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Bushwhack Bailout

Mike and his Wild Oasis Tarp
Mike and his Wild Oasis Tarp, surrounded by heavy frost

Mike and I were cold and wet when we reached the pond. We’d both gotten soaked on the bushwhack up to Mount Anderson (3740′) and had decided to hike back down to Norcross Pond and camp out instead of continuing deeper into the backcountry. It was the prudent call. We’d received much more rain than the forecast had called for during the day, the winds were picking up, and we knew that it would be a frosty night as an overnight low pressure system pushed through the area.

We changed into our dry sleeping clothes and puffy jackets and made hot drinks to warm up. We were cold but not showing any signs of hypothermia yet, although the conditions were ideal for it.  A cold fog had blown in obscuring all of the mountains around us, with temperatures hovering in the low-forties. My rain jacket and rain pants had wetted out and my hiking shirt, pants, underwear, fleece pullover and socks were soaked. The same with Mike’s. We hung our clothes in the trees to dry and made dinner to fuel the furnace (stomachs) for the long cold night ahead.

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Mt Anderson Canister (3740')
Mt Anderson Canister (3740′)

Mike and I had had a good climb up Anderson, entering the woods from the Nancy Pond Trail, just below the outlet of Norcross Pond. Nancy and Norcross Pond are both located on a high plateau at 3121′, so the summit of Anderson was only about a 620′ climb. The big elevation had come earlier that day, when we climbed 2200′ feet up from Crawford Notch and Rt 302 in light drizzle.

We’d planned a much longer trip – including two other bushwhacks to Mt Lowell and Duck Pond Mountain and a “wild” camp between the two peaks,  but after summitting Anderson, it was an easy call to abort and hike back to a known location with good water and camping options. This was my first hike with Mike, although I’d met him before, and he was on the exact same page as me when I suggested we hike back to the ponds, camp, and reformulate our agenda on Sunday morning. We were both cognizant of the fact that things can spiral out of control rapidly in the White Mountains when you have left a trail and move from a well-defined set of risks to a place where you don’t know what to expect.

Mt Anderson Bushwhack - Approximate Route
Mt Anderson Bushwhack – Approximate Route

The bushwhack up Anderson had been moderate, alternating from fairly open woods to pencil woods, to tough spruce, and then short easy spruce around 3500′. We found an old herd path which we followed the final 240′ up to the summit although we lost it a few times because it had filled in with blowdowns.

The descent took a little longer than expected however, because  we ran into some cliffs on the south side of Anderson that we didn’t anticipate when examining the topographic map. They’re definitely visible via Google Satellite however. We backtracked when we hit them and worked our way further east to the ridge before descending back to the Nancy Pond Trail.

My trusty Black Diamond Firstlight Tent - I packed the right shelter for this trip - excellent wind protection and a warm XTherm Sleeping pad kept me tasty all night
My trusty Black Diamond Firstlight Tent – I packed the right shelter for this trip – excellent wind protection and a warm Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm sleeping pad kept me toasty all night

When we woke the next morning all of our clothes were still soaked.  The temperature had dropped to 30 overnight, there was a heavy frost on the ground and on our tents, and the wind was blowing snow. I called over to Mike, who was still hunkered under his tarp, and we quickly decided to hike out, since we only had our backup sleeping clothes to wear. I cooked a hot breakfast because it was a four mile walk back to the car and then we packed up camp and split.

We had a great time on this trip despite the fact that the weather turned much worse than expected. We made all of the right decisions about when to back-off from our trip plan and when to bail, and we stayed safe. There’s a reason why the White Mountains have a bad reputation when it comes to weather. You really do need to hike safe in New Hampshire and make conservative judgements when conditions turn sour. Turning around is always an option.

Mike and I encountered frost and freezing rain on the hike out
Mike and I encountered frost and freezing rain on the hike out

If there’s one lesson I learned from this trip…we’re always learning and practicing…it’s some more insight into why my bushwhacking friends hate to hike off trail in the rain. We really got wetter than just soaking-a-baselayer-with-sweat wet during our climb to Mt Anderson. That’s definitely a good reason to  avoid bushwhacks in cold rain, something that I’m going to take to heart in the future.

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  1. Sounds like a good call. And that does look like a good shelter to have. My poncho tarp is a lot like Mike’s, but when it gets wet and cold, I’m thinking a floor is a good thing to have.Sounds like it’s about 3 lbs actual carry weight? That’s pretty good for what it is. I see it says it’s a “two person” tent. Maybe if they’re very very small. Looks more realistic for one.


    • 43 ounces.. It is a “spacious one person”, free standing tent which pitches very fast – perfect for winter. It’s also an excellent car camping tent for cooler weather when I don’t want to fuss with staking anything out after dark. Single wall. I’ve owned it since 2008 and still consider it to be one of the best winter/backpacking purchases I’ve ever made.

    • I actually like not having a floor since I can pile up my dirty pack, shoes and clothes and not worry about having to clean the tent floor later. I just use a polycryo groundcloth but heat shrink window insulation would be cheaper. I also tried using my shoes as a pillow this trip by setting them under my head under the groundsheet and it worked great. It kept them from freezing and with a little padding felt like a real pillow!

  2. Better to bail and risk it. The mountains are not going anyplace and cold conditions with damp clothing will soon lead to worse problems. Good to see sense being shared and not some hype to look cool when it was not like that.

  3. Wild trip. I was originally disappointed that I couldn’t make this trip but now not so much! I like your original plan, I’d like to attempt that next year.
    Yeah, wet bushwhacking can be tough. Best to stay on trails or find something with guaranteed open woods for those wet days.

    • I saw some cliffs on the west side of Lowell that looked impassible, so the best route may be to go back up Anderson and pass through the Anderson/Lowell col once, which I’ve read is very thick. See Salty’s trip report. I’ve concluded that it’s best to hike Duck Pond as a one-off, rather than trying to link them together, approaching from Nancy Pond.I’m sure we’ll be going back in the spring, :-)

  4. It was a great trip despite the weather! My favorite was the blowing snow we woke up to Sunday morning. Definitely a surprise!

  5. They definitely made the right choice. A friend and I backed off from an attempt to circle the Seven Devils mountains in Idaho, during a blizzard. We dropped down 1000 feet to get out of the snow to where it was just wet. Our clothes were in the same condition. it was too wet to build a fire. We set up our tents and got in warm clothes. Live to hike another day…..

  6. Smart call. And nice to have an article that shows exactly why it’s better to back off rather than push on.
    Plus you demonstrated the reason why having a choice between a few shelters is always a good idea

  7. Being Smart is knowing when it is time to make a change….Phillip could you expand more on how or why your cross country clothes got wet thru and thru?

    A Suggestion, If you can find one..I have a 8 year old Coleman Tent Heater that is the size of a one quart Pot and uses the larger of my Sno-Peak Canisters for fuel. I generally carry it with me in the fall but not always especially if the NOAA says clear for the next five days…

    • sure – I wear an old rain shell – lots of patches – which can’t hold a DWR very well and it wet out during the whack, probably because I was brushing up against so much wet spruce. I was wearing a fleece underneath which soaked up the moisture from the wet out (event) jacket. The same thing happened with my pants which are a double layer railrider weatherpant which soaked up extra water and took a long time to dry in the cold humid conditions. I also found that I’d ripped out the seat of those rain pants when bushwhacking, so water must have been pouring into them…..

      Needless to say, I’ll be wearing a different shell layer this weekend. It’s time to rotate a new rain shell in (not exactly new, patched already, but heavier and with a decent DWR layer, and a pair of precip pants. I may just switch to Coleman PVC rain gear at this point. The stuff is bomber and pretty cheap.

      • Thanks lots of good information there for the new kids on the block. I have recently hiked in the wet forest in the Coleman gear their selling at WalMart (Pants & Jacket & Poncho) and spent an entire morning fishing in the Rain wearing it and was happy while fishing because I was standing still but I found that for me, hiking along a trail at normal speed tended to build up that inside vapor which condensed into running down my back and legs..The Poncho just by it’s nature of being more open was better on the trail. For Cross Country around here I found that my old coated (bought about 1979 via Campmor) Nylon Cagoule was a better choice being open at the bottom and a half zip on the Chest, made the air circulate a lot better than a rain suit so I stay a lot dryer. Thanks for all your good stuff!

  8. Lots to learn from this post, many thanks.

  9. Thank you for the continued excellent posts about off trail hiking. Have you considered how useful a hammock would be or wouldn’t be? I am often surprised at how tight spruce is at higher elevation.

    • Tommy – so nice to hear from you. I’m still not a hammock guy. Specially for shoulder season. Too cold for me, I’m a dedicated ground sleeper and can still always find a narrow flat space to sleep without too much trouble.

  10. I’m thinking that you need a solid plan on when you both squeeze into the tent for warmth and better monitoring of hypothermia symptoms. Because if you are in an early phase of hypothermic cognitive impairment you probably won’t come up with that as an idea.

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