Rocky Branch/Isolation/Davis Path Loop

Out of control! tMail, I know you need Isolation and I'll go back with you, but I was passing by it so no point in pretending I didn't stop and say 'hi'.

From the Jericho Rd Trailhead to Isolation Summit: 9.6mi, 5hr. (1.9 mi/hr)
From Isolation Summit back to Jericho Rd (via Davis Path/Stairs Col): 10.5mi, 3.5hr (3 mi/hr)

Why the big difference if the first 6 miles or so of the Rocky Branch trail is so damned flat? It's not because of ascent vs. descent. It's those brook crossings I was warned about in The Book; holy crap. The rocks were all iced over and even if they weren't, finding a crossing meant wandering up and down the banks looking for a place. I avoided two of them by taking the most ferocious bushwack ever. Not sure which was worse.

I will say that I didn't see another person until about 2 hrs before getting back to the car (a group of 4 through-hikers coming from Stairs Mtn on the Davis Path). Until I saw them, I didn't even see a human footprint!

The weather was great and it was fun to be in the snow. Pics are posted here.


  • Temperatures were in the high 20's lower down, and in the teens up top - but the winds were never above 5mph. I put on my yellow wind-breaker on Isolation after most of the pics but before eating my sandwich. The sun helped.
  • Crossing the brook meant, in all cases, a full two-feet-landing jump over fast water. The pools were as much as 4 or 5 ft deep and the water between boulders was voluminous. The complication, once you found a route and ignored the rushing water, was that the rocks were iced over where the water splashed. Once tested with the pole tip, the risk was not slipping, it was landing on a rock and finding that the other side was iced so you can't get to the next rock and you can't get back because the landing site on the rock you launched from was iced. Amazingly, the only time I got a submerged boot was on a tributary crossing over 5inch deep water when a 'stable' rock flipped over.
  • The bushwack: oh my. Because of the rugged nature of the narrow valley, I didn't want to get trapped between cliff and brook, so I worked my way up. The gain in elevation was on a steep, eroded hillside that had exceeded it's angle of repose. It was also covered in thick balsam, prickers, saplings and downed trees from the collapsing earth. It was not a good place if you are either afraid of heights, claustrophobic (pulling you and your pack vertically up through branches that are dense enough to almost hold you in place while your feet feel like they're dangling in space) or generally disturbed by whole trunks giving way, slope collapsing under your feet and sending rocks, trees, branches and dirt down in showers of mini-slides. I'm really glad I did the loop 'clockwise'. Hitting those brooks/bushwack in the gloaming with plummeting temps would suck. Interestingly, the gain in elevation wasn't wasted effort. I only lost about 1/3 of it after joining up with the brook again.
  • Bear Print! Oh yeh. I got pics.
  • The lack of evidence of humans and the palpable feeling of remoteness lead to a profound sense of isolation. Somehow the transitions of the Rocky Branch trail - which starts as an actual, working, high-quality logging road and ends in snow-covered, confusing, narrow alpine terrain where it joins the Isolation Trail, enhances that experience. In spite of my multiple forays into the heart of the Pemi, this was in another league entirely. I don't think a summer loop would be anything like it.
  • The Stairs Col trail looks like it was just built and has never been used. No erosion, no signs of other feet, and completely undisturbed beds of leaves in the birch groves. I had the 'where the hell is everybody???' experience.
  • No Mount Davis. I never saw a sign or a side trail. Nothing.


  1. Awesome pics. Looks like the day cooperated with you in terms of sunshine - although I'm sure it was still cold.

    The bear paw prints are great. Now that you have walked in the shadow of the beast you have to get the tattoo. Ursus americanus...

    Sorry I missed the outing. I am planning some days out in the coming weeks, during the week. What's you availability?

  2. By the way...

    Like many animals, they seldom attack unless cornered, threatened, or wounded. They are less likely to attack humans than grizzly bears and typically have long since fled for cover before one catches sight of them. Grizzly attacks are most often defensive, while black bear attacks on humans, although extremely rare, are often predatory. This makes feigning death when a black bear attacks ineffective. Although 14 North Americans have been killed since the year 2000, it is estimated that there have been only 56 documented killings of humans by black bears in North America in the past 100 years.

  3. That's the FIRST bear-sign I've ever recognized in VT or NH. I like your phrase 'walk in the shadow of the beast'. The prints appeared and my first thought was "who the hell is this and where did they come from?" It looked like a boot print. It was staying to the trail, so for about an hour I was following the tracks. I was, as you said, in the 'shadow of the beast'. Curiously, a moose went lumbering through the woods near Stairs Col (I couldn't see it, but only the dead would've missed it). My first thought was 'THE BEAR!' since I never saw any moose tracks/poop the entire hike.

  4. My weekend schedule is pretty open for the next year or two. Let me know what you thinking of and count me in. I think during this transitional season we should anticipate slow-going on ice/snow/water/mud but the winter fun has begun!

  5. MZ nice pics wish I was there...things are going well in India. Next weekend I am either doing the Mysore 1/2 marathon or the full marathon not sure yet...should be interesting...

    Stay in touch!