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View Full Version : How to hike Isolation in winter.



Squintyken
01-29-2007, 11:40 AM
(This is my first time starting a thread, FWIW)

I have many specific questions about hiking Isolation in winter and would greatly appreciate any shared experience and wisdom!

First off, to plan my recent attempt, which is posted on trail conditions, I read these threads (and several others):

showthread.php?t=13873; t=5572; t=14491; t=13557
( which led me to this: http://www.voy.com/76694/19.html
and this: http://hikenh.netfirms.com/PDIsolat.htm )

for my questions, I guess it’s easiest to refer to the map on this page:
http://hikenh.netfirms.com/XIsolat.htm
for Bushwacks “D” (bearing 316 cutoff)
“E” / North Col
“F” / South Col

Main problem:
The blowdowns across Davis Path near that North Col are discouraging to say the least. [N44 13.247 W71 18.425 which is 0.3 to 0.2 miles north of the Col (and 0.5 to 0.4 North of Isolation)]

The size and number of blowdowns I saw there makes me wonder if there are more of them along the Davis Path.


Question #1: If I saw large and numerous blowdowns along 0.2 miles worth of Davis Path, does it stand to reason that there are quite a few more blowdowns, randomly distributed, both North and South of Isolation?

Q2: If the blowdowns render the Davis Path every bit as difficult as the bushwack getting to the Davis Path, how about Bushwacking straight to Isolation? Anyone done that?

Q3: Bushwack F / South Col is described as “somewhat thicker with some steeper sections than" E/ North Col. Has anyone done both? Any reason to expect fewer blowdowns on the southern part of Davis Path than the north?

One idea I’ve had was to start with the Glen Boulder trail so that by the time I arrive at blowdowns along the Davis Path I might feel more “fresh”.

Q4: what is the Glen Boulder trail like in Winter? If the exposed steep portions of Glen Boulder trail pictured here: http://www.kedsbackpacking.ca/x2x1151.html
(esp. the Danny et Genvieve photo) are glazed over, that almost looks like an ice climb, not a hike!

Concerns: #1 turn-around-time and #2 injuries while bushwacking.

I noticed that Spider solo completed a winter bushwack to Isolation in 14 hours and DougPaul in 14.5 hours. I feel confident starting hikes which I know should take around 12 hours – on trails. I have hiked 14 hours in one day, and I believe I could if I had to.

My body tells me that a 10 hour bushwack feels like a 14 hour hike on trails… so a 14 hour bushwack…?

(Background: I completed the NE100 highest in warmer seasons, most of them solo. I’ve soloed about 33 of the NH4K in winter. Heck, Washington and Monroe were a lot easier than Isolation!)

But I’m not sure I would start a hike which is principally a Bushwack if I knew it would be 14 hours. FYI – I do carry enough to stay overnight on every hike.

Q5: how do you set your turn around time?

Q5B: for those of you who do solo bushwack for 14 hours, do you also run ultra-marathons? (no, really, I want to know).

Q6: what if you get injured on a bushwack?

I can already hear someone (like Mohammed) say: “for one thing, do not solo bushwack in winter…”

Seriously, during one of my rest-stops while bushwacking I wondered about falling and impaling oneself on some broken branches or breaking a leg. While re-fueling on cheese, crackers, beef jerkey and warm Gatorade (calories and more calories, yay!) it seemed to me very unlikely that Search-and-Rescue people could find me, let alone carry me out from N44 13.264 W71 18.196.

You know what I’m talking about: Spruce and saplings with the thickness and spacing reminiscent of prison bars!

Q7: are you guys crazy?

Oh wait, let me rephrase that:

Q8: are We crazy?

I look forward to your replies!

DougPaul
01-29-2007, 12:51 PM
Question #1: If I saw large and numerous blowdowns along 0.2 miles worth of Davis Path, does it stand to reason that there are quite a few more blowdowns, randomly distributed, both North and South of Isolation?
I didn't have any problems with blowdowns.


Q2: If the blowdowns render the Davis Path every bit as difficult as the bushwack getting to the Davis Path, how about Bushwacking straight to Isolation? Anyone done that?
In my case, the Davis Path was blocked by some deep drifts. I also lost it close to Isolation--it was obvious where the peak was. (Spider bushwacked around to the west to reach the summit, I turned back because it was late.)


Q3: Bushwack F / South Col is described as “somewhat thicker with some steeper sections than" E/ North Col. Has anyone done both? Any reason to expect fewer blowdowns on the southern part of Davis Path than the north?
I only did something similar to D+E. (Details were in my report.) Spider went up the same way and came down something similar to F.


One idea I’ve had was to start with the Glen Boulder trail so that by the time I arrive at blowdowns along the Davis Path I might feel more “fresh”.
Most of my route was in relatively open woods. It was rather thick spruce as I crested the slope and on the ridgetop just before Davis Path. Davis Path was easy to travel in most places.


I noticed that Spider solo completed a winter bushwack to Isolation in 14 hours and DougPaul in 14.5 hours. I feel confident starting hikes which I know should take around 12 hours – on trails. I have hiked 14 hours in one day, and I believe I could if I had to.
I was out of shape and my quads failed on the final downhill from Engine Hill to the trailhead, slowing my return significantly. Had I been in decent shape, I would have returned significantly sooner. Spider also had a few delays--I'll let him tell you about them himself.


My body tells me that a 10 hour bushwack feels like a 14 hour hike on trails… so a 14 hour bushwack…?
Most of my bushwack was pretty easy, except for a few spots and a nasty spruce trap or two... The beginning and ending is on trail and if you are returning via your ingress bushwack, you know what lies ahead.


Q5: how do you set your turn around time?
My turn-around was set by my desire to be back on safe terrain by dark. In this case, I wanted to cross back over Rocky Branch by dark. Since I was mostly backtracking, navigation on the return was not an issue. (And I had a GPS.)


Q5B: for those of you who do solo bushwack for 14 hours, do you also run ultra-marathons? (no, really, I want to know).
No. As I said, I wasn't in very good shape. And I carried a heavyish pack. 22-25lbs?


Q6: what if you get injured on a bushwack?
You should assume that you are on your own. Be careful. Bring a cellphone (reception is likely to be poor in the valley)/ham radio walkie talkie (license required, 2M repeater on Mt Wash)/PLB if you wish.


Q7: are you guys crazy?
Perhaps. But we had fun.

We had deep snow with a relatively firm surface. This made for easy travel, but also included a spruce trap or two or three... (My best was chest deep--one step off the Davis path.) If you go soon, you shouldn't have any issues with deep snow.

Doug

WildPeaks
01-29-2007, 01:03 PM
Hey Squintyken,

I can possibly get you started.
To Q6, been called worse!

2 years ago I had the time of my life attemting to bag Isolation in the winter. There were many in the group the first 2 times & a lot of new fallen snow as well. (3'-4' in spots, no bull). There were some in the group the first 2 tries that wanted to turn around that I didn't agree with, but when you are in a group, it's a group thing, period. Unless you can divide up & all agree.
It was tough turning around after all that work both trips.
On the 3rd & successful trip, there were only 4 of us plus about three other groups as well that arrived up top about the same time.
Therefore, with that said, in some ways you have a better chance of making it to the summit with fewer people. Some may not agree. But I don't solo, so I won't comment on that.
Spyder back then did, & we exchanged info in between attempts.
After our second try, a Sat. He picked up from there & took it very close early the next week & finishes Thur. of the same week. we went back the following Sat. & finished as well.
It was frustrating not making it the first 2 times, when we could have, but it was so sweet getting it on the last day of winter.
There was no snow that year til around Feb.11th & then we got nailed. I was pulled out of & pulled people out of numerous spruce traps, especially on Davis Path. Not much in the way of blowdowns from what I recall.

On another note, my brother & his friends split up into two groups of 4 & he went up the Glen Boulder Trail while the other went the Rocky Branch way.

I can send you a copy of the proposed trip & the actual tracks we took.
And to answer one of the questions, we did actually walk "straight off" Isolation upon exiting, (Thanks to Spyders' trip 2 days prior) It was thicker than thick, but got us down quicker.
I actually liked the first trip the best, which you can see took us to an exposed shoulder on the northeast side of Davis, just south of Isolation.
Some day will do that again!
Hope that helps, and let me know if you want the map.
If you solo, bring a shovel to get out of the spruce traps, oh & extra batts for the headlamp.

RoySwkr
01-29-2007, 01:36 PM
Q2: If the blowdowns render the Davis Path every bit as difficult as the bushwack getting to the Davis Path, how about Bushwacking straight to Isolation? Anyone done that?

I looked at it going downhill once and it looked good but I decided not to risk it


Q3: Bushwack F / South Col is described as “somewhat thicker with some steeper sections than" E/ North Col. Has anyone done both? Any reason to expect fewer blowdowns on the southern part of Davis Path than the north?

Yes, twice each in winter, I'd say E is easier in heavy breaking and F in little snow

Can't say about blowdowns but N part is more likely to have been broken in the past if you want a little help finding the trail


Q4: what is the Glen Boulder trail like in Winter? If the exposed steep portions of Glen Boulder trail pictured here:

If you follow the trail the whole way, you are into serious exposure near Boott Spur which means full above-treeline gear and good weather whereas other routes can be done in worse conditions (one day I got frost nip in the birches on RB Trail, could never have made it over GB.



Q5: how do you set your turn around time?

Like any other hike, you will probably go twice as fast on the broken trail so you can include that or not. One winter day I was nearing the road at twilight and met "Cateyes" who was just starting his in-the-dark ascent of Isolation.



Q5B: for those of you who do solo bushwack for 14 hours, do you also run ultra-marathons? (no, really, I want to know).

Isolation runs more like 10 hours for me although I've done 14-hour Bonds bushwhacks. I've never done either of these solo in calendar winter but I've done both solo with snow on the ground. This proves I am not a marathon runner or I'd be out much sooner :-)



Q6: what if you get injured on a bushwack?

Like if you get injured on a trail, in winter the rescuers can follow your tracks :-)

Interestingly, the one time I tested a cell phone on that hike I got no coverage at the summit although Washington was plainly visible, but did down on Rocky Branch



Q8: are We crazy?

There is a separate topic on what the public thinks of hikers

SherpaKroto
01-29-2007, 01:38 PM
Advice I have is start the first bushwhack a lot earlier at the obvious point just after the height of land, just shy of 3200 feet as you start to drop. That takes you through mostly open hardwoods. Cross a bit north of where "E" starts on your map to avoid the swampy area where the brook comes in. The stream crossing was not too bad. Slowly cheat toward the brook as it gets steeper, but keep it ~150 feet or so to your left. Watch for some ledges about 3/4 through this second section of the whack and stay left of them (you'll see them). It was only thick spruce for about 300 feet before hitting the Davis Path. That was 4 years ago, but shouldn't have changed much.

Then again, you could do what about 50 others did after our trip: watch when someone does it, and then follow their tracks the next day ;)

I've attached a rough map that we used. Four of us broke out the first mile the night before this trip (it wasn't winter yet). That made it a lot easier for everyone when we met at the trailhead the next morning to start the actual hike!

DougPaul
01-29-2007, 02:51 PM
I followed peakbagger's route described in http://www.voy.com/76694/19.html, which is similar, but not identical, to D+E. (Peakbagger's D-like section is higher and the E-like section stays farther N of the stream, particularly down low.)

SK's map looks like they followed the same route.

Doug

albee
01-29-2007, 03:01 PM
I did Isolation in winter the easy way - back at the end of December when there was less than 6" of snow on the ground. I was up and back from Rocky Branch/Rt 16 in under 5 hours!

The Engine Hill bushwhack (D) is quite easy and should have tracks that you can follow. Can't really get lost here on the way out, as you will eventually hit the brook and the trail whether you aim too high or too low. Going back is another story as I lost 5 minutes by aiming high and missing the trail at first. Corrected myself once I started getting views above the trees of S. Engine Hill - I had started contouring around to the east!

I ddn't see any tough blowdowns on the DP a month ago, but I guess that could have changed. I'd most likely stick to the Isolation Trail and Davis Path since they aren't that hard to follow. I was originally going to try one of the E or F bushwhacks but then I figured I would just get Isolation bagged in winter first while it was easy before I tried to get fancy about it. Bushwhacking is strangely addictive, but that doesn't make you crazy... just "different". ;)

Not sure how much snow is up there, but aside from a few drifts, I haven't run into anything deeper than 12 inches anywhere in the Whites. Good luck!

forestgnome
01-29-2007, 07:02 PM
I would just hike the trails all the way from Rt 16. The trails are completely packed all the way. The bushwacking I've done in the area makes me think it would be very slow traveling in the heavy spruce areas due to lack of snow.

As you can see in my avatar picture, the snow is not deep at all. I was bushwacking the area on Saturday without snowshoes in 4" to 6" of crusty, dry snow.

Contact MTRUNR, a VFTT member from Vermont, for trail conditions. I met him at the parking lot after the hike. He went all the way to the summit, but I dropped into an area where the was too much moose sign to resist :D As far as I went on the trail, it was very hard packed, shallow snow.

Happy Trails :)

Kevin Rooney
01-29-2007, 09:19 PM
Personally, I won't consider doing Isolation via Glen Boulder in winter - it's a long enough hike as it is. On paper, the 'standard winter route' doesn't seem much out of the ordinary, but ... have done it 8 or 10 times in winter, and always shake my head when we're back at the TH about what a tiring hike it is.

Squintyken
01-30-2007, 08:11 AM
that's a lot of good intel from everyone - thanks!

WP - I do have a backpack snow shovel... just didn't think of it and guess i was lucky i didn't need it this past sunday - duh! my "pre-flight checklist" keeps growing...

SherpaKroto - I have been lurking around VFTT / trail conditions for a couple winters bagging peaks the next day. Is there a word for that yet? surfers have a term "shoulder-hopper", but the meaning includes crowding and distraction. "drafting" from cycling perhaps?

overall, I wonder if Isolation is Exhibit A of how peakbagging (arbitrary threshold lists) does indeed motivate some of us to rise to challenges further.

Honestly, does anyone put in the same effort to top (or simply "experience") Mt Davis or Stairs Mountain nearby simply because those mountains are beautiful, or they were in the neighborhood and felt spontaneous?

FWIW I'm just about cured of peakbagging. I'll always hike / walk in Nature (my "church"). the lists have served their purpose, and for a while I was serving the lists which is backwards.

without the lists i suppose i'll be a lot more flexible and sociable hiking. I have managed to hike with others on mountains which did Not help me earn patches, repeats etc. and i let everyone know what a generous sacrifice that was on my part!

Tom Rankin
01-30-2007, 10:30 AM
Q5: how do you set your turn around time?This has been discussed a lot here:

http://www.adkhighpeaks.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2120

I started that thread. I don't remember if I mentioned it there, but since you mentioned 'whackin', it's 'good' (but not mandatory) to be back on trail before you need a headlamp.

DougPaul
01-30-2007, 11:30 AM
WP - I do have a backpack snow shovel... just didn't think of it and guess i was lucky i didn't need it this past sunday - duh! my "pre-flight checklist" keeps growing...
The shovel is most important if you get caught in a deep (particularly over your head) spruce trap. I doubt its a big risk so far this "winter".

If you are in a group, a short piece of 7-8mm rope (perhaps with a biner on the end) could also help extract the victim/his gear from a deep spruce trap.

Doug

forestgnome
01-30-2007, 06:43 PM
Honestly, does anyone put in the same effort to top (or simply "experience") Mt Davis or Stairs Mountain nearby simply because those mountains are beautiful, or they were in the neighborhood and felt spontaneous?

Absolutely! A few times I have hiked from Rt 16 to Mt Davis, bypassing the summit of Mt Isolation in the interest of time, although I much prefer hiking to Mt Davis from Rocky Branch Rd. I really love that summit and I've always had it to myself. Although the views are similar to Mt Isolation, I like the view from Mt Davis more.

Happy Trails :)

Squintyken
02-05-2007, 08:35 AM
FYI - with a little help I managed to complete Mt Isolation this past saturday Feb 3.

I heard from MtnRunr that he went by trails (rocky and davis) the whole way without much difficulty.

I also met up with a couple hikers through VFTT and we went together. Breaking trail with 3 is much easier than solo. Also, we met a couple who had tented overnight, and 5 of us ended up switching leads.

where Rocky Branch and Davis path intersect was deep snow and spruce traps (waist high) but that was the worst of it.

as for blowdowns and where i thought i had intersected the Davis path the week before while bushwacking... I must have missed Davis path by 50 feet or so...

I felt kind of foolish for having turned back so close the week before, but then i figured that decision to turn back on that day must have been a good one in this sense: I DID make it back to my car that day!

as you probably know Isolation has wonderful views of the Southern Presis and it was clear enough to enjoy them.

:D

SherpaKroto
02-05-2007, 11:21 AM
SK's map looks like they followed the same route.

Doug
Doug, you are correct! I couldn't remember whose advice we had followed. When you mentioned Peakbagger I checked my notes, and found his excellent detailed info. He certainly knows the mountains up there!

spider solo
02-05-2007, 06:28 PM
that's a lot of good intel from everyone - thanks!

WP - I do have a backpack snow shovel...

Honestly, does anyone put in the same effort to top (or simply "experience") Mt Davis or Stairs Mountain nearby simply because those mountains are beautiful, or they were in the neighborhood and felt spontaneous?


Congratulations glad you made it ! It's a great winter destination...the snow cover changes the nature of the hike from one year to the next so it's offers a lot of variations.

To answer your question about Stairs Mountain... I hiked/snowshoed into there the other day (feb 2) by way of the Davis Path out of Crawford Notch.
I've been waiting patiently (somewhat) for enough snow to fill in and smooth things out a little. Great views up there.
I would love to have the snow we had a couple of years ago.
This year I am thinking of continuing on to Davis & Isolation if the snow gets deep enough. That would be one tough hike (for me) I think I would set aside a minimum of one over night...2 would be more realistic esp breaking trail..it would be nice to do it so as to come out on Rocky Branch trail head.
It's tempting...but I'm undecided as yet...meanwhile I better eat my Wheaties....