I popped up to New Hampshire for a quick hike last week, climbing two 4,000 footers, Mount Osceola and and bushwhacking to Middle Osceola. The first time I climbed on Mount Osceola, this was a few years back, I met a guy named JR, who is a well known bushwhacking hiker in the White Mountains. He collects old trail guides and maps of lost trails and bushwhacks to rediscover them. When we first met, I remember thinking that bushwhacking was a hobby that I was unlikely to take up myself. Little did I know how addictive it is to step off a trail and prove your self sufficiency and navigation skills.
The trip up the Mount Osceola Trail was straightforward enough, climbing about 2,500 feet in 3.2 miles. To make things more interesting, I decided to carry a full pack on this trip with all of the gear and food I plan on using during an upcoming 4 day backpacking trip. Although I hike a lot during the week near my house, it’s hard to get more than 1,500 feet of elevation per day, so I figured climbing 3,000 feet on this hike would be a good training run, especially with a bushwhack tacked on at the end.
I made it to the old fire tower foots on top of Mount Osceola after two hours, had a snack, and admired the views. It was still blustery out but the sun was glorious and warmed the ledges. The North Tripryamid slide was clearly visible before me, as was Arrow Slide on North Hancock about 10 miles to the north. There is still snow on Mt Washington and the northern Presidentials but you can start to see earth above treeline, so the snow pack must be melting off. Weather and wife permitting, I hope to take a crack on Mt Clay next weekend when I go up to do some trail maintenance on the western flank of Mt Washington.
After summitting Mount Osceola, I backtracked down the Mount Osceola Trail to what looked like an old herd path heading to Middle Osceola. My goal was to bushwhack to the summit and then scope out the next peak along the ridge named West Osceola (4114′), another bushwhack. Neither of these two peaks are climbed much but they’re both on the esoteric and difficult Trailwright’s 72 peak list I’m trying to finish this year. New Hampshire blogger Dan McGinnes from DMOutdoors is also working on this list (I think he finished it recently).
I was a little anxious about doing a solo bushwhack, but I reckoned I’d be able to at least bag the Middle Peak which is only a quarter mile off the Mount Osceola trail. It lies on a well defined ridge, so ‘all’ I had to do was walk along its top to reach the summit. The Western Peak is a bit farther along on the same compass bearing but there’s a steep col between the two peaks.
The herd path was indeed a herd path, a bit overgrown, but it headed in the right direction for about 200 yards, as I skirted along the western side of the ridge. But it ended abruptly in a huge tangle of blowdowns. I got around them by dropping down a bit and then continued climbing up the western flank of Middle. The woods were pretty thick and I had to power through, snapping branches in my path.
I made it to the top of Middle after 30 minutes and wandered around looking for a sign or canister. Nothing, but it was clearly the summit. I’d gotten a few good scratches on my hands and arms on the way in which were bleeding, and torn my clothes. Good times! Next time, I need to bring a pair of gloves and a thicker jacket or something.
I started heading toward West Osceola but the slope dropped sharply into the col surrounding the peaks and the woods became ferociously thick. I quickly decided to turn around and do this peak another day when I could hike in with a larger group. Navigating to the peak is not difficult, but I was concerned about my safety doing it alone.
West Osceola is a beautiful peak with open ledge on its western flank. Seeing it up close like this, I’ve started to wonder whether tackling it head-on from Middle is the correct route or if there might be an easier way in, hiking around the eastern base of Middle Osceola.
Hiking back to the Mount Osceola Trail was much more tedious. I’d drifted over to the eastern side of the ridge on my way back and drew yet more blood battering my way through the spruce. But the woods opened up as I neared the trail again and I was back on the path out in no time.
Not having a trail to rely on, really changes the trip planning process! Bushwhacking is like discovering a whole new type of hiking for me and proving to be very stimulating.