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Thread: Passing Through Heaven On The Way To Isolation, 12/30/2011

  1. #1
    Senior Member BIGEarl's Avatar
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    Talking Passing Through Heaven On The Way To Isolation, 12/30/2011

    December 30, 2011: Isolation

    Trails: Rock Branch Trail, Engine Hill Bushwhack, Isolation Trail, Davis Path, Isolation Spur

    Summits: Isolation

    Hikers: Marty, Clarke, Dave, JustJoe, Kris, Ray, Rolly, Freddie, Trail Trotter (Sue) and me



    If heaven holds a special place for bushwhackers, I’m sure it looks like a piece of New Hampshire found on the way to Isolation.

    Our group on this hike to Isolation was a good one. It was a mix of old friends and new. Ray (aka Jazzbo) is well known to the local hiker community but we have never had the opportunity to hike with him. Hopefully we'll enjoy more trail miles together. Kris was a first-time hiker with us and hopefully he comes back for more. All of the others we have hiked with previously and it was good to see each of them again.

    We had a plan to do a simple round-trip hike to Isolation from the Rocky Branch trailhead on Route 16 south of PNVC. When Sue and I pulled into the trailhead lot we found Marty, Clarke, and Ray already there and patiently waiting for the rest to arrive. Over the next half-hour the rest of the group arrived with several having been delayed by a detour caused by accident clean-up on Route 16. Roughly twenty minutes later than planned we were hiking.

    Rocky Branch Trail was tracked out and frozen. There was a significant covering of ice and gradually, each of us pulled out the light traction to secure our footing. The climb to the height of land between Engine Hill and the south end of Rocky Branch Ridge went quickly. Along the way (~2.8 miles) we all spent some time visiting with each other, enjoying the morning, and gaining a little under 2000 feet in elevation. The climb is never really steep but it’s generally constant. The route passes through a beautiful hardwood forest with really nice mid-range views along the way. It’s a very good way to stay warm on a cold winter morning.

    As we approached the height of land, the terrain flattened out, we wandered into some sections of conifers, and finally toward the west side we started into areas that are often very wet and muddy. In this area we could look to the northeast and see the south end of Rocky Branch Ridge. It was time to leave the trail and do some bushwhacking.

    This bushwhack is a popular approach to Isolation since it eliminates difficult crossings of the Rocky Branch of the Saco River plus a lot of mud pits. Even though it’s called the Engine Hill Bushwhack it never actually spends any time on Engine Hill, which is located to the south. And, like other bushwhacks, there are no blazes or cairns to identify the route. Our approach to the “Engine Hill Bushwhack” involved contouring the west slope of Rocky Branch Ridge; we would not hike a trail or even a direction, we planned to hike a contour and allow the terrain to return us to the trail in the general vicinity of the final crossing.

    We were all spread out on the trail when the decision to bushwhack was made. After a quick check we found Freddie (previously last in line) to be closest to an ideal location to head into the thick conifers that we needed to work through. Suddenly Freddie was leading the group. The simple objective; climb Rocky Branch Ridge to an elevation of ~3400 feet. Between the trail and the target elevation is some thick growth but after clearing a small flat section the climb happened fast. At ~3300 feet we stepped into the target area. Welcome to Bushwhacker’s Heaven! There is a huge open birch glade that follows the ridge and much of the bushwhack route. It’s open, clear of brush, there are terrific views to Montalban Ridge to the west and our target for the day, and it’s generally dry and free of mud. The price of admission is a short trip through some thick growth; but that’s a small price to pay for this treat.

    Joe and Dave jumped out in front and headed up the ridge. We were still working a little below the target elevation of 3400 feet and gradually gained the additional elevation by favoring the upper part of the glade. I was periodically checking our elevation with my Thommen altimeter and actually saw we hit 3500 feet. We were walking in ~8 inches of snow. It was easy walking and there were many photo stops along the way. Ten pairs of boots beat down a route out and back that should remain easy to find and follow at least until we receive a significant snowfall. As expected the terrain led us back to the upper part of the Rocky Branch and the actual trail. I believe the bushwhack at 3400 feet saves roughly 1.5 miles each way over taking the established trail. At the end of the bushwhack we entered an area of moderately thick conifers. We were close enough to the Rocky Branch to hear it and simply headed down to the stream and the trail. In my view, we just enjoyed the high point of the day. In roughly 1.5 miles we would find the high point for the hike; Mt. Isolation.

    From the end of our bushwhack route to the trail junction with Davis Path is an easy walk. Before long we were standing at the trail junction, having refreshment, and regrouping before the final ~1.1 miles to the summit. Back together as a group with all members accounted for we set off on the final climb. Most of the final approach on Davis Path is a mild walk with only the last quarter mile having a significant amount of elevation. As we had been doing since leaving the trailhead the group got a little spread out but that’s expected; everybody has a different ideal speed but we regularly stopped to regroup and make sure there were no problems. The next regroup point was the summit.

    Gradually, everybody arrived at the summit. Out came the cameras for the usual summit pictures. The overall weather conditions prevented any enjoyment of the terrific views that can be had from the summit. After quick refreshment and to stay warm we were soon on our exit hike.

    The plan was to simply re-trace our steps. That means another trip through Bushwhacker Heaven on Rocky Branch Ridge. First we regrouped at the Isolation – Davis Path trail junction, then again at the upper crossing, and finally we were leaving the trail headed into the conifers, and finally the birch glade. As we hiked the reverse bushwhack we stopped a couple more times to regroup. On one occasion Ray was approaching the group and carrying a very nice moose shed. He had half a pair of antlers in his hands. It was in beautiful shape. Soon it was lashed to his pack and we were all again making our exit.

    Soon we hit the trail and took off for the trailhead. The only effort at this point was to beat darkness. We were hiking late in the afternoon and the overcast was already reducing the level of daylight. Roughly ˝ mile from the trailhead we pulled out the headlights. Our hike to Isolation finished under the lights. What a terrific hike it was.

    Thanks to everybody for joining the trek and adding to the day. I hope to see all of you again sometime soon.


    I’ve posted some pictures from the day.


    BIGEarl's Pictures


    Straight to the slideshow


    Last edited by BIGEarl; 01-01-2012 at 05:28 PM.

  2. #2
    Senior Member LivesToHike's Avatar
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    Thumbs up Great hike!

    Great trip report, Earl! Sounds like a wonderful day on the trails.
    Happy New Year!
    --mike
    --- Help stamp out entropy!

  3. #3
    Senior Member una_dogger's Avatar
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    That contour interval is pretty much the sweet spot

    I can't remember the last time I used the trail regardless of time of year
    ADK 46'r NE115'r NEHH NH 48 x 6 NH48W NH 329/576
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    Senior Member JustJoe's Avatar
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    Thanks again Earl for letting me join the party. What a great group we had. Quite a memorable hike, even without the views. Great day in the mountains and a steal for winter peak bagging.

    My Pix
    Joe

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    Senior Member Jazzbo's Avatar
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    Engine Hill Name confusion

    Thanks Earl! You perform a great service to the hiking community with your trips and your trip reports! I'm very pleased to have met you!

    This is sort of nit-picky, but as psuedo historian and logging RR history buff, I just like to share a factoid about "Engine Hill". Bill Gove in Logging RR's of the Saco River Valley has a nice chapter on Rocky Branch logging RR. He says the steep grade just above milepoint 10 was know as Engine Hill and was the most feared grade on the line with steep grade of 9%+. On March 13 1913 (almost 100 years ago) an engine with a load of logs went off the rails on Engine Hill grade and the 3-man crew had no choice but to "take to the birds". Luckily no one was injured, but the engine was sent off to Portland for repairs.

    Note the location of Engine Hill is correctly labeled in this National Geographic TOPO thumbnail.



    My fairly recent edition of the AMC trail map labels the 3244 bump located just south of the Rocky Branch Trail as Engine Hill. I guess this is one of those place names that just tends to get confused in the public's mind sort of like Peak Above the Nubble.

    By this time the RR was wrapping up operations. The Rocky Branch Valley experienced many wild fires during the years 1912-1914 which I guess are mainly responsible for the existence of these marvelous birch glades.
    Last edited by Jazzbo; 01-01-2012 at 11:42 AM. Reason: Fix typo
    On #67 of NE67
    On #99 of NEHH
    On #46 of WNH48

    An atom walked up to me and said "i think I've lost an electron"
    I said "are you sure?"
    It reply "I'm positive."

  6. #6
    Senior Member BIGEarl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LivesToHike View Post
    Great trip report, Earl! Sounds like a wonderful day on the trails.
    Happy New Year!
    --mike
    Thanks Mike,

    Yeah, it was a good one.





    Quote Originally Posted by una_dogger View Post
    That contour interval is pretty much the sweet spot

    I can't remember the last time I used the trail regardless of time of year
    Yup. Nice hikin’.





    Quote Originally Posted by JustJoe View Post
    Thanks again Earl for letting me join the party. What a great group we had. Quite a memorable hike, even without the views. Great day in the mountains and a steal for winter peak bagging.
    …….
    Hey Joe,

    Thanks for coming back after the Bonds cruise. Everything went well. Hiking Isolation doesn’t get any better than that!





    Quote Originally Posted by Jazzbo View Post
    Thanks Earl! You perform a great service to the hiking community with your trips and your trip reports! I'm very pleased to have met you!

    This is sort of nit-picky, but as psuedo historian and logging RR history buff, I just like to share a factoid about "Engine Hill". Bill Gove in Logging RR's of the Saco River Valley has a nice chapter on Rocky Branch logging RR. He says the steep grade just above milepoint 10 was know as Engine Hill and was the most feared grade on the line with steep grade of 9%+. On March 13 1913 (almost 100 years ago) an engine with a load of logs went off the rails on Engine Hill grade and the 3-man crew had no choice but to "take to the birds". Luckily no one was injured, but the engine was sent off to Portland for repairs.

    Note the location of Engine Hill is correctly labeled in this National Geographic TOPO thumbnail.
    ……..
    Thanks Jazzbo,

    I went to the USGS Geographic Names Information System site and searched on Engine Hill in New Hampshire. The returned location included lat/lon specifics. According to this information, USGS has Engine Hill located at the sag on the ridge where we started our bushwhack.

    USGS GNIS Detail

    I’ll trust the USGS GNIS to have accurate information and consider the AMC map to be slightly in error.


    Side observation.....

    Sometimes we're dealing with a moving target. A while ago when I was looking over some historic maps I learned Mt. Hight wasn’t always Mt. Hight. And at one point in time Little Wildcat Mountain was named Mt. Hight.

    I understand how this happened but it still can add confusion.



    Thanks for pointing this out.


  7. #7
    Registered User Ridgewalker's Avatar
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    Earl, thanks for inviting Marty and I. We really enjoyed climbing with you and the whole group. The bushwhack was the part I looked forward to and felt that was the most peaceful area if one was to solo it.


    Best,

    Clarke

  8. #8
    Senior Member BIGEarl's Avatar
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    I’ve posted some pictures from the day.


    BIGEarl's Pictures


    Straight to the slideshow





    Quote Originally Posted by Ridgewalker View Post
    Earl, thanks for inviting Marty and I. We really enjoyed climbing with you and the whole group. The bushwhack was the part I looked forward to and felt that was the most peaceful area if one was to solo it.


    Best,

    Clarke
    I'm very happy you guys could join the hike. We all enjoyed a terrific run to a sometimes difficult peak. I hope you and Marty feel free to join us anytime.

    Look forward to see you guys again soon.


  9. #9
    Senior Member marty's Avatar
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    Earl,
    thanks to you and Sue for leading us up Isolation. It was great catching up with both of you, seeing some old friends and meeting new ones. Joe and Dave really nailed the bushwhack. It was amazing how we nailed the trail just before the final crossing. Wish my bushwhacks had that success.

    Great TR, photos and videos. Glad you got some nice shots of the bushwhack, which was really cool.

    Dave and I did the Twins and Galehead today. It was a Microspike hike, just like Isolation.

    I look forward to hiking with you and Sue again, hopefully soon!

    Marty
    So when you reach the bottom line
    The only thing to do is climb
    Pick yourself up off the floor
    Anything ya want is yours


    Song: Bottom Line
    Artist: Big Audio Dynamite
    Album: This is Big Audio Dynamite
    Year: 1985

  10. #10
    Senior Member BIGEarl's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by marty View Post
    Earl,
    thanks to you and Sue for leading us up Isolation. It was great catching up with both of you, seeing some old friends and meeting new ones. Joe and Dave really nailed the bushwhack. It was amazing how we nailed the trail just before the final crossing. Wish my bushwhacks had that success.

    Great TR, photos and videos. Glad you got some nice shots of the bushwhack, which was really cool.

    Dave and I did the Twins and Galehead today. It was a Microspike hike, just like Isolation.

    I look forward to hiking with you and Sue again, hopefully soon!

    Marty
    Thanks Marty,

    I'm really glad you were able to join the hike - you're a complete pleasure to hike with. I also hope we're hiking together again very soon.




    After giving it a little more thought and checking a few things, it looks like the bushwhack was more than simply a saving of ~3 miles on the hike (~1.5 each way). There was also a good savings in terms of elevation. I believe the total is roughly 800 feet in elevation (500 going in and 300 on the way back out) compared to following trails. Considering the ease of the bushwhack it seems silly to me to venture down to the river, work through all of the mud and stream crossings along the way for the opportunity to burn 3 miles and 800 feet.

    But, that's just me.

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