Member Trip report

Mt Isolation, Jackson & Webster Backpack

06/02/2018

Trip Report/Photos from shep5

Featured Photo

The weekend was forecast to be really nice, so I headed up to do a backpack in the Dry River Wilderness.  I arrived at the trailhead on Route 302 at just after 9AM.  I got ready and walked over to the start of the trail.  I immediately noticed a ominous sign posted by the WMNF rangers.  It read...

"The Dry River Trail and suspension bridge received significant damage in a late 2017 storm.  The White Mountain National Forest has closed the bridge until repairs can be made.  The trail was hit with the impact of high water and debris which washed some of the trail away.  The trail may have changed dramatically since your last visit.  Please be aware that this trail now requires good route-finding skills, a river crossing, and an awareness of your surroungings at all times.  Welcome to Wilderness!"

Anyway, I figured I would just deal with whatever I encountered.  I had been up the trail a couple of years ago and I knew the route.  It was about 9:15, when I started up the trail and almost immediately I could see signs of errosion with deep ruts in the trail.  Within about 15 minutes I reached the Dry River Wilderness boundary, where the trail met up with the river.  It wasn't long after this point that I discovered missing segments of the trail.  Initially, some of these sections had tape flagging where the trail went through these washed out areas.  As portions of the trail had been re-routed higher on the bank after the damage from Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, a good deal was easy to follow.  By 10AM, I made it to the suspension bridge.  Despite the closure, the bridge actually was in good shape...the footings, cables and decking all seemed secure...it was just the side railings, which looked to have been impacted and it seemed like this would be an easy repair.  Despite this, the water level was relatively low and it was easy to cross.  I continued up the eastern bank and there were more sections of the trail which were washed away, including some where small slides had taken out the trail even though the trail was higher on the bank.  It generally wasn't too difficult to follow the trail though.  By around 11AM the clouds started to break up and the sun was starting to shine through.  At just about noon, I reached the trail junction for the Mt. Isolation (west) Trail.  The trail immediately crossed a small brook, but on the other side there was absolutely no sign of the trail...there was just a mostly rocky brook bed.  I started up the brook staying towards the northern bank.  In about 5 minutes, I crossed over some mangled trees, which lined the bank and found the trail.  This trail followed the brook closely for a good distance and despite several washed out sections, it was mostly alright.  After about an hour the trail turned north away from the book and it was much more distinct with only a couple areas where blowdowns impeded the path.  The trail switchbacked some as it climbed up to the ridge.  There were views of Mt. Isolation and of Boot Spur through the trees closer to the top.  The Presidential Range was still in the clouds, but it appeared to be breaking up.  I reached the Davis Path at 2:10.  I sat down for a short lunch break, but almost immediately I was swarmed by black flies.  I cut my break short and carried on.  A half-hour later, I passed the junction for the Mt. Isolation (east) trail and it wasn't long after this that I started to encounterd other hikers returning from Isolation's summit.  I reached the spur trail for the summit at 3:15 and it was only a few minutes later that I was atop of Mt. Isolation (4003').  My timing was perfect as the summit of Mt. Washington was just emerging from the clouds, despite the lower peaks of the southern Presidentials still obscured.  It was brilliant with views also of the Wildcats in the distance.  I hung out for a good half-hour chatting with some fellow hikers.  Luckily, there was a nice light breeze on the open summit and there were no flies.

At about 3:45, I decided to head back by re-tracing my steps back to the Mt. Isolation (west) trail, which I reached again at 4:30.  I descended the trail and got back to the Dry River Trail at 6PM.  There were a number of established camp sites lower on the trail, but instead I continued northward since the trail that I would take in the morning was a little further up the trail.  I continued past the Dry River Cutoff and headed for a camping spot right next to the Dry River Falls.  It was 6:20 and I figured this was a good spot for the night (I had stayed here on the previous trip).  This waterfalls was spectacular with a good flow and about a 45 foot total drop.  I started to set up camp and climbed down the bank to filter water and wash up before it got dark.  I had my dinner of Mountain House Beef Stroganoff and then afterward I strung the food bag line.  As it was still light I made a hot chocolate and relaxed by the base of the falls for awhile.  It got dark at a little after 9PM and I turned in for the night.

Saturday's Mileage and Elevation Gain:  12.8 miles with approximately 3650 feet in cumulative elevation gain.

As the falls were quite loud I woke up early and it was brightening up, when I got up at 5AM anyway.  I started boiling water for breakfast (MH Breakfast Hash) and I began breaking camp while I waited.  I got all packed back up and hit the trail again at roughly 6AM.  From what I could see through the relatively dense tree cover, the skies were clear and blue.  I walked back down the trail for about 5-10 minutes, where I turned onto the Dry River Cutoff Trail.  This immediately descended back down to the river and crossed it.  The water crossing was easy enough with good rock spacing.  This trail was not well-worn and it was, at times, difficult to distinguish the trail from the normal ground cover.  There were two more smaller brook crossings, with the latter requiring some care as the trail left the brook on the other side further down the brook.  It was after this that I also missed a turn and ended up down a deadend at a campsite.  I backtracked and found the less-than-obvious trail.  For the rest of the ascent the trail was generally easier to follow.  Part way up I encounterd a couple of patches of lingering snow and as I got within about 0.5 mile from the Mizpah Spring Hut, I hit massive areas of blowdowns.  Luckily, despite the fact that this trail was minimally-maintained, someone had cut a path though the mangled mess!  I reached the AMC hut and tentsite at 7:30AM.  It was fairly busy with hikers having breakfast.  After re-filling my water bottles, I chatted a bit with the caretaker.  She was surprised, that I had come up from the wilderness, since they were actively discouraging all but the most experienced from going down there with the damage and hard-to-follow trails.

I headed out for the AT (Webster Cliff Trail) at just before 8AM and followed this south.  My pace picked up being on a well-worn trail again and I quickly reached the marshy clearings (8:30), where I was treated with clear views of both Mt. Jackson ahead of me and also of Mt. Washington behind me.  In another 15 minutes after a short rocky climb, I was standing on the summit of Mount Jackson (4052').  As it was early still, I had the summit to myself.  The views were fantastic with clear, blue skies!  Just before I was ready to continue on, another hiker showed up and we chatted for a short time (as it turned out, he lived in Whitefield, but was originally from Rindge - the town next to mine).  I descended off of the summit and headed for Mt. Webster.  This was very easy going with some short rocky descents and ascents.  I reached the summit of Mt. Webster (3910') and only a few minutes later I was on the open ledges, which drop steeply into Crawford Notch.  Again the views were spectacular with the Willey Range looming on the opposite side of the notch.  I began my descent of the ridge with some steep sections and many open ledges along the way.  It was pretty awesome with almost constant views!  I reached the last of the open ledges at about 10:40 and I finally began to run into other hikers who were coming up for the day.  After this point the descent was still steep at times, but it was in the woods.  After about an hour, I reached the Saco River Trail junction and turned onto this trail, which cut back to re-join with the Dry River Trail.  This trail probably doesn't see alot of traffic; however, since my last visit, someone had blazed just about every other tree or rock, so it was very easy to follow.  I reached the Dry River Trail at 12:30PM and 10-15 minutes later I was back at my car on Route 302.

Sunday's Mileage and Elevation Gain:  11.4 miles with approximately 2350 feet in cumulative elevation gain.

This was a wonderful solo backpack through the Dry River Wilderness.  While the area has indeed suffered seriously from past storms, it actually felt even more like a wilderness and I saw noone except in the area around Mt. Isolation.  My overnight at the spectacular Dry River Falls was just what I needed and it was so peaceful to be alone in the wild!

Total Mileage and Elevation Gain:  24.2 miles with approximately 5990 feet in cumulative elevation gain.

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