I was on the lookup for a herd path to the summit area. The summit is quite round, so it’s difficult to tell exactly where the high point is. Not seeing a path, I put on my bushwhacking gloves and picked a part of the forest that was fairly open to make my first foray. I also wanted to see if could get some photos of Mt Monroe or Mt Washington from the wooded west side of North Isolation which has a million dollar view of the Oakes Gulf head wall.
Photos taken, I turned my attention to finding the summit and a canister if there was one. The trees got very thick and my pace slowed way down.
I kept circling around on what I thought was the high point on the peak for 45 minutes and then gave up. I was ready to declare the peak summited. So I whacked back east and reacquired the trail and then started walking slowly south, while scanning the sides of a trail looking for some evidence of a path to the summit. I found a cairn that had been knocked over between two root balls on the side of the trail. There is evidence of a faint path behind it, which I followed to a high point which I believe was the official North Isolation summit. There wasn’t a canister, although I hadn’t really expected one. I’d made it!
I backtracked down the Davis Path to the trail junction I’d passed earlier, and continued south on the Davis Path to Mount Isolation, which I quickly climbed. The views were fantastic and I could pick out Carter Dome and Mt Hight, the Southern Presidentails, Carrigan, and even the Baldfaces in the distance. But I was also interested in getting a clear look at S. Engine Hill, a 3000 footer that I plan to bushwhack in the not too distant future. In addition to climbing North Isolation, I used this trip to scout a S. Engine Hill route.
From Mt Isolation, I continued along the dry Davis Path and ascended Mt Davis about 1 mile further south. It’s been a few years since I last climbed Mt Davis, but I soon recalled the view when I found the summit cairn.
The evening was getting on so I descended below treeline and continued hiking south looking for a good stealth site to spend the night. It was slim pickings for another mile, until I came across an impacted site just off the trail. Rather than continue on, I decided to make camp here, rather than hike farther away from water. This was the dry camp I’d planned.
I knew that the weather was going to be cold and dry that night, so I set up one of my favorite tarp pitches, the Adirondack wind shed, so I could see the forest at night.
I cooked up a nice dinner with Polenta, sun-dried tomatoes, and Parmesan cheese and relaxed in the very quite woods. It was almost eerily quiet. I couldn’t hear any motorcycles in the distance, no planes, no people, and not even any animals. But I was too tired to care and soon fell deeply asleep under my quilt until morning.
The next morning I cooked breakfast with my remaining water and hiked back the way I’d come in. I spent a little time scouting a possible route up S. Engine Hill on my way out and came across these moose antlers. I didn’t have enough time to bushwhack the peak, so I made note of my findings and hiked back to Rt 16 and my car, intent on stopping for the first ice cream sandwich that crossed my path. Nice hike, nice weekend.
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