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Mt. Isolation Backpack

View South from Mt Crawford

On the first day of my leave of absence from work, I climbed Mt. Isolation (4,003 ft). This is my 48th White Mountain 4000 footer and it seemed fitting that I would finish this peak bagging list on my first day off.

I climbed Isolation the hard way, hiking up the famous Davis Path, over Mts Crawford (3,110 ft), Resolution (3,415 ft), Stairs (3,463 ft), and Davis (3,819 ft), before ascending to the top of Isolation. From there, I hiked down the Isolation Trail to the Dry River, camped for the night, and walked out to Rt 302 the next morning. The total distance of this hike was about 21 miles in 14 hours of hiking.

The Davis Trail is famous because it was one of the first to be hewn out of the White Mountain National Forest in 1845, back when it took 2 days to travel to New Hampshire from Boston by train and carriage. The original trail was a 14.4 mile bridle path, though I can’t imagine how they got horses up it. It is very steep and rough.

Monroe, Washington, and Boot Spur

The weather on the first day of my hike was spectacular and so were the views of Mt. Washington (6,288 ft), Mt Monroe (5,372 ft), and Boot Spur (5,500 ft) from the tops of Mt. Crawford and Davis, which are known for their 360 degree views. The peak on the left is Monroe and the one on the right is called Boot Spur, which overlooks famous Tuckerman Ravine. Mt Washington is in the middle, its summit marred by weather forecasting and radio masts.

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The only way you get this kind of view is to hike in.

It’s been a dry summer so I carried extra water for the first half of my hike. It’s a good thing too, because the trail was bone dry for the first 6 miles. I was also carrying 3 days of food in case the weather held and I got the opportunity to take a shot at Mt Monroe, hiking up from Oakes Gulf. The heavier load necessitated a shift in pack back to my Mariposa Plus, which still feels great! I think I’m going to be using it in Maine in a few weeks on a long section of the Appalachian Trail.

From Mt Isolation it is possible to continue up the Davis Path another 1.9 miles to the east of Bootspur, but it’s well above treeline and there’s no good shelter close by at that elevation. Instead, I hiked east, down the Isolation Trail to the Dry River Trail, making it down by 5:30 pm with 2 hours of light left.

Dry River Campsite

Lucky for me, I found a new campsite next to the junction of the Dry River Trail and the Isolation Trail where I made camp for the night. There are a bunch of these scattered along the east side of the river all the way to the suspension bridge that aren’t on my map. I think the forest service has built them to retard the illegal camping along the river.

Dry River Trail in the Mist

Honestly, I was frightened by the description of the Dry River Trail that’s in the White Mountain Guide, and seriously considered backtracking or hiking out on other trails. You have to understand that this river valley is directly under Mt Washington and  surrounded by steep 4,000 and 5,000 foot peaks. Unpredictable forces of nature are at work down here.

In the end I decided to see what it looked like anyway, and found that my fears were baseless. For some reason, I had thought that 4 fords were required, but none were, to my relief.

Dry River

I pitched camp, testing out the Zpacks Hexamid I had bought in the spring, ate dinner, and crashed. I woke up later to see lightning flashing through the side of the tarp, but oddly, I couldn’t hear any thunder at all. When I woke again near dawn, it had started to rain from the west, so I set my alarm for a later in the morning, and went back to sleep.

The next morning, I had a quick breakfast and walked 5 miles down the Dry River Trail to Rt 302 and Crawford Notch. This was an easy hike and none of the river fords that I had feared, materialized. Once I made it back to the road, I had to hike another 2.5 miles back to my car at the base of the Davis Trail, and that was that. I guess I’m a official peakbagger now.


  1. Congratulations and well done on completing the AMC NH 48 4Ks!

  2. Congratulations, Philip! And you did it in style!

  3. Great report. How long did it take to finish all 43 peaks?

  4. Hoping to do Davis Path in 2018, maybe spend the night at Lakes of the Clouds. Inspiring article!

  5. I did this same route about 40 years ago….except I foolishly did it in one day. At the beginning of the trail at Notchland, the mosquitos were horrid and I had to climb to Crawford with a jacket on, even though it was hot and humid, so I could concentrate on keeping them off my legs. By the time I got to Crawford, my legs were bloody from bites. Managed to get to Mt Isolation, got back to the point where the Isolation Trail crossed the Davis Path at the location of the old Isolation shelter. The left turn to Dry River wasn’t there. Hiked about 1/2 mile toward Mt Washington….nothing! Backtracked to the point where the spur to Isolation summit came in. Nothing! 3 options. 1) go back the way I came (not a pleasant thought), 2) take the eastward portion of the Isolation Trail and end up on Rt 16 about 30 miles from my car, or 3) head toward Mt Washington on the Davis Path, and hope!
    For some reason I chose #3, and fortunately met someone coming southbound. He told me the west bound Isolation trail was now about another half mile toward Mt Washington. Got there, and sure enough, there it was along with a sign saying it’d been relocated. No s**t! Why wasn’t that sign at the original trail junction back at the old shelter location???
    Anyway, started down, found the lifesaving waterfall and cooled off for half an hour before continuing out to Rt 302. Still a couple miles from my car, but I’d stashed some Molsons in the river along 302, and happily sucked those down as I walked the highway back to Notchland.
    Definitely the most traumatic hike of my life! But I survived!

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