Isolation is not an easy peak to get in any season, from any direction. It is a long haul, with a minimum distance of 12 miles and a high elevation price-tag, or 14 miles with lots of water and stream crossings. In the winter, add to that a bushwhack and 6 miles of potential trail breaking and it is just tough no matter which way you look at it.
All three of us, JohninNH, Greg YEAH! and I needed this peak for our winter lists. With Greg YEAH! almost finished with his list, we agreed this was a good peak to try to get. We knew the standard winter route up the Rocky Branch Trail to the Isolation Trail and eventually the Davis Path, had been broken out the previous Saturday and a group had hiked it on Monday. Although there had been snowfall in between then and our hike, we figured we would be able to bag the peak.
The first portion of trail has the steepest elevation gain, and I wasn’t quite up to speed, but we made it up to the Wilderness Boundary, with Greg YEAH! in the lead, breaking trail. After the Wilderness Boundary, it was time for the bushwhack. Only Greg had the most experience with it, and with some looking we found a slight trough where it had been broken out previously. Between a GPS and a compass, the guys were able to break out a path to the Isolation Trail even after they lost the originally broken out trail. The snow was anywhere from 6″ where we could find an old trough to 10″ for brand new breaking, but with three of us, it was fairly well trampled down. Once on the Isolation Trail, it was more trail breaking. Greg YEAH! continued on ahead, while JohninNH and I trailed behind, trying to smooth out the track and keep up. We crossed the stream several times, and I even broke through a snow bridge once into a hole into the water. After that, I was more careful about following exactly in the leader’s footsteps. We continued up toward the Davis Path and eventually stopped after we all agreed this hike was no fun anymore. We were about a mile from the summit, but looking up to the ridge, we could see the effects of the wind, blowing clouds and snow our way. We also guessed that the ridge leading to the summit would be drifted thus making route finding difficult. (This was confirmed by a hiker the next day who finished breaking out the trail to the summit.) While we all wanted to reach the summit, reality was that it would have been at least another hour of difficult trail breaking in potentially worse weather. It was time to head down. It was sad, but there was some relief, knowing that we could just follow our track back the parking area. Part way down, it did begin to snow on us, and we were grateful we weren’t struggling along the ridge, with the knowledge we’d have a long descent, potentially by headlamp.
The hike was not what we had hoped for earlier in the day. The day was not a total loss, as it was spent in good company, and was a very good learning experience for winter route finding, the Engine Hill bushwhack and when to turn back. Isolation will still be there, and we’re all still here to try it again, mostly likely next winter.