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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Mt. Isolation (#36), June 27-28 (backpack)

Rocky Branch Trail, Isolation Trail, Davis Path.

Roundtrip, 14.6 miles

Well, we certainly earned this peak! Lightning and rivers and grouse...oh my!

Alex and I decided to backpack Isolation, since the mileage is greater than anything we've done to date. I asked MadRiver if he would accompany us, and he graciously agreed -- excellent!

The night before our hike, I got a nice surprise -- LRiz asked if she could come with us (but not backpack). Fantastic!

Forecast called for showers and maybe a thunderstorm. After much consulting with MadRiver, we decided to give it a go anyway. The route is completely sheltered...and we could always turn back if needed.

The morning arrived, and Alex and I got to the trailhead and geared up. LRiz arrived shortly thereafter.

Alex and I proceeded to get a headstart on the trail while LRiz waited for MadRiver.

It was an incredibly humid day. Within the first hundred yards, sweat began to pour off of me. My pack weighed more than anything I've ever carried-- methinks I went overboard with the food and water. It was a difficult first mile. Alex was uncomfortable too. We both kept chugging liquid, and our pace was slow.

We met a ranger heading up to do routine checks and trailwork. She allowed us to take her picture.

LRiz caught up with us. She explained that MadRiver was now on the trail but still warming up. He would overtake us later on.

Around 1.3 miles in, the trail starts to head up a bit more steeply.

The first part of the Rocky Branch trail was typical. Boulders, some mud, places of great beauty... along the way...

...we ambled along, taking it at Alex's pace. I give a lot of credit to LRiz, because I know she is used to hiking MUCH faster than we do. She was a patient person and a good conversationalist with Alex. Alex wanted to trade jokes and riddles, and to tell stories, and to generally talk with LRiz the entire time. Thanks for being a great "big sister," LRiz.

We made it to the Dry River Wilderness sign...

...and shortly thereafter, our hike took a turn for the...well, I can't say worse because we were in such great company. How about "took a turn for the very-unusual-and-extremely-difficult." Not a commonly used phrase, but one that befits the situation.

Da da's the attack grouse of Rocky Branch Trail! We were hiking along, chatting away, and out steps the ornery little bird I have read so much about. I had completely forgotten about this critter until it strode onto the path in all its bravado. I stopped short, Alex and LRiz behind me, and said, "there's the killer grouse!"

It walked back in forth in front of me along the trail, clearly telling us we were NOT to continue onward.

I went to grab my camera, but LRiz advised against it. "It doesn't like having its picture taken!" she warned. She told me to just walk past it, and expect it to peck at my boots. She was right -- we had to continue and just deal with the grumpy thing. So I told Alex to stay between LRiz and myself, and I took one step forward...and the grouse stepped quickly up to me as if to say, "don't even THINK about it." It had a mean, nasty look in the one eye that was turned toward me. It made a scary fussing noise. It was Not At All Afraid. I realized that it knew it could beat the crap out of me if it really wanted to.

So, I did what any coward in her right mind would do...I told LRiz to go first.

Now I'd like to say that I was thinking of Alex, and that I was protecting HER...but the ugly truth is that I was scared and therefore willing to sacrifice LRiz. So there you have it.

LRiz bravely set out ahead of us...and was attacked! The thing went for her boots, then flew at her back as she jogged down the trail. It followed her for about 30 yards. It then fluttered back off into the trees...Alex and I passed it quickly and were not bothered...guess it thought it had done its job for the moment. I thought for sure that LRiz was going to have some peck-marks on her, but it turns out the grouse hadn't actually touched her. I thanked her profusely for taking the hit, and apologized for making her go first. LRiz was a very good sport about it.

We hiked on, me with a big yellow stripe running down my back. I made a promise to myself that I would grow me some courage and be the one to deal with it on the way back (which I did, more on that later).

Not long afterward, MadRiver caught up with us. The grouse hadn't bothered him...guess it was all tired out after chasing LRiz.

We said our hellos, then continued onward together.

Then came the end of dry trail. From this point onward, for the rest of the day (and much of the next), the trails had AT LEAST this much water on them...

We reached the first water was tricky, but all managed to cross with dry feet...except for me. I slipped off a rock while guiding Alex across, and went in up to my knees.

Made it to Rocky Branch Shelter #2, where we would later spend the night.

I took of my boots and poured the water out of them. A butterfly decided to land and keep me company for a few minutes.

Onward we went. The humidity had lessened and we were all feeling much better.

Perhaps half a mile from the shelter, the dark clouds came...a few drops fell, the wind picked up...Alex and I threw on our raingear, MadRiver set up a miniature shelter in ten seconds flat...we all got beneath it...and BOOM -- here came the storm. Rain poured down in buckets and thunder rumbled around us. It was never directly over us, but it was close enough to frighten Alex and set my nerves on edge. However, since we were all huddled together and under MadRiver's nifty construction, my nerves and Alex's fright were manageable. We waited out the storm, then kept going.

The storm was over but the rain was not. It drizzled and sprinkled on us for the rest of the day. The trail now looked like this...

We came to another tricky water crossing. This time every one's feet got wet. It was beginning to become a joke...this keep-your-feet-dry effort. It really wasn't possible today.

LRiz needed to get a move on, since she wasn't camping out and therefore needed to get back to her car in a few hours. We said adios for now, and she jogged onward and upward toward the summit.

MadRiver and I continued at Alex's pace. It was slow going. More like rock-hopping along a river than trail-hiking.

More water crossings, more river-trail. More rain. All three of us were soaked from the knees down. Water squished in our boots.

At one point we saw a frog...wouldn't have been surprised if we had seen fish...

Onward, onward we went. LRiz returned from her jaunt to the summit...clouds were clearing, she had been rewarded with great views for her tremendous effort. We said our goodbyes and we parted ways. She flew back down to the trailhead and was probably in her car twenty minutes later, lol.

At one point we returned to dry land (a brief but welcome respite). This is near a beautiful clearing, just before the intersection with the Davis Path.

We got to the Davis Path and took a break. The sun was coming out and staying out, finally.

Up the Davis Path we went. At one point we saw views, and Alex asked me to take a picture.

We came to the spur path for the summit.

Up we went, over a very steep tenth of a mile or so. Got to a ledge, turned around, and saw...

It was nice up there...except for a very large storm cloud that looked very very close...and I could hear thunder. I hurried Alex over to the summit cairn and took some fast pictures.

We were beat, tired, and we looked like drowned rats. We gave a victory whimper, then gathered our strength to head back down toward the shelter.

Back down we went. It was slow going. Wet, wet, and more wet. The water on the trails went up to our ankles and sometimes Alex's knees. The water crossings were fast and difficult. One in particular gave us some trouble -- MadRiver and I went in and passed Alex between us as she walked on the highest points she could. One of us always had a strong hand on her for safety's sake..the water was moving fast. All three of us were soaked, and very much looking forward to the nice dry changes of clothes we had in our packs.

Alex and I were both very tired and grumpy. About a mile from the shelter I lost my temper and yelled at her for being too careful on the rocks. Yes, I know, that makes no sense. I was really, really tired and in the moment I took it out on her. She rightfully burst into tears and yelled back at me. I apologized and told her I was wrong...we were both very tired and VERY ready to rest. We stopped for a while, I apologized again, gave both of us more food and water, told her how proud I was of her, emphasized that I had just been a bad mom and was sorry, etc. Then we trudged onward.

We got back to the shelter at 9:15, just as it was getting dark enough for headlamps. Alex and I had been hiking since 8:15am -- 13 straight hours with a few 5 minute breaks here and there. Except for the little spat we had a mile or so from the shelter, when she had burst into tears because of MY crappy attitude, she had held up tremendously well. I was very, very proud of her.

At the shelter, there were two ladies who had not planned on backpacking but could not cross the final water crossing (just after the shelter on the way back to the car). MadRiver and I were able to take care of them in terms of tent, mummy sacks, socks, and other odds and ends. They, in turn, gave me some iodine tablets since my SteriPen was too waterlogged to work properly. MadRiver then proceeded to cook up some wonderful goolash.

Alex happily chatted up the ladies for a while, then she crawled into her sleeping bag and passed out. She had done a very, very difficult 10.7 miles and was ready for sleep.

MadRiver hung our food up away from the bears, then he graciously shared his wine with the adults. I took a few swigs, then fell asleep next to Alex.

We headed out the next morning around 7:30am. Made it across the water crossing with difficulty...again MadRiver and I got into the water and handheld Alex across. Afterward, we said goodbye to the ladies and they headed down toward their car.

More river-trail to deal with until we came back into...grouse territory.

Alex and I went ahead of MadRiver for a while, and I was just telling Alex that we should be in grouse-land soon...when it stepped out directly in front of my left foot.

I was too surprised to be scared. I just put my hiking pole between myself and it, and told Alex to stay behind me. She was scared, but this time I wasn't. The little bugger fussed at us and kept trying to get around me -- to get to Alex! Grrr. I hollered for MadRiver (backup), and kept edging forward, bit by bit, the grouse and I starting to circle around each other (with Alex behind me at all times). It kept trying to get around me, it kept bird-stepping toward Alex. Finally we had circled one another so that Alex and I were now on the other side of the path...the way we wanted to go! I kept facing the grouse and told Alex to start walking onward (and not to run!). She set off down the trail, and then MadRiver arrived and the grouse shuffled off into the woods. For some reason, it did not mess with MadRiver.

We went on for a little while, and then MadRiver parted ways with us. He had a party to go to in the afternoon, so he had to start hurrying ahead. We said our goodbyes, and off he went.

Alex and I finally found dry trail again soon afterward, and arrived back at the car an hour or so later.

This had been an epic journey. Many thanks to MadRiver -- we could not have done this one without you, my friend.

Many thanks to LRiz for her enjoyable company the first day. I'm glad the clouds cleared once you got up there. After all that effort, you deserved some views!

We met quite a few people along the way on this one. A group of four, led by a very friendly fellow who is on the Rules Committee for AMC's 4K Club. Curious1 and Doublebow, the two ladies at the shelter (whom we had also met last year on Hale), the nice trail worker Voyager, the lovely park ranger, and a handful of others. There were many brave souls out there that weekend! Glad everyone made it through safe and sound.

One to remember, that's for sure...


  1. I'm sure my co-workers think I'm insane as I have been laughing out loud reading about your grouse encounters. You out do yourself with each new adventure. Congratulations on another tough one being knocked off the list.

    Sheep loves to chase grouse. I wonder what would happen if he met this killer grouse?

    Congratulations again and hope to see you on the trails again!

  2. Hi Bill,

    Someone told me they had encountered that grouse while hiking with their dog. The grouse was not afraid of the dog and approached it just as aggresively as it did the hiker. The dog was a bit freaked out and kept trotting down the trail.

    That is one tough little bird.

    Hope all is well with you and Sheep!

  3. Awesome trip report! I've been following your site for a few months and have been inspired to take my son Caleb on longer and more challenging hikes. Though he is not anywhere near at the level of Alex, your trips with her have motivated us both to get out more!

  4. That's great! I think the best place for a kid to be is outside. I take my younger daughter on hikes too, but we do smaller mountains and trails with less mileage. I like to keep it where she's comfortable. Each kid has their own ability. The important thing is to get out there. Hope to meet you and Caleb some day.

  5. tjm120666@yahoo.comJuly 7, 2009 at 12:35 PM


    I found your blog from VFTT and have enjoyed reading about your hikes.

    "I apologized and told her I was wrong...we stopped for a while, I apologized again"

    Excellent, excellent, post. I try to always admit when I am wrong to my son Adam. It doesn't excuse my behavior but it has made me a better parent.

    Have you thought of writing an article (or a book !) about the process of introducing young children to hiking and backpacking? There are very few books directly adressing this subject.

    Here is my attempt at an article. I am sure you could greatly expand on it.

    I look forward to
    - Trish and Sage hike the 4000 foot Whites
    - Trish and Alex bushwack the New England 3Ks

    Good luck,
    Tommy Murphy

  6. Hi Tommy,

    Thanks for your support!

    I have thought about writing -- I do it all the time, but I've never tried to get anything published. Maybe one day I will look into that.

    I don't think Alex and I are going to bushwack the 3Ks, LOL! The thought of bushwacking doesn't appeal to me, unless it's just for a few hundred yards to avoid a stream crossing, or something like that.

    As for Sage -- we'll see. Right now she's comfortable with much smaller hikes. Each year I'll try to increase the mileage/elevation gain and see what happens. If she never really wants to do that kind of distance, that's okay. As long as she's outside in some capacity, that's all I really care about.

    I'm off to read your article now!

  7. I just read your article, Tommy. I think it's great!

    Start small and increase everything gradually. Adjust as needed. Know the difference between positively pushing to finish that mile and negatively pushing past what the kid is capable of or wants to do. I guess that's all I could say -- your article pretty much covers it.

    Congrats on getting your son out there every year, and keeping him interested! You are making memories he'll treasure forever.


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