Strength in Numbers: Breaking Out Mount Isolation

Date of Hike: 12/30/13

Rocky Branch Trail: 3.0 miles  /  Engine Hill Bushwhack: 1.3 miles  /  Isolation Trail: 1.3 miles  /  Davis Path: 1.8 miles /  Isolation Trail: 1.3 miles  /  Engine Hill Bushwhack: 1.3 miles  /  Rocky Branch Trail: 3.0 miles
Total Miles: 13.0 (3,922 feet elevation gained)
Click here for trail descriptions

Trip Report:
- Click here for Matt's blog  /  Click here for Whitney's blog
- Sunday night, a foot plus of snow fell in Pinkham Notch.  Monday, at eight in the morning five crazy hikers (Whitney, Denise, Matt, Kyle, and myself) met at the Rocky Branch Trailhead to break out one of the most remote 4,000 footers, Mount Isolation.
- Hiking Mount Isolation in the winter from the Rocky Branch approach is much nicer than in the other three seasons.  The trail is usually a muddy, rooty, and rocky mess, which even becomes worse once hooking onto the Isolation Trail.  However, in the winter all of the crummy footing is covered up with snow (for the most part) and you get to take a bushwhack through the beautiful Birch glades of the Engine Hill.
- The Engine Hill Bushwhack starts around three miles into the hike at a Pine tree with the letter 'T' carved into it.  The hike into it isn't too exciting, but we had a fun time breaking trail up the old logging roads over the first hill to the height of land.  There were some falls along the way, every once in awhile someone would fall through a couple of feet down to a mud pit or what seemed like a bottomless snow pit.  It was also Denise's first major hike with snowshoes and it took her a couple of miles to get used to not falling back or stepping on herself.  She sure picked one heck of a hike to be introduced to trail-breaking with snowshoes!  Denise picks things up really really fast, so once she got a handle on the snowshoes she started maneuvering through the high snow levels much better.
- when we reached the Engine Hill Bushwhack, Matt took out his GPS and kept us on a good course that took us through the Birch glades.  We did end up going a little bit higher for one spot but it just added to the challenge, and what's a hike without a PUD (pointless up and down) involved!
- The Bushwhack was my favorite part of the hike, the glades are beautiful and is worth a trip to go check out even if you have no intentions of summiting.
- The bushwhack is just under a mile and a half as it heads along a slight side hill of the Engine Hill.  It comes out along the Isolation Trail a few tenths of a mile before a 'triple threat' of water crossings.  The first two are sometimes bypassed but they were snow bridged and we made it across without any issues.
- After the last crossing the trail winds through the woods then heads along a minor ridge through a pencil shaped pine grove forest before winding over to the junction of the Davis Path.  The going was slow with some blowdowns along the way and to stay fresh we all took turns breaking trail.  There were some nasty spots with hidden mud beneath a foot of snow and to avoid a muddy, icy, snowy build up on the snowshoes you'd have to kick a tree to knock it off.
-  Once we reached the Davis Path we only had a mile left to the summit.  I was getting a little chilled so I took the lead and broke trail with the others behind me finishing it off as we trudged our way to the summit.
- Conditions on top of the exposed summit were pretty brutal!  The views were very good, although the Presidential Range was in the clouds but there were really nice views to the northeast.  With the temperature in the low teens and a constant 30 mph wind with gusts in the 40's we snapped a few pics and headed back into the woods to warm up.
- Once out of the wind I took off for the car as my feet had frozen up and needed to lose elevation at a good speed to generate warmth.  The hike out went quickly, I made it across all the three snow bridges with no issues, enjoyed the birch glades on the bushwhack again, even though I was cursing out the extra PUD at this point.  Every once in awhile I'd crash through the snow but for the most part is was a quick and pleasant hike out.
- I made it to the car just before darkness came creeping in and waited for the others who showed up with headlamps on just after five or so.  It was a chilly parking lot so we all loaded the cars with gear and Whitney, Kyle, and myself went to the Red Fox to warm up, have some drinks, and stuff our faces with yummy food.
- It was a great hike of Mount Isolation with great company!
- Congratulations to Matt for finishing the 48 - 4,000 footers for the second consecutive calendar year!

 A 'Widow Maker' on the lower end of the Rocky Branch Trail
The gang breaking the trail 
 The Rocky Branch Trail slowly winds its way up the side of a hill
 Breaking the trail out
 Looking back at the broken out trail
 After going up the hill, the trail levels out for awhile
 Breaking out the Rocky Branch Trail
 Nicely broken out trail
 Wilderness Boundary is reach around 2.5 miles in
 After the wilderness boundary the trail heads to the height of land
 The Rocky Branch Trail descends to the left, the Engine Hill Bushwhack starts here to the right
 Entering the Birch Glades
 Engine Hill has some of the most beautiful open glades in the White Mountains!
 Breaking Trail through this was tiring because of the snow depths but not too difficult.
 Untouched snow!
 Taking a break in the glades
 There are a few waves of Birch glades the whack travels through
 The sun was in a constant battle with the clouds in the morning, the sun eventually won!
 Broken out!
 Denise makes her way up the Isolation Trail
 Crossing #1 of the day
 Crossing #2 of the day
 Unbroken Isolation trail just after our second crossing
 Crossing #3 of the day
 Denise takes charge of breaking trail
 Kyle takes the lead as we gain the ridge
 Slowly making our way to the Davis Path
 Beware of Widow Makers!
 Kyle getting his crawl on!
Tentsite along the Isolation Trail 
 Isolation / Davis Path Trail Junction
 Bright sun shining over the Davis Path
 Winter Wonderland
 Heading through the woods on the way to Mount Isolation
 Denise stomping down the snow
 Denise makes the final push towards the summit
 Just below the open summit
 Into the high winds, notice the snow and ice flying around
 Top of the Isolation Spur
 Mount Isolation's Summit Cairn
 Clouded in Presidential Range
 Looking toward North Isolation
 Wildcat / Carter Range
 Denise and Whitney make it to the summit
 Whitney celebrates before getting knocked over by the wind!
 Summit area
 Matt, Denise, and Kyle
 Whitney, Matt, Denise
 Back into the glades on the descent
 What a great place to hike through!
 Looking toward Stairs Mountain
 Last wave of the glades
 Rocky Branch Trail left, ski trail right
 Back at the big widow maker
Finished!  The Jeep will be March sometime!


  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you! On Tuesday, our group of six really appreciated the fantastic job your group did breaking out the trail. Most of our group didn't know it was broke until Tues. morning, and we were all just thrilled to find out our hike would be way easier. It was especially nice since Greg YEAH! finished his winter 48 list, and we were only able to break the first five miles on his attempt to finish last year. BTW, we found a pair of heavy mitts and a shirt in the parking lot, if any of your party is missing them, let me know; Greg has them and we'll figure out how to get them back to the owner.

    1. Congrats to Greg YEAH! for his finish, that is a great accomplishment. Glad you guys had a great hike of Isolation. I'll let the other know about the missing items, if they do I'll get in touch with you.

      Have a great winter on the trails summerset! :)


  2. Thanks, Chris - looks like you've had a great beginning to winter already, yourself. They are sorting out getting the missing items back. Happy Trails!

  3. Nice job on the photos. I wonder if it would be worth skinning up to those birch glades...

    1. You definitely could! I actually went back with another group yesterday and conditions are still very good. However, with today's warmer weather and mixed precipitation it could make things sub-par until another few inches falls on top of it. Enjoy!