What better way than to finish out 2013 than with a hike to Isolation? The summit of this mountain had eluded JohninNH, Greg YEAH! and I early this year in March, and I’ve thought about that experience many times since then. A trip to Isolation was high on my list of winter hikes that I wanted to do, so with quite a bit of emailing and help from good hiking friends, a trip was arranged for New Year’s Eve.
While it reads like it might be a fun task, a winter hike to Isolation is not. We knew going into this that many factors were against us making it to the summit. First there was a short amount of daylight, meaning that we’d leave home in the dark and arrive back in the dark. Second, we had a snowstorm two days before which dumped at least 12″ of new snow on that part of the White Mountains. Third, the temperatures were forecast to be cold, very cold. As in single digits below and above zero, without the windchill. Add any amount of wind, and the conditions would definitely be Arctic. Lastly, it is a 13 mile round trip trek in the winter even with a bushwhack, making it one of the longer hikes in winter for just a single summit.
Despite all this, Schorman and LadyDi picked me up in the regular spot really early, and we headed up to Pinkham Notch. It was definitely a bit sobering knowing what we were heading into, enough to make us all second guess the whole trip and cause quite a bit of aprehension. The first bright spot of the morning was an email from Greg YEAH!, which said, “Good NEWS!!!! Isolation is broken!!!!”. Boy, were we excited! We did not have to face six miles of trailbreaking to get to the summit. After reading the trail report, we were very relieved and thrilled to know that we wouldn’t have to face that task. (It really is difficult, our party turned around last year after 5 miles of trail breaking in similar conditions.)
All we’d have to face now was the subzero temperatures. We made a quick stop at McDonald’s in Gorham to finish getting ready so that we’d be able to get on the trail quickly after arriving at the trailhead and not stand in the cold too long. We were still not looking forward to the weather conditions, but we took precautions to be properly layered and to protect our heads, hands and feet from the cold. We arrived at the trailhead and everyone was already there, ready to hike. We had a second bright spot in the morning with the nice surprise of an extra hiker, who we weren’t exactly sure was coming at all. The more the merrier on these sorts of trips!
Strapping on the snowshoes, we quickly got on trail, making good steady progress on the first section up to the Wilderness Boundary and beyond to the start of the bushwhack. This section has the most elevation gain of all the sections, so it was nice to get warmed up quickly as the temperatures were hovering just around zero. We then continued on the bushwhack, slightly different that the route we took last year, and even more beautiful as we traveled through some lovely birch glades, once in a while getting a peek to the next ridge and our goal, Isolation. We came back out onto the Isolation Trail and continued on to Davis Path, crossing the stream several times on solid snow bridges.
The sun was out, and although it didn’t seem as cold as it really was, we had to keep our stops short so that we could stay warm. Moving through a blowdown area, we made it to the Davis Path and knew we were just about a mile from the summit. At this point, this was further than Greg and I had ever been on a winter hike of Isolation, and I was really thrilled. The group moved along the ridge and soon the sign for the summit spur came into view. One steep pitch and we were on the top enjoying the views out to Mt. Washington and the southern Presidentials. The sky was overcast to the west, but the summits were in the clear, a nice reward for the hike to Isolation.
After a few photos and check of the weather conditions (with winds at amazingly only 1mph) we headed back down to the Davis Path for a quick lunch to refuel for the trip back. We made great time on the way back and in less than 9 hours, we had completed the entire trek to Isolation.
We were blessed in so many unexpected ways, with so many details coming together to make a truly amazing day. One of the biggest blessings was the group who did all the hard work the previous day of breaking out the trail. Even though the weather was cold, we had sunshine and little wind, and with proper gear, we were comfortable and safe. The company was great and I enjoyed meeting new hikers and catching up with an old friend.
An extra special thanks to Schorman and LadyDi for their willingness to go and all their help in getting this hike together, and along with BillC, Jeb Bradley and Greg YEAH! for such a great day. Special congratulations to Greg YEAH! for finishing his Winter 48 on this hike.