I 2 O : Isolation to Owl's Head . . . In a Day

Date of Hike: 6/6/15

Glen Boulder Trail: 2.8 miles  /  Davis Path: 11.3 miles  /  Notchland Inn Trail: 1.0 miles  /  Nancy Pond Trail:  6.0 miles  /  Carrigain Notch Trail: 1.5 miles  /  Wilderness Trail: 3.5 miles  /  Abandoned Wilderness Trail: 0.5 miles  /  Bondcliff Trail: 1.5 miles /  Franconia Brook Trail:  1.6 miles  /  Lincoln Brook Trail: 3.3 miles  /  Owl's Head Path: 2.2 miles  /   Lincoln Brook Trail: 3.3 miles  /  Franconia Brook Trail: 1.6 miles  /  Lincoln Woods Trail: 3.0 miles
Total Miles: 43.1 (10,050 feet elevation gained)

Trip Report:
- If you ask people who hike year round what their favorite season to hike in is, a majority will tell you winter.  There are many reasons for this; trails are less crowded, the snow makes for beautiful scenery and crystal clear views, the footing is easier when the rocks, roots, and mud are buried beneath snow, and finally there are no bugs!  As for me, I'm the oddball, I prefer the summer. The long days and hot temps translate to big miles exploring on and off trail from sunrise to sunset.  As much as I love hiking in the winter, after about a month of freezing my digits off I start dreaming of warm weather, so much so I get out my maps and piece together crazy routes for long and unique 'Endurance' hikes/runs.
- A few winters back (2013) while daydreaming of summer hiking I came up with the idea of combining the two most remote four thousand foot peaks in New Hampshire, Isolation and Owl's Head.  The route immediately popped out to me and as I added up the miles I figured it could definitely be done.  Over the past two summers I kept it in my back pocket but never got around to doing it.  When I started picking off Grid peaks at the beginning of this year I figured I'd save this hike for June of 2016 or 2017 as my Grid finish with Iso and Owlie being peaks #575 & 576.  However, for personal reasons it became apparent that the time to tackle this monster was immediately.
- Luckily, the weather on Saturday was for clearing skies, temps in the 60's, and a nice stiff breeze to keep the bugs at bay.  On Friday, Whitney and I drove over to Lincoln Woods to spot the Jeep, then on Saturday, Whitney drove me to Glen Ellis Falls trailhead for a 5 a.m. start time.  I can't thank Whitney enough, she helped spot my car, then worked until midnight, got up at 4 a.m., drove me to Pinkham Notch, and then had to work at 10 a.m.  How awesome and accommodating is that!!
- When I first thought of this hike I knew immediately I wanted to hike up Glen Boulder at the start.  It's a more attractive approach than the Rocky Branch ascent.  The Glen Boulder trail gets above treeline relatively quickly and has no river crossings.  The interesting thing about this trail was I'd actually being getting to my highest point in elevation all day very early in my hike around the three mile mark where the Glen Boulder Trail meets the Davis Path at 5,000 feet.  My two destinations for the day, Isolation and Owl's Head, are barely above 4,000 feet.
- The weather was pretty crummy in the morning, it had rained the night before, not much, but in the mountains all that is needed is a few small showers to saturate the rocks, roots, trees, and leaves.  The good news was it was very mild out, mid 50's to start, so even though I got wet pretty quickly I was never too uncomfortable.
-  The Glen Boulder Trail is pretty steep below treeline and has some rough footing below treeline .  As I hiked up I almost walked into two moose, a mom and its cow, both looked very healthy which made me happy since this looks like a year of the 'ghost moose'  where a certain kind of tick infect moose and they die.  The moose saw me and immediately booked it off trail, unfortunately I wasn't able to snap a picture of the two before they bolted.
- Once I broke above treeline and gained the ridge I was greeted with mostly cloudy skies and it would stay this way until noonish.  When I hooked onto the Davis Path I started the 2.5 mile jog over to Isolation, it's a pretty easy hike grade wise but the footing is all over the place, some sections are ok while others are a complete muddy mess with rotted bog bridges.  I made good time over to the summit of Isolation where I snapped a few pics and refueled before continuing south.
- From Isolation I had about a nine mile hike/run to Route 302.  The trail is a mixed bag from the summit of Mount Isolation to the Stairs Col.  There are some decent sections where the path has solid dirt and is not too narrow, but half the time the trail is a muddy mess, very narrow and overgrown.  There are two spots in shallow cols north of Stairs Mountain and south of Mount Davis where the trail is a head scratcher, it's a mud pit with a few herd paths and foot prints heading in the wrong direction.  I am so happy I had hiked this trail before or I would have gotten lost for a bit.
- I was able to make decent time between Isolation and Stairs, and shortly after the Stairs Col the trail improved dramatically, by the time I passed Mount Crawford the trail had already dried out and by the time I reached Route 302 my clothes which had been soaked since mile twoish had dried out as well.
- I made it to the southern terminus of the Davis Path just after 9 a.m., I filtered water from the Saco River and ate some food before starting the next part of my hike, seven miles up and over Nancy Cascade, and Nancy and Norcross Ponds.
-  From the Davis Path trailhead, I crossed Route 302, walked a few hundred feet up Notchland Road past the beautiful Notchland Inn, where I picked up the Notchland Trail for a half mile to the Nancy Pond Trail.  The trail starts off along and old logging road, which I enjoy as it heads past the remnants of the old Lucy Mill.  Soon after the mill there is a Hurricane Irene reroute which I do not enjoy, whoever came up with this reroute has a real sick sense of humor, it meanders up a steep embankment and drops back down, the definition of a PUD (pointless up and down)!  The real gem of the lower section of the Nancy Pond Trail is the Nancy Cascade, where water rushes down a hundred plus foot rockface into a pool of water.  After passing by the cascade the trail rises steeply for a half mile before leveling out as it makes its way past Nancy and Norcross Pond and reaches the boundary of the Pemigewasset Wilderness.
- At the far end of Norcross Pond is an outlet with an amazing view down into the Pemi Wilderness, the clouds where finally blowing off and I could see the vast forest beneath me stretching for miles and miles, exactly in the direction I was heading.
- Now is where the fun running begins!  The next few miles has some of the softest footing in the White Mountains and the grade is perfect for running at whatever speed is most comfortable for a runner.  The old logging road passes through pine, birch, and other hardwood trees.  Through this section there is usually an abundance of moose poop every few hundred feet but today there were no moose to be seen.  The trail crosses Nancy and Anderson Brooks, travels through old Camp 19, and onto an overgrown railroad grade until it ends at the Carrigain Notch Trail.  Just like the Nancy Pond Trail, the Carrigain Notch Trail is an easy and enjoyable hike over flat terrain with great footing.  It heads past the site of the old Desolation shelter before descending slightly for another mile to it's end at Stillwater Junction, one of the most remote spots in the Pemi Wilderness.
- At Stillwater junction I hiked along the Wilderness Trail.  This trail does not see much use, it's four miles long but used to be around ten miles long, the Lincoln Woods and lower end of the Bondcliff Trail have taken over five miles of what used to be the the Wilderness Trail starting from the Kancamagus Highway, then another mile of the trail was closed/abandoned when the suspension bridge over the east branch was removed in 2010.  Still, the four miles that remains travels through history over what once was the old East Branch Railroad, it passes by an old trestle foundation on its way to camp 18.  If you looks closely off trail there are all sorts of old rusted railroad artifacts and some odd 'appliance' left behind, like an oven!
- I hiked almost to the end of the Wilderness Trail before stepping off trail and crossing the East Branch where the old suspension bridge was.  The water was not low enough where I could rock hop easily across, I had to jump in and walk up to my waist in water for a few feet but the current was not strong and the water felt refreshing.  I took a break on the banks of the muddy river to filter water and eat.  The sun was shining and the day was turning out to be perfect, I worried about this crossing going into the hike but it ended up being a big non-issue.  The old spot of the former bridge is a pretty cool place, it's just off the trail and I recommend checking it out if you're ever out there.
- After relaxing I headed up the river bank and onto the closed/abandoned Wilderness Trail for just over half a mile.  The old trail is still very easy to follow and other than a few small blowdowns here and there looks exactly the same as it did five years ago.  The abandoned section ends just after passing under the Black Brook Trestle, which is still standing solidly even though it was built about one hundred years ago.  It's quite the sight and was magnificently built.  You can't walk on it but it's not going anywhere for a long time, it's taken on hurricanes, storms, and yearly snow melts and just keeps on standing!
- Now was the gut check time part of the hike for me.  I was on familiar trails, which I've been on dozens of times, so there wasn't too much excitement that laid ahead of me for the next seven miles to the bottom of Owl's Head slide.  I literally put my head down and walked at a quick pace over the lower end of the Bondcliff Trail, banged a right onto the Franconia Brook Trail where I made may way past two brook crossings where I just walked through the water.  After a mile and a half I took a sharp left onto the Lincoln Brook Trail, which has two big fun water crossings.  As I made it to each crossing I just stepped on submerges rocks or walked through the river while other hikers looked at me like I had five heads as they were trying to figure out a way to stay dry up and down stream.  I always find this comical and want to say, "jump on in the water is refreshing."
- Up until this point I had only seen a few people, early in the morning at the south end of the Davis Path, now I was running into hikers ever couple of minutes, all telling me I was almost there!
- Before I started up the Owl's Head Path I took a break to gather my strength for the steep mile up to the summit.  I made sure to take my time going up so I could be fresh for the nine mile hike back to Lincoln Woods, even if I wanted to push the pace I think I would not have been able to go quicker than the pace I was at, I was pretty tired.  That slide is steep and when you enter back into the woods above the slide it remains unrelenting, and without the awesome views that you get from the slide the in the woods part above Owl's Head slide is a sufferfest!
- Once I gained the ridge and headed over to the official summit, the hardest part of the hike was behind me, I was sore but knew the hike was virtually over.  At the summit I ran into two backpackers, they were going to spend the night at Thirteen Falls before heading up and around the Twin-Guyot-Bonds where one of them was finishing his 48!
-  I had not been on Owl's Head in snow free conditions in almost two years so it was nice to relax on the sleeping not-so-giant in the middle of the Pemi.  I have a soft spot for Owlie, most hikers tell horror stories about it but it's really not a bad hike, there's plenty of history that surrounds this lump of a mountain.
- Now it was time to head to the car.  I made good time back down the slide and I was able to trail run most of the Lincoln Brook Trail, but once I got back on the Franconia Brook Trail I was zapped running wise, I just couldn't jog/run anymore.  I still walked at a very quick pace back to the Wilderness boundary, across the Franconia Brook foot bridge, and along the Lincoln Woods Trail.  Once I passed the Osseo Trail junction I looked at my GPS watch and when I knew I only had a mile to go I full out ran covering it in less than eight minutes.  It's funny how you can will yourself to do almost anything when you know you are so close to the finish!  At the very end I caught up with a Pemi Looper and afterwords we talked about our long hike/runs.  He did the loop with his dog which is pretty bad ass!
- When I crossed the suspension bridge I stopped my watch and was ecstatic, I covered 43 miles in 12 hours and 45 minutes.  I have done longer miles and tougher hikes but this one had a special meaning and might just be my most satisfying hike/run to date.  It was a unique route I put together that has some very random, remote, and lightly used trails which I am grateful I was able to experience over the course of a day.  I am very blessed to have the strength to pull these types of hikes off and some day when I can't cover as much ground in a day I look forward to coming back to backpack the route over a few days!

Started my hike off at Glen Ellis Falls Trailhead in Pinkham Notch via the Glen Boulder Trail.  The trail is rough and steep in spots.  Below treeline it has a nice little cascade that it passes by.

 The Glen Boulder Trail makes it up to treeline in a relatively short distance where the main attraction, the Glen Boulder, comes into view.

 There's a nice 'lawn' the upper Glen Boulder and Davis Path travels through.  Reminds me of Bigalow and Monticello lawns, and the Franklin Flats.

 After a half mile above treeline it was back into the soggy woods...where there was one stretch of snow.  It's like a monster from a horror movie that just will not die!

 Summit of Mount Isolation

 The Davis Path was a mix of mud pits, nice dry packed dirt, and narrow and scratchy trail.

 The trail conditions improve dramatically just north of Mount Crawford.  I always take a picture at the bottom spot.  It's slab with a nice little mossy path snaking in and out of it.

 Heading towards the Saco River

 The suspension bridge that sits above the Saco River.  It's not crooked, that's just a bad job snapping a pic by me!

Next I crossed Route 302 and headed up Notchland Road.

 I made my way past the Inn and hooked onto the trail to Nancy Pond Trail, saving me a mile plus of road/trail hiking.

 The path from the Inn pops out at the WMNF boundary.  It passes over Nancy Brook which was easy to cross.

 The lower end of the Nancy Pond Trail is over a nice old logging road.

 It passes by some 'trail junk' and the old Lucy Mill.

 After a 'PUD' the trail makes its way to the beautiful Nancy Cascade.

 The trail rises steeply to the left of the cascade until leveling out as it heads through a thick Pine forest.

 Nancy Pond on top, Norcross Pond on bottom.

 View from the outlet at the edge of Norcross Pond.  I'm looking down into the Pemigewasset Wilderness, my next part of my hike!

 The Nancy Pond Trail descends at a nice grade with excellent footing from Norcross pond to the floor of the Pemi.

 A few very pleasant water crossings of the Nancy Brook Trail.  I believe the one on top could be the beginning of the East Branch and the one on the bottom is Anderson Brook.  The trail also crosses Nancy Brook before these two.

 What I enjoy about the trails in the Pemi is it passes by old campsites.  This was Camp 19, the trail gets really narrow here but still easy to follow.

 The Nancy Pond and Carrigain Notch trails travel over old railroad grades.

 After a mile and a half on the Carrigain Notch Trail it ends at Stillwater Junction.  Shoal pond Trail heads right and across the East Branch, I take a right onto the Wilderness Trail.

 The Wilderness Trail passes by Camp 18, and old trestle foundation, and an oven of all things!

 Towards the end of the Wilderness Trail I hop off and head to the old suspension bridge crossing.

 There's a sign warning hikers to plan accordingly (this sign is located at the Wilderness boundary at the end of the Lincoln Woods Trail).

 Looking at an old trestle foundation from years past as I try and find a place to cross.

 After crossing the East Branch I hook onto the abandoned / closed section of the Wilderness Trail to the Black Brook trestle.

 Masterfully built in the early 20th century!

 A close up of the beams that hold this up.

 After crossing the Black Brook I take the lower end of the Bondcliff Trail (used to be called the Wilderness Trail) over to the Franconia Brook Trail.

More hiking along railroad grades and river crossings on the Franconia Brook Trail

 After a mile and a half I bang a left onto the Lincoln Brook Trail where I make more water crossings!

 The Lincoln Brook Trail was pretty muddy on this day!

 After 3.5 miles I head up the Owl's Head Slide

 Great views from the steep slide

 Franconia Ridge and the Lincoln Slide

 Summit of Owl's Head!

 On the hike out I make my way out of the Pemigewasset Wilderness as I cross over the Franconia Brook footbridge

 The Lincoln Woods Trail is a nice three mile flat walk back to the trailhead.  It passes by Camp 8 just over a mile from the end.

 The old railroad grade is very visible on the hike out


 Signs I spotted along the Glen Boulder and Davis Paths

 Signs spotted from Route 302 to Stillwater Junction

 Signs spotted from Stillwater Junction to Owl's Head

 The two Wilderness areas I hiked through.

 Flowers spotted along the way.  I have no idea what the names are but they were pretty.

 Route for the day, click here for details

 Hiking data



  1. Wow - I wouldn't have ever thought someone would try to tackle Owl's Head and Isolation in the same trek, same day. That's a first that I've seen! Great pics and story as usual. The trail sign collage is a great idea and very cool to see. Nice trip!


    1. Thanks, Karl! I always like taking pictures of trail signs and the collage ends up being a great way of getting them into the blog post without taking up a bunch of room.

  2. Oh my oh my!!! Has this route ever been done in a day before?? Thanks for the write up, very interesting and the pictures are the icing on the cake, very well pout together! Congratulations

    1. Do not know if it's ever been done before in one day, but I sure had a blast doing it. Glad you liked the pictures and report, Dave. :)

  3. I am continually impressed with your hiking ability. This hike just shows why. Congrats on what looks like a great hike.

    1. Thanks, Adam! Hope you have a great summer exploring the mountains!

  4. HOLY S#$T! Chris! It would take me a week! Very appropriate attire for the Owl's Head summit shot! God bless Whitney for the car spot. Great sign collage! Beckie

    1. Thank you, Beckie!!! Whitney is the best for driving me around! Hope you have some fun hikes planned this summer. :)

  5. Wow! I am equally impressed. Your post on you Pemi Loop last year inspired me to plan one this year (in two weeks), though I won't be completing it as fast as you. (my goal is 12 hrs). If I succeed, I may have to add this to my bucket list.

    and i'm also equally amazed by the fantastic weather you have on your trips! cheers!

    1. Enjoy your Pemi Loop, It's one of my favorite hikes to do and is really cool to look back from Bondcliff or the Osseo Trail downlook to see where you were way back early in the morning! Hope you get nice weather and take lots of pictures along the way :)

  6. Chris, what an out-of-the-box way to meld two distant yet congruent Grid peaks, some redline paths less traveled, and some true river crossing grit into a really unique and satisfying mega-hike -- congrats, and thanks for the time you devote to documenting and sharing your experiences! Alex

    1. Thanks, Alex!

      I had a great time covering all those miles in a day over less traveled paths deep in the Pemi, which are some of my favorite places to hike through because of its solitude and railroad logging history.

      Hope you have a great summer hiking!

  7. A hike for the ages. Simply incredible. Thank you for posting.

    1. Thanks, Jamie. It was definitely one of my favorite hikes to date, the planning out a route and then being able to execute it on one day was very satisfying :)

      Have a great summer on the trails!

  8. Nice one! I'm gonna be down there 2 weeks, maybe I'll see you on the trails.

    1. Thanks, Josh! Hope you get in a fun hike with great weather. If you see me make sure you stop me and introduce yourself!

  9. You truly are a machine! Reading your post makes me wanna solo hike on the pemi loop. I wish the whites weren't a six hour drive though.

    1. Thanks, anonymous! Six hour drive is a long haul, hopefully you can find some adventure in the woods near you where you can push yourself physically that is just as rewarding as a solo pemi loop!