Mt Isolation is one of the more remote White Mountain 4000 footers, requiring a fairly long hike in from the nearest road. While you can climb the peak in a single day, my preference is to backpack to the summit on a one night trip, visiting other points of interest along the way.
On this trip, I hiked a big lollipop route up the Davis Path to Stairs Col before looping up around the Rocky Branch River to the Isolation summit. I took advantage of my hike up the Rocky Branch Trail to do a little fly fishing and caught some brookies and brown trout as I worked my way upriver to the area where I planned to camp. I climbed Isolation the following morning, and then hiked back down the Davis Path, climbing Mt Davis and Stairs Mountain on my return to the trailhead in Crawford Notch.
Honestly, I was a lot more interested in hiking the Davis Path again and climbing Mt Crawford and Mt Davis on this trip than I was climbing Mt Isolation. Don’t get me wrong, Isolation has great views of Mt Washington and the Southern Presidential Range, but it’s not that challenging of a climb and I think the scenery en route is a lot more interesting. Still, it was an excuse to take a mid-week hike and camp in the wilderness with a little solitude. While I like the exercise, solo backpacking gives me a chance to relax and empty my mind, something that I like to do weekly to maintain an even keel.
I got an early start climbing steeply up the Davis Path to Mt Crawford, which has one of the best views in the White Mountains even though it’s not a 4000 footer. I enjoy climbing it be has an open summit and lots of open ledges to sit and take in the views. To climb Crawford, you cross the Saco River over a suspension bridge and start hiking up the Davis Path which was first opened in 1845 and was one of the first trails cut in the White Mountains. The trail climbs very steeply during those first two miles to the open ledges below Crawford, where you pick up a spur trail to Crawford’s summit.
I backtracked to the Davis Path from Mt Crawford and continued north, passing the site of the old Mt Resolution Shelter (removed many years ago), before following the Stairs Col Path down to the Rocky Branch River. From there, I fished my way up the river, stopping at many pools and drops as I worked my way higher up the river valley toward Mt Washington. The trout weren’t huge, but they were plentiful and easy to catch (and release).
The Rocky Branch River is a fairly large stream without much side vegetation so I fished it with my 11′ Tenkara Iwana Rod and a Stewart Spider pattern, which is my most productive fly, by far, this summer. It’s a classic Scottish trout pattern that resembles a non-representational Tenkara Kebari. The Stewart is very simple and easy to tie, making it a great fly to use if you find yourself fishing on a lot of smaller streams that are filled with (fly trapping) sticks and wood.
I could have fished the Rocky Branch for days, but wanted to camp as close to Mt Isolation as possible before nightfall, about 6-7 miles farther north. I wasn’t exactly sure where the last stream would be, so I wanted to have a little slack time so I could backtrack back to water if needed. There are a few streams beyond Isolation along the Davis Path, but they are running very low this time of year.
I got as close to Isolation as I could and set up camp, hanging my hammock near a small stream that had enough flow for my needs. It was a quiet night and I slept well, as I do when I sleep in my Warbonnet.
The next morning I climbed to the summit of Isolation to enjoy the views before anyone else arrived. The 4000 footers have become increasingly popular with day hikers over the past few years, but you can still have a summit to your own if you get there early on a weekday, even during the height of the summer hiking season.
I admired the view from Isolation, taking in the Southern Presidentials which run parallel to the ridge linking Isolation, Mt Davis, and Stairs Mountain. Called the Montablan Range, it’s seldom visited but wild as can be. To the north, I admired Boot Spur, a 5000 ft sub-peak of Washington and the headwall of Oakes Gulf below the tarns at Lakes of the Clouds.
The day was heating up rapidly, so I headed back into the forest bordering the Davis Path for the long walk down the ridge and back to the Saco. Built in 1845, the Davis Path was one of the main routes to Mt Washington, but sees comparatively little traffic today. Sheltered by trees, it runs through numerous birch glades that are prime moose habitat.
I was running low on water and filled up at a small stream about 3 miles south, before arriving at the short spur trail to Mt Davis. I climbed the rocky spur and popped out above treeline, taking in the view of Isolation to the north. I was alone.
Then back on the Davis Path to the Stair Col Campsite spur, where I sat on an open cliff and admired another fine view reaching into the distance towards Maine. I was content, soaking in the sun and heat, wanting to linger still longer, but knowing I had to push on.
When I reached Stairs Col, I retraced my steps from the previous day, past Mt Crawford and back down to the Saco. This was a short backpack, but I felt restored nonetheless. I’d topped off my tank and was ready to face the “world” once again.
Total Distance: 25 miles with 6500 feet of elevation again.
Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:
- Appalachian Mountain Club White Mountain Guide, 30th ed.
- AMC White Mountain National Forest Map Set
- White Mountains Map: New Hampshire and Maine
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