Last weekend I bushwhacked to Bald Cap Peak, a 3,000 footer located to the north of the Mahoosuc Trail (Appalachian Trail) in New Hampshire’s North Country. I co-led this trip as part of the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Map and Compass Navigation Workshop. We do bushwhacks in this course to teach students cross country navigation and to demonstrate just how effective it is.
The weather on this hike was just awful, pissing down rain the entire day as we climbed up to the Mahoosuc Trail at the base of Bald Cap via the Peabody Brook Trail. I hadn’t been up this way for a few years, but I could still remember every twist and turn in the Peabody Brook Trail and where it intersects the Appalachian Trail at Dream Lake. I was the only hiker in our group who’d been on any of these trails before, a pity really, because the AT north of the White Mountains is such a pristine and wild place to hike.
Climbing up the PBT to the AT is a significant climb, with 2650′ of elevation change in just 3.1 miles. It’s also not a terribly easy trail, with lots of slippery rock, stream crossings, and boggy areas where the trail has been drowned by beaver activity. Despite the rain, I was excited to climb the Peabody Brook Trail which has one waterfall after another. They were going gangbusters with the rain and it was a gorgeous climb coupled with the Autumn scenery.
While the climb up was enjoyable, it paled against the novelty of the bushwhack itself and the opportunity to show our students how accurate following a compass bearing and contours can be. After leaving the trail on our bearing, we walked a ways through open forest, before hitting dense, soaking wet spruce that quickly drenched all of us.
The ground was also very saturated, quickly soaking my feet. I may have to buckle down and get myself a pair of boots for bushwhacking, as much for warmth as anything, even if they get wet. I don’t mind wet feet in summer, but it’s something I fear during the spring and autumn should seasons when cooler air temperatures and rain increase one’s hypothermia risk so substantially. Winter is not a problem because I wear mountaineering boots.
All of the students took turns leading on the bearing, sighting on trees in the distance and walking to them while battling through the dense brush. It’s so dense, you often can’t even see your feet or the rotten logs and holes that you need to bulldoze over.
I think it took us about 90 minutes to walk half a mile, which is a bit slow, but not a-typical for a bushwhack pace. It’s one of the reason I like bushwhacks: they’re less of a race, but you still work as hard as you would on a longer distance hike. If anything, they’re test of nerve and navigational skill which can be a pleasurable challenge as long as you have the self-confidence to execute on your trip plan or modify it when needed.
As we got closer to the peak, Joe Comuzzi took point and led us to the summit. Bald Cap Peak has a summit canister fashioned out of PVC pipe that is used to store a log book containing the names of past climbers. The last people that climbed the peak were there four months earlier. If you want to escape the crowds down south in the Whites, bushwhacking is the way to go!
We stopped for a few minutes at the summit and had a quick lunch to warm us up for the bushwhack back to the Appalachian Trail. I was still feeling pretty warm despite the fact that I was soaking wet and everyone else was in pretty good spirits.
But the hike out was just as hard as the hike in. I led for a stretch and really had to battle through some very spruce and blow downs to make any headway. But we all followed the bearing and hit the AT within 50 yards of where we originally entered the woods. That’s pretty amazing if you stop to consider it.
From there we hiked down the Peabody Brook Trail without incident and down to our cars on Hogan Road. Total hike distance was 7.2 miles in 8 hours, with close to 3,000 feet of elevation gain. I slept well that night.