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Thread: Engine Hill Bushwhack And Isolation In Winter

  1. #1
    Senior Member DayTrip's Avatar
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    Engine Hill Bushwhack And Isolation In Winter

    With daylight savings coming and longer days I'm thinking of adding Isolation to my winter 4k list for this season. I do have some concerns though about the hike because I have only did this peak one other time on a fairly dry July day. It sounds like the default route in winter includes the "Engine Hill Bushwhack". I've read a lot of the older trip reports and posts about this route and they confuse me a bit. Engine Hill on the map looks like it is SOUTH of the summer route so a bushwhack that goes that way seems counterproductive.

    So I have several questions. More than happy to read old threads if you know specific ones that still have unbroken links and relevant info:

    1) Is the Engine Hill Bushwhack easy to follow in winter? Sounds like it has a decent track based on recent trip reports but it also sounds like the route varies from month to month and year to year. Does anyone have a GPS track for it this season? Not being overly familiar with the area I wouldn't mind printing a map of the route to carry with my regular map.

    2) The summer route was very wet and had many river crossings. I am assuming in winter the track is actually much easier to walk because all of that is buried in snow and/or frozen. And I assume the bushwhack avoids many of these crossings? I also remember skirting a large swampy area that I suspect could be a big hazard in winter with thin ice, etc. I'm a solo hiker so a concern is falling into a river/hidden water so far from my vehicle. Are there significant crossings or "danger areas" on the winter route?

    3) Is the winter route shorter than the regular route? I assume mileage and time to complete (ignoring drifting snow, blowdowns and other winter hazards) would be somewhat shorter? I remember very lengthy awkward sections of wet boulders and rocks that really slowed me down when I did in July that I would assume can be cruised through much more easily right now.

    4) Sounds like Rocky Branch lot gets plowed in winter yes?

    Appreciate any info people can share.
    Last edited by DayTrip; 03-03-2014 at 01:27 PM. Reason: grammar

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    Member SteveR's Avatar
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    The Engine Hill bushwack IS the default winter route for most, and as you are aware it has little to do Engine Hill proper except proximity. You do not go south to get north... As of two days ago only the bushwack is broken out and you'll thank yourself for tagging this while the track is ideal, firm and fast.

    1. It is easy to follow since someone invested a huge effort to break it out. Until we get more snow it's akin to walking in a luge run. It's routing right now is a little different than i've seen in the past, (a little lower to start but it climbs a bit and meets the Isolation Trail higher than my last crossing), but I like it. I do have a GPS file from 3/1 if you're interested.

    2. As long as it stays cold the foot bed is solid and the few crossings are bridged. The few open seeps you encounter right now are all step across. Vastly different than summer when the trail can be indistinguishable from a stream bed. No danger areas (currently).

    3. You're roughly walking the hypotenuse of a right triangle when doing the wack so it's shorter relative to walking the red lines. AMC's map puts it at about 14.4 miles and my Garmin indicated 12.5 for the day. We finished in just under 6 hours Saturday while our last trip (non-winter) took 7:40 and we bushwacked one way only looking for moose antlers. So we were likely a little more casual last time. This weekend the temps were in the negative range when we started which promotes movin' along.

    4. The parking lot is beautiful as it is also a XC skiing destination.

    I always enjoy an Isolation trip. Much more rewarding than a 4,004 foot checkmark on a list...
    Hope this helps.
    Last edited by SteveR; 03-03-2014 at 05:04 PM. Reason: typo
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    As noted the Engine Hill Bushwhack is directly dependent on the person who originally broke it out. Like lemmings subsequent hikers continue on the original path no matter how circuitous it may be. In theory it can be straight as an arrow from the point where you leave Engine hill to where you pick up Mt Isolation trail. If done in concert with the original second bushwhack (see my poorly edited VFTT instruction here http://home.earthlink.net/~ellozy/is...bushwhack.html) you didn't spend much time on the Mt Isolation Trail. Unfortunately folks in the past few years have elected to skip the second bushwhack described and do a marginal short cut by following Mt Isolation trail north to where it cuts across for the last time (BM 3423 on my USGS map) and heading west up the col just south of the intersection of Mt Isolation trail and Davis Path. This section of Davis path up and over the unnamed summit north of Isolation was notorious for blowdowns in the past but maybe it has been trimmed significantly.

    I definitely prefer the original second bushwhack which was a popular route with AMC groups as the south face of the valley you are traversing is sunny and generally far more pleasant walking until the last blast through the wall of spruce/fir encountered just prior to breaking out at the col immediately north of Isolation.

    I expect the lack of use of bushwhack number two is related to the reduction in large groups doing Isolation. It is marginally easier to just follow Mt Isolation trail north as there isnt a way to get lost while the second bushwhack I described long ago required some navigation skills

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    Moderator bikehikeskifish's Avatar
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    I broke it out a week ago Saturday with Ed Smith and Bruce Pfendler and will happily e-mail you the GPS track.

    Tim
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  5. #5
    Senior Member DayTrip's Avatar
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    Sounds good. Thanks. I won't be able to get up there until early next week so hopefully it stays fairly straightforward to follow and free of significant snow. Maybe I'll try to get Monday off from work if possible so I can piggy back off the weekend traffic.

    I received your GPS file Tim. Thanks.

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    Senior Member andrewb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by peakbagger View Post
    As noted the Engine Hill Bushwhack is directly dependent on the person who originally broke it out. Like lemmings subsequent hikers continue on the original path no matter how circuitous it may be. In theory it can be straight as an arrow from the point where you leave Engine hill to where you pick up Mt Isolation trail. If done in concert with the original second bushwhack (see my poorly edited VFTT instruction here http://home.earthlink.net/~ellozy/is...bushwhack.html) you didn't spend much time on the Mt Isolation Trail. Unfortunately folks in the past few years have elected to skip the second bushwhack described and do a marginal short cut by following Mt Isolation trail north to where it cuts across for the last time (BM 3423 on my USGS map) and heading west up the col just south of the intersection of Mt Isolation trail and Davis Path. This section of Davis path up and over the unnamed summit north of Isolation was notorious for blowdowns in the past but maybe it has been trimmed significantly.

    I definitely prefer the original second bushwhack which was a popular route with AMC groups as the south face of the valley you are traversing is sunny and generally far more pleasant walking until the last blast through the wall of spruce/fir encountered just prior to breaking out at the col immediately north of Isolation.

    I expect the lack of use of bushwhack number two is related to the reduction in large groups doing Isolation. It is marginally easier to just follow Mt Isolation trail north as there isnt a way to get lost while the second bushwhack I described long ago required some navigation skills

    I would agree the second BW was very, very fun when I did it a few years (I guess five by now) ago. It doesn't save too much in terms of milage, but it was definitely the most exciting part of doing Isolation in winter. I would not classify the navigation skills needed as more than basic, as all you do is head west. With the favorable snow conditions we had, it was easily broken by a crew of 3, but even a solo hiker can do this route. Your results may vary. The low chance of mis-navigation makes this BW all the better.

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    Senior Member DougPaul's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by andrewb View Post
    I would agree the second BW was very, very fun when I did it a few years (I guess five by now) ago. It doesn't save too much in terms of milage, but it was definitely the most exciting part of doing Isolation in winter. I would not classify the navigation skills needed as more than basic, as all you do is head west. With the favorable snow conditions we had, it was easily broken by a crew of 3, but even a solo hiker can do this route. Your results may vary. The low chance of mis-navigation makes this BW all the better.
    I did it solo (with easy trail breaking conditions). The navigation (by M&C) was pretty easy. A GPS would make it even eaiser as it is only a sequence of 3 or 4 waypoints.

    Doug

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    After the ice storm of 1998 finding the trail in the winter was darn close to impossible and we were navigating strictly off the map with no views in the AM until Engine Hill. We ended up going quite high above the Engine Hill col and had a long bonus stretch of birch glades before ending at the 3200 point. If you look really carefully on the USGS map for the second bushwhack you will see some small spots that are not green, these are open ledgy spots with great sun exposure, We got it just right and had little or no thick stuff until the rather infamous last bash up through to the trail. The sun was out for the afternoon and we had a nice day on the summit and nicer walk back on the path. The third failed attempt was two folks with soft snow and we got stayed a bit too high and got into thick spruce fir and it chewed up time. The perosn who I was with was new to winter hiking so I was pushing the concept of turn around time, so we turned around at 2:00 PM having been on the trail since 7:00 am. We were just short of the col and made it out in 3 hours. I havent been back since in the winter. The biggest hassle is crossing rocky branch, its hard to find a good way to cross if there has been a recent warm spell.

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    Moderator bikehikeskifish's Avatar
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    The current route comes out before crossing #3, and you can do 3 and 4 if you wish, or continue along the east side of the river and skip 3 and 4. 5 is traditionally the least challenging to cross.

    I apologize for going through the wet section I should have gone around it to the east (higher) instead.

    Tim
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    Senior Member RoySwkr's Avatar
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    Yet another option is to drop down to the shelter (nice rest stop, if there) then bushwhack to the col S of Isolation. Only one crossing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by peakbagger View Post
    the Engine Hill Bushwhack is directly dependent on the person who originally broke it out. (see my poorly edited VFTT instruction here http://home.earthlink.net/~ellozy/is...bushwhack.html) Unfortunately folks in the past few years have elected to skip the second bushwhack described
    I definitely prefer the original second bushwhack
    I expect the lack of use of bushwhack number two is related to the reduction in large groups doing Isolation.
    First, thank-you for your excellent pages on the 4000 Footer Mountains. I referred to them frequently while doing my single season summer NH48 a couple of years ago. Now I am referring to them again as I am planning my single season winter NH48 for this winter. They are very helpful.

    Second, I suspect that the 2nd bushwhack (from Isolation Trail to Davis Trail) is neglected because people don't know where it is. If they start with your "poorly edited" description, they are no doubt confused because you refer to the Rocky Branch Trail where mean the Isolation Trail; e.g., "You are trying to come out on the rocky branch trail."

    In addition, it is difficult to follow the description without looking at the specific contour map you used, the "Stairs Mountain 7.5 minute quad".

    I suspect the 2nd bushwhack is neglected because people don't understand its route. If you update your Isolation bushwhack page before this winter--add a map showing the bushwhacks, and correct the mistaken references to Rocky Brook Trail--then when people break out the bushwhack this winter, they will get it correct and we will all be much happier. Your trail descriptions have that much impact on the hikers in the White Mountains.

    Here is a map from http://www.franklinsites.com/hikepho...-2010-0313.php that show the Engine Hill bushwhack but does not have the bushwhack between Isolation Trail and Davis Trail.
    1) The Engine Hill bushwhack goes northwest between Rocky Branch Trail and Isolation Trail along the 3200' contour as shown on the map. However, it could branch off the Rocky Brook Trail a bit earlier, close to the "B" in "Rocky Branch Trail" on the map below.
    2) The Isolation Trail to Davis Trail bushwhack (as best I can determine) should be start almost immediately after the Engine Hill bushwhack joins the Isolation Trail (near the "T" in "Trail on the map below) and then almost due west to the col just north of Mt Isolation, staying north of the drainage.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    In the second map below, I highlighted where I think the bushwhacks should be.

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Last edited by TigerMouth61; 08-24-2016 at 03:34 PM.

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    Wow zombie thread about a 25 plus year old post on the "old VFTT). I expect your thanks and complaints should be directed to Mohamed Allozy the creator of the website that contains my fairly dated (and full of spelling errors due to the old VFFT not having autocorrect) description.
    I agree that long ago I confused the East Branch of the Mt Isolation trail with the Rocky Branch trail. Of course in my defense if one looks at the topo map its pretty obvious where the second bushwhack starts as I referred to crossing Rocky Branch, not the trail at 3200 feet. Feel free to attempt to contact Mohamed and have him edit my description. Additionally when I wrote the description, the world wide web was in its infancy and virtually free software images of USGS maps were not yet available. Therefore it was either topos on paper or nothing. Any proper bushwhacker maintained an inventory of USGS maps which I still have and use.

    I suspect the 2nd bushwhack gets far less use mostly due to the hard work to establish it, it threads a needle, too high and it gets thick and too low and it also is thick. For folks heading to Isolation in the winter the mini short cut that rounds the corner at the intersection of Davis Path and Isolation East is pretty obvious and I expect folks establish it when heading down. Once broken out then it get use by those following them the next day.

    And now for my rant, yes I do recommend using real live paper topo maps when executing bushwhacks. It allows me get the big picture and make changes in the field far easier than trying to see it on a GPS screen. I must admit my preferred method of planning these days is using their images on a computer screen for planning. In order to figure out my thinking from 25 plus years ago I opened up my Terrain Navigator software with an image of the USGS map and within a minute figured out my old route and where I made a mistake in the description. Many folks use similar software to do what I call "follow the beep" bushwhacking. They plan out a route and either set a track or establish waypoints and merrily head off into the woods with a GPS with a 2x3 screen and topo on the chip. In many cases they don't even the plan the route, they just go shopping around for someone else's track. More power to them and their patch counts as much as mine to them but I find the experience diminished compared to actually researching and planning the route. I do feel my method tends to spread the use around in the woods and expect the now well established herd paths to the popular bushwhack summits are due to many folks using the same tracks. Of course I use Google Earth for up to date aerial imagery so I am not as much of a purist compared to my prior begging photocopy's of aerials from the James River forestry department, ordering orthophoto quads, or buying aerials at $5 a pop from the USDA
    Last edited by peakbagger; 08-24-2016 at 04:00 PM.

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    Thanks for the explanation, peakbagger. Sorry for getting you and Allozy mixed up; his "Hiking Mt Isolation" page linked to your bushwhack description.
    As a relative newcomer to the White Mountains, I really appreciate the time and effort you more experienced hikers have put in to providing information on the web for the rest of us. Rereading my post above, I realize it does sound like complaints (especially with all the bold), but my intent was just to improve the already good information you made available, and I used bold to call your attention to the key points.
    Lastly, although I do most of my planning using online resources, I always carry the AMC topo maps while I hike, and I reference frequently The 4000-Footers of the White Mountains by Smith & Dickerman.
    Have a great winter!

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    Senior Member The Sikes's Avatar
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    re isolation

    Quote Originally Posted by peakbagger View Post
    As noted the Engine Hill Bushwhack is directly dependent on the person who originally broke it out. Like lemmings subsequent hikers continue on the original path no matter how circuitous it may be. In theory it can be straight as an arrow from the point where you leave Engine hill to where you pick up Mt Isolation trail. If done in concert with the original second bushwhack (see my poorly edited VFTT instruction here http://home.earthlink.net/~ellozy/is...bushwhack.html) you didn't spend much time on the Mt Isolation Trail. Unfortunately folks in the past few years have elected to skip the second bushwhack described and do a marginal short cut by following Mt Isolation trail north to where it cuts across for the last time (BM 3423 on my USGS map) and heading west up the col just south of the intersection of Mt Isolation trail and Davis Path. This section of Davis path up and over the unnamed summit north of Isolation was notorious for blowdowns in the past but maybe it has been trimmed significantly.

    I definitely prefer the original second bushwhack which was a popular route with AMC groups as the south face of the valley you are traversing is sunny and generally far more pleasant walking until the last blast through the wall of spruce/fir encountered just prior to breaking out at the col immediately north of Isolation.

    I expect the lack of use of bushwhack number two is related to the reduction in large groups doing Isolation. It is marginally easier to just follow Mt Isolation trail north as there isnt a way to get lost while the second bushwhack I described long ago required some navigation skills
    do you still have this track. The hyperlink is no longer.
    We don't stop hiking because we grow old, we grow old because we stop hiking! Finis Mitchell

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