Edited from our hiking blog, http://trishandalex.blogspot.com
Full report, pictures and short videos can be found there.
Rocky Branch Trail, Isolation Trail, Davis Path
Roundtrip, 14.6 miles
Alex and I decided to backpack Isolation. 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). Great!
Forecast called for showers and maybe a thunderstorm. We decided to give it a go anyway. The route is 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 a humid day. Within the first 100 yards sweat began to pour off of me. Alex was uncomfortable too. We both kept chugging water, 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...
...flowers 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.
We made it to the Dry River Wilderness sign...
...and shortly thereafter, da da DAAAAAA...it'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 across 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. I told Alex to stay between LRiz and myself, and I took one step forward...and the grouse stepped up to me as if to say, "don't even THINK about it." It had a mean, nasty look in its eye. It made a scary fussing noise. It was Not At All Afraid. 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 that LRiz was going to have some peck-marks on her, but it turns out the grouse hadn't touched her. I thanked her profusely for taking the hit for us, 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.
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 crossing...it was tricky, but all managed to cross safely.
Made it to Rocky Branch Shelter #2, where we would later spend the night. A butterfly decided to land and keep me company for a few minutes.
Onward we went...
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 10 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.
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.
LRiz needed to get a move on, since she wasn't camping out and therefore needed to get back to her car. We bade farewell, then she jogged onward 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.
Onward we went. LRiz returned from her jaunt to the summit...clouds were clearing, she had been rewarded with great views. We said our goodbyes and parted ways. She flew back down to the trailhead and was probably in her car 20 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.
Got to the Davis Path and took a break. Sun was coming out!
Up the Davis Path we went. At one point we saw views.
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 back down we went. It was slow going. The water on the trails went up to our ankles and sometimes knees. The water crossings were fast and difficult. One in particular gave us some trouble -- MadRiver and I passed Alex between us as she walked on the highest points. All three of us were soaked, and very much looking forward to the dry changes of clothes we had in our packs.
Alex and I were both 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 stopped for a while, I apologized again, gave both of us food and water, and 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 from the shelter, when she had burst into tears because of MY crappy attitude, she had held up tremendously well.
At the shelter, there were two ladies who had not planned on backpacking but could not cross the final water crossing toward the parking lot. 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.
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 she 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 out.
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). 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, and to LRiz.
We met quite a few people. A group of four, led by a very friendly fellow who is on the Rules Committed 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. Many brave souls out there that weekend! Glad everyone made it through safe and sound.