Last Saturday, I co-led another AMC Boston instructional trip, a winter bushwhack up Mount Kancamagus, a New Hampshire 100 highest peak with an elevation of 3,763 feet. The point of this trip was to provide a gentle introduction to bushwhacking and expose winter hikers who normally hike on trails to the challenge of tromping through the woods, guided only by a compass bearing and your wits. Some instruction was provided for people who had brought compasses, but the majority of the trip focused on how to find the best route through dense forest, blow downs and around spruce traps, while staying on a bearing.
We had a big turn out with 21 attendees including leaders, so we broke into 2 separate groups, green and purple, and bushwhacked to the summit along different routes.
The green group started from the overlook parking lot just below Kancamagus Pass on the Kancamagus Highway, while the purple group got dropped off a bit farther down on the road to start their hike.
I was part of the green group, which had quite a few ringers in it – very experienced bushwhackers who were along to knab another hundred highest peak – but who also helped explain the ropes to the hikers who were being exposed to bushwhacking for the first time.
Bushwhacking is almost incomprehensible to people who’ve never done it, which is why we wanted to demonstrate it by example. There’s no trail or blazes, you need to really know how to use a map and compass, you need to keep track of left or right drift off of your original bearing, and of course, you need a sense of humor about postholing in the the snow and all of the trees and shrubs that are trying to tear your clothes off!
I am relatively new to bushwhacking myself, but I really like it. It opens up vast areas of the forest and mountains that people don’t go to often and really pushes you to be self sufficient to a degree that you just can’t experience on a trail. But it’s definitely not for everyone.
The green group did pretty well considering that we kept rotating the lead through the group so everyone got a chance to break trail and follow the bearing. We didn’t hit the peak straight on, but we were close enough to the east that we could follow the ridge west to the summit, once we’d climbed up to it.
Unfortunately, the purple group beat us to the top by nearly an hour, but of course, they had a much shorter, if steeper hike. They got bored and cold, so they lit a fire while they waited for us to show up. When we arrived, it was an incredible spectacle to see a fire burning in a pit of snow, next to the canister. Actually, the purple group had built the fire on top of the snow, but it melted down into it’s own little pit.
What’s a canister?
Many of the peaks in New England and New York that can only be reached by bushwhacking, and are on peakbagging lists like the New Hampshire Hundred Highest, the Catskill 3500’s, or the Adirondack 46ers, have canisters at their summits. These canisters look like PVC pipes and are attached to trees at the peak’s summit. They contain log books that people write their names in or leave messages for other hikers. They’re neat little time capsules, a lot like the trail registers you find in Appalachian Trail shelters.
We were all a bit tired and cold after our hike to the summit, so after refueling with food and drink, we retraced the route broken out by the green group back to our cars. This was a nice group and I met a lot of enthusiastic, if not expert, people who want to do more bushwhacks this winter. Fun, fun!