Hiking Mount Isolation was the most difficult test of our entire NH48 journey. This was the only peak that took us more than one attempt and it involved winter route-finding, a bushwhack, and the coldest either of us have ever been before. Overcoming these challenges left us with an incredible sense of accomplishment that still hasn’t faded.
|0 mi||0 mi||Start at Rocky Branch Trailhead|
|2.8 mi||2.8 mi||Take Rocky Branch Trail to Engine Hill bushwhack|
|1.3 mi||4.1 mi||Engine Hill bushwhack to join Isolation Trail|
|1.6 mi||5.7 mi||Isolation Trail to Davis Path|
|0.9 mi||6.6 mi||Davis Path to summit of Mount Isolation (Short spur to summit)|
|0.9 mi||7.5 mi||Davis Path to back to Isolation Trail|
|1.6 mi||9.1 mi||Isolation Trail back to bushwhack|
|1.3 mi||10.4 mi||Bushwhack back to rejoin Rocky Branch Trail|
|2.8 mi||13.2 mi||Rocky Branch Trail back to parking lot|
(Note: my phone died so this only shows the track through the bushwhack and up to the ridge, not all the way to the summit)
Hiking Mount Isolation
We attempted to hike Mount Isolation in December, 2018, but it wasn’t meant to be that day. It is tough to admit that we were not prepared yet. We did not enjoy the experience of failing to reach a peak, but with a few more winter hikes under our belts and upgraded snowshoes (check here for gear suggestions) we returned for redemption. A few inches of snow had fallen overnight and the wind was blowing it into drifts over the trail. As we were the first on the trail that morning, we knew we would be breaking trail. The challenge wasn’t the depth of snow, it was in the route finding – a new winter hiking endeavor for us. Armed with the full array of winter hiking gear, we set off to tackle what promised to be our toughest peak of the 48.
We watched the sun rise as we travelled the first few easy miles of Rocky Branch Trail. We reached the start of the Engine Hill bushwhack after 2.8 mi of steady uphill hiking. I took a compass bearing to keep us on the 3200 ft contour and we set off into our unknown. With only a couple brief retreats, we stayed on course and emerged to join Isolation Trail as expected. That alone had me feeling accomplished for the day and I thought the toughest test was behind us. I was wrong.
As we climbed higher along Isolation Trail, staying on trail became more and more difficult as the drifts got deeper and deeper. We veered off and corrected back with gps assistance a few times. Close to the ridge, we lost the trail altogether. I knew we were close to the Davis Path on the ridge, but we couldn’t reach it through a dense stand of trees. Using terrain association and sinking past our knees even with snowshoes, we found our way around and up to the ridge. Once again, I thought we had passed the toughest test. Once again, I was wrong.
Atop the deep snowpack this year, we traversed the ridge in the upper branches of the trees that grabbed at us with each step. It was like swimming through branches as they tore at our clothes and dumped fresh snow down our backs. The wind stung us as we crossed short open sections and we were both feeling colder than ever. Within a mile of the summit, I felt the real possibility of turning back again. We needed to stay safe, but we still had a little more in the tank. Vowing not to let stubbornness or hubris put us into a dangerous situation, we pressed on knowing our turnaround would come soon if we didn’t reach our goal.
When we located the final climb after more route finding, a couple wrong turns, and trail breaking, I got a second (maybe third or fourth) wind and clambered up to the summit. The wind kicked me in the face, but I smiled all the same under my frost-laden balaclava. I have never felt so accomplished upon reaching a peak. The arduous trek and the reality of how close we were to turning back for safety made this the sweetest peak.