Hike: Mount Isolation

Date Hiked: 10 September 2014

Mount Isolation is one of the more difficult 4000 Footers to reach, not because of its elevation but because it is far from access points and there are no real direct trails to it. Hence its name. From my research I found there were two common routes to Isolation, via Rocky Branch Trail or via Glen Boulder Trail and Davis Path. Rocky Branch was the easier route but was longer and didn’t afford views. Glen Boulder had exquisite views but reaching Isolation that way meant climbing the shoulder of Mount Washington twice. Since I decided to camp at Dolly Copp Campground the night before attempting Isolation, I thought I’d step it up a notch. I would take Boott Spur Trail (higher up on Mount Washington’s shoulder and further from Isolation) and Davis Path to Isolation, and return via Davis Path, Glen Boulder Trail and The Direttissima.

I got up at 4am in order to get to the trail by 5am. I had to start in the dark but it afforded plenty of daylight for the massive hike. I got to Pinkham Notch soon after 5am and headed into the section of the lodge that was open 24 hours. I signed into the log book but could not find a place to pay for parking. Knowing that I would be heading back to Pinkham Notch via The Direttissma, I had parked on the far southern end of the parking lot and decided to start the hike without paying. I would straighten things out when I got back if I had to.

I started up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail with my headlamp, almost tripping over the tent of someone camped in the trail. Soon, the Boott Spur Trail diverged left and started to climb through the forest and over boulders. As I got to the first vista the sky had lightened enough to put away my headlamp. I was stunned by the view of the Mount Washington’s massif. I got my first good glimpse of Huntington Ravine, the moon was just starting to set over the top of Boott Spur and morning mists shrouded Mount Washington Observatory from view.

Moonset and morning mists on Washington

Moonset and morning mists on Washington

Further up the Boott Spur Trail I had a view of the Carters across the notch just as the sun rose above their peaks.

Sunrise over Carters

Sunrise over Carters

I came to a spur trail that lead to an amazing vista over both Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines. It was an incredible view of the ravines that I really hadn’t witnessed before. I had done most of my hiking of the Presidential Range from north to south, passing Mount Washington on the west. It had been cloudy when I climbed Wildcat D, and the Carters and Wildcat A hadn’t had a view of Washington. I stood for several minutes just staring at the baffling scenery.

Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines

Tuckerman and Huntington Ravines

As Boott Spur Trail climbed, it got on top of the ridge and opened up views to the south. I could see Glen Boulder perched on the next ridge and beyond it to the valley where North Conway sat. I came upon Split Rock and climbed through it even though the trail stayed to the right.

Split Rock

Split Rock

After Split Rock, the trail turned into a series of steep climbs and plateaus, creating many false summits but providing momentary breaks from the elevation gain. The view back down the trail was spectacular.

Looking back at Boott Spur Trail

Looking back at Boott Spur Trail

At the top of the trail, with Davis Path’s cairns in sight, I rock-hopped off the trail to the top of Boott Spur. To the north I got a crazy view of Tuckerman’s Ravine, Mount Washington and Alpine Garden.

Mount Washington from the peak of Boott Spur

Mount Washington from the peak of Boott Spur

To the south I had another marvelous view: the Southern Presidentials marching down to Crawford Notch.

Southern Presidentials from the peak of Boott Spur

Southern Presidentials from the peak of Boott Spur

I made my way back to Boott Spur Trail and finished off the last hundred feet or so. I turned left down Davis Path and made good time descending toward the Dry River Wilderness. The trail was the typical, amazing Presidential alpine trail; a narrow rocky gash through surrounding scrub on top of an unprotected ridge. I came to the edge of the Dry River Wilderness and then dropped down into the forested mountains below.

Dry River Wilderness

Dry River Wilderness

Davis Path continued on through the forest, where there were many signs of the damage done by tropical storm Irene in August 2011. The trail was narrow and overgrown, showing that not many people travel the route, and in many places I had to duck under pine trees that were leaning over the path. When I came to the intersection with the west branch of the Isolation Trail there was a notice that it was closed from the damaged done by Irene. When I got to the intersection with the east branch of the Isolation Trail there was another warning that the Rocky Branch Trail south of Rocky Branch Shelter #2 was also closed.

It appears that at the end of September 2014 the Dry River Trail and the Isolation Trail have been reopened but are more rugged and harder to follow than previously. I have found no evidence that the Rocky Branch Trail has been reopened at the time of this writing.

A mile after the intersection with the east branch of the Isolation Trail, I came to the spur trail to the summit of Mount Isolation. It was a short climb to the summit and luckily I had an army soldier to point me in the right direction.

Pointing the way to Isolation

Pointing the way to Isolation

Isolation had a clear, ledge-topped summit with an open view of the southern Presidentials. Unfortunately, on that mid-week, early-September day the mountain did not live up to its name. There was a family camping in the trees just beyond the summit. I found Isolation not so isolated. The family had a young boy, 8 years of age I would guess, who followed me around and kept stating: “fine day for a hike, isn’t it?” Indeed it was. We talked for a few minutes before his mother called him back. It turned out that Isolation was his 47th New Hampshire 4000 Footer and his favorite. I didn’t get the chance to ask him which mountain was remaining. I would guess it was Owl’s Head, the other out-of-the-way summit.

View from Mount Isolation

View from Mount Isolation

As the family was packing up their gear, I decided to hit the trail ahead of them. I could have waited for them to leave and have the summit to myself, but it might have turned out to be a long wait. The hike back through the woods went by quickly and I soon found myself climbing up Mount Washington’s shoulder again. I toughed it out and took a break at the intersection with the Glen Boulder Trail.

The upper part of the Glen Boulder Trail would have been inspiring if not for being overshadowed by my hike up Boott Spur Trail that morning. It had some great views but dove into the trees much sooner than Boott Spur. As I headed down the trail I started to run into the day hikers who began their hikes at a normal times. I would start my hike in the dark any day just to beat the crowds to the trail.

I eventually got to Glen Boulder sitting precariously on the edge of the trail. Someone had comically wedged some three-inch-long twigs into the crack between the boulder and the ground, as if they were the only reason it was resting in place.

Glen Boulder

Glen Boulder

I remembered back to my first visit to Glen Boulder. It must have been back in 2000, the year that my wife and I got married. We took a trip up to the White mountains, drove up Pinkham Notch, climbed to Glen Boulder and back, and then looped around the Presidentials, making our way back to Route 302 and back to Maine. It had been the first time in recent memory that I had hiked above treeline. As I stood with my wife next to Glen Boulder and looked at the highway far below I realized that I loved hiking. It was a good decade before that feeling matured into the drive that possesses me to continuously hit the trail today, but on that day it was birthed.

The rest of the hike was a typical White Mountains descent: big, knee-busting steps down boulder-strewn trail. Once Route 16 was in ear-shot I found the junction with The Direttissma. The trail was a narrow one full of pointless ups and downs that followed the highway north for a mile until a parking lot on the south side of the New River, just below the Pinkham Notch parking. I crossed the bridge over to my car, wishing I had known The Direttissma had its own parking lot so I hadn’t worried about parking all day. With that thought I made my way through the buses of camp children and senior citizens to the Visitor Center where I bought a year pass to the White Mountains. I wouldn’t have to worry about parking for a while.

The goal of this hike was three fold: to push myself and see how big of a hike I could do solo; to get one of the more difficult 4000 Footers out of the way; and to get some solitude. All goals were achieved even though I found Isolation to be occupied. Boott Spur Trail ended up being one of my favorite day hikes. The weather was perfect, I didn’t see another soul on the trail and the vistas were phenomenal.

Isolation offered its own form of companionship
—Jhumpa Lahiri

Map of Hike

Map of Hike

Stats:
Highest Elevation: 5500′
Elevation Gain: 5850′
Distance: 13.4 miles
Book Time: 9:35
Actual Time: 7:30
Temperature: 50°s
Weather: sunny
Wind: none

Completed Red-Lining Trails:
Boott Spur Trail
Glen Boulder Trail
The Direttissma

Related posts:
Winter Bushwhack: Mount Isolation – 19 March 2016

References:
2 trials damamged by tropical storm Irene reopen.” seacoastonline.com. Local Media Group, Inc. Web. 5 October 2014.
Hiking Mount Isolation, NH.” home.earthlink.net. EarthLink.net. Web. 29 September 2014.
Hurricane Irene Hammers the Northeast.” weather.com. The Weather Channel, LLC. Web. 5 October 2014.
Recreation Pass Overview.” fs.usda.gov. Forest Service: US Department of Agriculture. Web. 5 October 2014.

Hike: Carter Loop

Date Hiked: 31 May 2014

The planned route was to hike up Nineteen Mile Brook Trail to Carter Notch, take the Carter-Moriah Trail over Carter Dome, Mount Hight, South Carter, Mount Lethe and Middle Carter, descend North Carter Trail to Imp Trail, take the south end of Imp Trail to where is bends right near Cowboy Brook and then bushwhack back to Nineteen Mile Brook Trail and follow it out. Worse case scenario I would wimp out of the bushwhack and hoof it out via Imp Trail and then yellow blaze it back to the parking lot or possibly follow Cowboy Brook to Camp Dodge and yellow blaze from there.

It was the last day of May and I was finally ready to hike my first New England 4000 Footer of the year. I camped overnight at one of the Brook Loop sites at Dolly Copp Campground, just up Route 16 from the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail parking lot, in Pinkham Notch. It was a short drive and nothing was preventing me from starting early. But, the weather was supposed to be overcast until the afternoon, so I wanted to start late to take advantage of the weather. I love the tent sites at Dolly Copp on the Brook Loop. They are set back in the woods and the Culhane Brook runs right behind them. Despite their allure and even though I didn’t want to start hiking until 10am, by 8:30am I had had enough sitting around my campsite and headed for the trail.

I arrived at the parking lot along Route 16 to find it containing a dozen cars. I saw a lady with a dog heading up the highway, presumably to Imp Trail to follow the same loop of the Carters I was planning, but in the opposite direction. I recently listened to a backlog episode of Dirtbag Diaries where they discussed the different types of people you’ll find at trailhead parking lots. There’s the person who can’t decided what gear to bring, the one who wants to tailgate and brag. I happen to be the type who prepared before driving to the parking lot and takes off for the trail as soon as the car is locked. That was what I did.

I hiked Nineteen Mile Brook Trail three different times over the weekend, luckily it was a beautiful trail with an easy to moderate grade. It followed the north side of the Nineteen Mile Brook for about two miles and (at least that time of year) was festooned with slick river rocks and copious amounts of mud and wet leaves. The brook was running hard and I stopped to scramble over some rocks to take a photo. That’s when I discovered that my new Brooks Cascadia 8 trail running shoes that I love so much have absolutely terrible traction on wet surfaces. Both of my feet slipped out from underneath me, I twisted and landed hard on my right hip and started to slide toward the brook. Luckily, I was able to create enough traction with my hands to prevent a cold dip in the brook. I gingerly stood up and took my photo.

Nineteen Mile Brook running hard

Nineteen Mile Brook running hard

1.9 miles up the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail I came to the junction with the Carter Dome Trail. My plan was to continue on the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail to Carter Notch and take the Carter-Moriah Trail to Carter Dome. Standing there at the trail sign it occurred to me that if I took the Carter Dome Trail to Zeta Pass and then on to Carter Dome that I would reduce the amount of trail I would repeat the next day. I could also take the Carter-Moriah Trail via Mount Hight back to Zeta Pass, doing a small loop and preventing repeating trail on the ridge as well.

The only downsides that I could think of were if I got hurt I would be off my planned route, and I hadn’t read any trail reports or descriptions on the Carter Dome trail to know whether or not there were difficult water crossings. I decided that the pros outweighed the cons and headed up Carter Dome Trail.

The Carter Dome Trail turned out to be a pretty moderate jaunt up to Zeta Pass. There were a few water crossings, but like the ones on the Nineteen Mile Brook Trail, they were easily crossed. I really enjoyed one section where the brook split into several tributaries and then came together again. The trail crossed where they separated and re-joined, making its way between several different subsections of the brook.

At Zeta Pass the trail hooked right and climbed easily to Carter Dome. The weather was still overcast, which was a shame because I passed the one location where I would have had a clear view of the northern Presidentials all weekend. Just below the summit of Carter Dome I came across some snow and ice in the trail, but it was of no concern. It was easy to walk over without traction.

Still some snow near Carter Dome

Still some snow near Carter Dome

There were three men at the Carter Dome summit when I got there, the first people I saw since the lady in the parking lot. I greeted them but sat apart as they had stopped talking when I approached and didn’t seem very welcoming. I sat on a rock for a few minutes, eating a Clif Bar and wondering what the deal was with all of the broken Plexiglas on the ground. While sitting there the three men descended toward Carter Notch.

I saw my first bit of blue sky while walking down the Carter-Moriah Trail toward Mount Hight.

Hight, South and Middle Carter peaking out of clouds

Hight, South and Middle Carter peaking out of clouds

Mount Hight was one of the many mountains that were over 4000 feet, but not considered 4000 Footers because of their prominence over surrounding peaks. Basically, if you found the low point below two peaks and there wasn’t a 200 foot climb to the next peak, then it was considered a sub-peak of the other and didn’t qualify for the 4000 Footer list. While Mount Hight wasn’t marked with a red triangle on my map, it was the highlight of the hike.

Mount Hight stood high to the east of the Carter ridge line, towering over the Wild River Wilderness, one of glorious areas in the White Mountains that was highly protected due to its importance as a watershed. The Carter ridge was blocking the encroaching clouds, allowing a clear view into the Wild River Wilderness and the distant mountains to the east and south.

Wild River Wilderness from Mount Hight

Wild River Wilderness from Mount Hight

It was closing on lunch time, so I took the opportunity of a great view and scattered sunshine to take a break from hiking. I switched out my upper layers and laid the wet ones out on rocks to dry. I took off my shoes and socks to allow them to dry as well. I quickly boiled some water with my JetBoil and set some soup to re-hydrate. I sat facing the Wild River and meditated. The only sounds that I could hear were the river a few thousand feet below and the occasional bird tweet. I sat for 40 minutes and enjoyed my lunch and the view, truly appreciating the lack of noise and deadlines, and basked in the solitude. It was one of the many reasons that I hike every opportunity that I get.

Eventually dark clouds started to roll over South Carter and head toward Mount Hight. I re-shoed and dressed and headed down the the Carter-Moriah Trail toward South Carter.

For those that find themselves on the Mount Hight summit, be aware that the trail heads back toward Zeta Pass on the Carter Dome side of it, it doesn’t head directly toward the pass or South Carter, even though it looks like a trail leads in that direction. Luckily I left before the clouds rolled in and was aware of the direction of the trail from my White Mountains guide book.

Soon after I descended Mount Hight it began to rain. I started seeing groups of people on the trail, including the lady I saw leaving the parking lot in the morning. At first her dog scared the crap out of me. I looked up to see a dog standing in front of me with a muzzle on, but for a split second I saw a bear.

She asked if I had a dog, as her dog was not good with other dogs but was fine with humans.

I replied that I did not, held my hand out for the dog to sniff (I imagine it sensed my sudden apprehension at imagining a bear and I wanted it to know I was cool with it) and I asked her if she came up via Imp Trail, mentioning I had seen her as I pulled in to the parking lot. The dog apparently approved of me and started to excitedly rub up against my legs, a behavior I recognized as a request to have its rump scratched.

The lady confirmed that she was hiking the same loop as I and said she hiked in that direction as she was afraid she wouldn’t find that cut-over trail from Imp to Camp Dodge, but it was in fact very hard to miss.

I told her that I was planning on going that way and internally made a note that I wouldn’t have to bushwhack to Nineteen Mile Brook Trail or Camp Dodge as there was apparently a trail.

I continued on to South Carter and Middle Carter. Both were 4000 Footers, but both were also forested summits. On the summit of Middle Carter there was a partial view toward the Wild River Wilderness. There I met a guy from the Boston area who was trying to wrap up his New Hampshire 48 before moving back to California in two weeks. He was on number 43. He had come up Carter Dome Trail like I had, but had headed to South and Middle Carter first. He was heading to Carter Dome and then down to Carter Notch Hut for the night and getting Wildcat A in the morning. Like myself, he had attempted the Wildcats before but had only gotten Wildcat D.

Shortly after Middle Carter was a small peak called Mount Lethe. Its summit was also forested but just beyond it, toward North Carter, it had a view of Mount Madison across Pinkham Notch. The clouds were still clearing, but I still got a sense of the size of Madison and could see Barnes Field campground sitting low on its shoulder and creases in the forest south of the field which were Dolly Copp’s roads and sites.

Madison shaking off the clouds

Madison in the clouds with Barnes Field and Dolly Copp campgrounds below

In the col between Lethe and North Carter was the junction with the North Carter Trail. Since I was all the way up on the ridge and had plenty of daylight I continued on the 0.25 miles to North Carter. It was yet another forested summit, but I got a glimpse of the Presidentials through the trees and saw that the clouds were completely gone. I lectured myself for not taking a break at the view on Mount Lethe and headed down to the North Carter Trail.

North Carter and the southern end of Imp Trail were very wet, in places the trail might as well have been a brook. On North Carter my new shoes’ treads once again failed me. While descending I planted my right foot on a damp rock and the tread failed to hold the pressure from my weight. My leg shot forward and I came down hard, my left knee slammed against the rock I had attempted to step on and I rolled off the trail.

I lay there for a moment in a pile of frustration, pain and cuss words. I slowly stood to assess my knee. My new Columbia pants were torn and blood was starting to seep through the pant leg. It was just an abrasion but my patella felt badly bruised. I said screw it and continued down the trail.

The North Carter intersected with the Imp Trail and I followed it to the left. I eventually got to where I could hear Route 16 ahead and Cowboy Brook to my left. I started to wonder just how obvious the cut-over trail to Camp Dodge was. Assessing my map I decided that a button-hook turn in the trail just ahead was the closest point to Camp Dodge. If I didn’t see the trail there I would pick up the pace and follow the Imp Trail out. Alas, the very obvious side trail appeared, following an old logging road. As the lady said, it was hard to miss.

Along that trail I saw some very fresh moose tracks, but I did not see any other sign of the beast.

Fresh moose tracks

Fresh moose tracks

I finished my hike by walking down the dirt road at Camp Dodge to Route 16 and then yellow blazing it back to the parking lot. I got back to my car at 4:45pm with plenty of daylight remaining. My original plan was to leave at 10am and return by 8:30pm to maximize the clear weather prior to sundown. I didn’t have many views, but I ended up having plenty of time to start a campfire back at Dolly Copp before it got dark.

In all, I enjoyed the hike despite the overcast weather. I didn’t realize that the Carters had so many forested views, but Nineteen Mile Brook Trail was a real nice hike and the Carter-Moriah Trail was interesting with its many ups and down and couple of nice views to the east. Mount Hight was definitely the highlight of the hike for me and would have been even if I had clear views across Pinkham Notch from the other summits. My only disappointment was the traction on my new shoes. I guess in the end it forced me to slow down and be more mindful of my foot placement, which is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately off the trail. Slowing down and being more mindful.

Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.
—Thích Nhất Hạnh

Map of Hike

Map of Hike

Stats:
Elevation: 4832′
Elevation Gain: 3900′
Distance: 15.0 miles
Book Time: 8:15
Actual Time: 7:15
Temperature: 54° F
Wind: 2 mph E
Weather: overcast, showers, scattered sunshine

References:
Appalachian Mountain Club. White Mountain Guide: 28th Edition. Boston: Appalachian Mountain Club Books, 2007. Print.
Brooks Cascadia 8.” brooksrunning.com. Brooks Sports Inc. Web. 05 June 2014.
Camp Dodge Volunteer Center.” outdoors.org. Appalachian Mountain Club. Web. 06 June 2014.
Dolly Copp Campground.” http://www.fs.usda.gov. United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. Web. 04 June 2014.
The Shorts–Parking Lot Players.” dirtbagdiaries.com. The Dirtbag Diaries. Web. 04 June 2014