I co-led an Osceola Ridge Traverse attempt on an Appalachian Mountain Club hike on Saturday with my friends Michael and Alex. Our goal was to traverse the West (4114′), Middle (4200′), Main (4315′) , and East Osceola (4156′) peaks from west to east, starting with a short bushwhack from the East Pond Trail to Mt Osceola, and then hiking out over Osceola and East Osceola by trail back to the Kancamagus Highway.
This isn’t a hike that’s offered very often (if ever) because the West and Middle peaks are not on the 48 White Mountain 4000 footer list and they’re both bushwhacks. They are however are on the increasingly popular Trailwrights 72 list that Michael and I are working on and if you want a real challenge – this is the list for you.
Weather conditions were very good on Saturday with temperatures into the 60’s in the valley and the upper 40’s at 4,000 feet. There’s still plenty of snow though at 3100 feet which is the elevation we started our bushwhack from on the East Pond Trail. This is height of land along the Osceola and Scar Ridge range, still an altimeter is useful for pinpointing the spot.
The East Pond Trail has mostly melted off below 2000 feet except for a thin layer monorail and about 2 feet of snow remaining in the trees. One of the two stream scrossings was running a bit high as well, but easily crossed as long as you have waterproof boots (there is a drier crossing available up-stream.)
The first 1/4 mile of the bushwhack required snowshoes through fairly open forest over wet granular snow. I’d estimate the depth to be 2-3 feet deep but melting fast. After that we hit a dense spruce layer with lots of shallow spruce traps and very slow going. I led during this section and felt like I had to fight for every foot. I did manage to find some clear lanes around blow-downs, ledge, and dense spruce which led us to the top of the false summit west of the West peak.
After much cursing and still more elevation gain, we broke out into open forest which led us first to the false summit and then the summit of West Osceola. I found the canister fairly quickly and we all signed the register.
From there, we headed down the east face towards Middle Osceola, but quickly got stopped up short by cliffs which surround the summit of the West peak, facing north and northeast. The brush got very thick here and our pace slowed down to a standstill. We whacked parallel with the cliff on our left but it kept going and we couldn’t find a way down past it.
By now the day had started to wane, and we made the call to turnaround at 2:30 pm. Bushwhacking in the dark completely sucks and we wanted to get back to a trail, even if it meant following it out by headlamp in the dark. Even then it took as close to 3 hours to bushwhack back over the route wed’ come in on and back to the East Pond Trail
A little disappointing not to bag all of the peaks, but Michael and I did bag West Osceola and we converted at least one hiker in our group to the joys of bushwhacking! (the rest may never speak to us again)
It is very tempting to come back to this peak and find a way around it so we can climb Middle and the rest of the ridge. There seem like so many interesting ways to climb the Osceola’s on bushwhacks instead of trails that this might make a nice little project to explore in much greater depth.
I’m afraid this was my last hike in New Hampshire until June. I’m off to Scotland next week to backpack coast-to-coast, where is looks like winter is still lingering.
Total trip time was about 10 hours, with 5 miles of trail hiking, 2 miles of bushwhacking, and 2500 feet of elevation gain.