Bushwhacking Mount Cushman

Bushwhacking Mt Cushman

Mount Cushman is a 3220′ mountain on the New Hampshire 200 Highest List. It’s a trailless mountain so you have to bushwhack to climb it. It’s located just south of Mt Moosilauke on the edge of the Hubbard Experimental Forest, which is one of the wilder and less-visited parts of the White Mountain National Forest.

Mount Cushman

Route Planning

There are two ways to approach Cushman. The first is a wayside pull-off along Rt 118 to the north and the other is from Hubbard Brook Road, which is an east-to-west seasonal fire road that runs south of the peak. This being winter, parking along Rt 118 was a sure bet so we opted for that route.

The best point to leave the road at height of land on Rt 118 before heading south and climbing Cushman’s western ridge. The ridge curves to the east a few hundred feet below the summit, but as long as you keep climbing uphill you’ll stay on the right bearing.

The woods along Cushman’s ridges were surprisingly open
The woods along Cushman’s ridges were surprisingly open

The Hike

We left Rt 118 and dropped down a steep embankment by the side of the road and immediately came across an old logging road running heading south. The snow depth was borderline (about 4″ of powder) and while we carried snowshoes for this hike, we ended up not wearing them.

We followed the road for a short time before veering south toward Cushman’s ridge. Despite a preponderance of hobblebush lower down, the woods were wide open almost all the way to the summit area.

This was unexpected because we’d heard from friends to expect scrappier woods from the west and pencil woods near the summit. I think we avoided both of those by hiking up the spine of the ridge rather than coming in from a more westerly or eastern direction. We could see denser and steeper terrain in both of those directions.

There was widespread evidence of moose browsing the trees

The climb up the spine of the ridge was surprisingly gradual. We noticed numerous places where moose had stripped bark from the trees as well as numerous moose and deer tracks.  This isn’t a heavily peopled part of the National Forest, so I’m not surprised that they frequent the area.

The gradient steepened as we neared the Cushman’s summit and started looking for the summit canister. This required some searching since there isn’t a well-defined summit cone. I eventually spied the PVC tube in an unlikely spot, but it was frozen shut so we couldn’t sign the logbook. Oh well.

Ken poses at the Cushman summit canister
Ken poses at the Cushman summit canister

We had a quick lunch and then followed our footsteps back the way we’d come. That’s one of the advantages of winter bushwhacking. You can follow your tracks out instead of getting lost twice on the same hike! Think I jest?

I think we were a little disappointed at how easy this bushwhack was, since it only took us 3 hours round trip, but that would change on our next hike farther north.

Recommended Hiking Navigation Tools

I carry and use all of these navigation aids on hikes, both on-trail, and off-trail, in addition to a paper map. The most reliable tool is the compass, by far, because it only relies on the earth's magnetic field to operate. The others are also excellent, but they can generate false positives in the field and it's useful to have a compass along so you can verify the information they provide. 

  • Casio Pathfinder Solar Powered Altimeter Watch - are you sick of changing or charging your watch's batteries? This multi-function watch is solar-powered and the watch band is replaceable. I've been wearing one continuously for 5 years. I never take it off. It has time, date, compass, temperature, altimeter, barometer, stopwatch, backlit display blah blah. I mainly use the time and the altimeter. 
  • Suunto M3 Declination Adjustable Compass - great compass.  Set the declination and forget it. True north eliminates ever having to add or subtract degrees when going back and forth with a map and compass. I have the M3-NH (Northern Hemisphere) model. They also have an SH model and a G-model, which means it's a global compass that can be used north or south of the equator.
  • GaiaGPS Navigation App - there are some things about Gaia that really annoy me, but they have a lot of different maps and map layers to help you figure out where you are in the field. I mainly use the Gaia Topo and TF Outdoors base maps with the Slope Angle and the US Roads layer, which has forest/park service roads, fire roads, some snowmobile trails, and unpaved roads.  You can't carry all these maps at once unless they're available in digitized form on your phone. 
  • Caltopo - Caltopo doesn't have the programming staff that GaiaGPS does, but I still like it much better than Gaia's route planning tool. This is what I use on my laptop to plan and document my hikes. It's also very convenient for big picture planning especially when you're trying to block out a number of alternative routes. Caltopo also has an app, but I like Gaia's much better.

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About the author

Philip Werner has hiked and backpacked over 7500 miles in the United States and the UK and written over 2500 articles as the founder of SectionHiker.com, noted for its backpacking gear reviews and hiking FAQs. A devotee of New Hampshire and Maine hiking and backpacking, Philip is the 36th person to hike all 650 of the hiking trails in the White Mountain Guide, a distance of approximately 2500 miles, completing a second round in 2021. Philip is the author of Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 Footers, a free online guidebook of the best backpacking trips in the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Maine. He lives in New Hampshire.

3 comments

  1. That’s awesome! Can’t wait to get there. Thanks for sharing the experience.

  2. These are my favorite types of stories of yours. Lovely photos. I agree with you. Winter bushwhacking is “convenient” as you can a) see through the trees and b) follow your footprints back!

    Do you only do digital maps or do you get a paper copy of the USGS map of the area your going to? I have yet to get the USGS map of an area. The government site is, well, a government site. Can’t navigate that even with a compass!!

    • I use Caltopo to print out the portion of the USGS map we plan to hike. The PDF in the post was generated by it. I suggest you learn how to use it, if only to avoid the USGS website.

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