Bushwhacking Mt Oscar

Bushwhacking Mt. Oscar NH

If you hike in the White Mountains, you’ve probably driven by Mt Oscar a million times without knowing its name. It the northernmost peak at the Bretton Woods Ski Resort (they call it West Mountain), adjacent to Mt Rosebrook, which is the middle peak. Oscar is also popular with rock climbers who climb up its western cliffs.

While you can hike up the ski slope to the summit of Mt Oscar, it’s a lot more entertaining to bushwhack the peak from the other (west) side starting near the trailhead to Middle Sugarloaf on Zealand Rd. Both Oscar and Rosebrook are on the NH 500 Highest List so you can bag them at the same time if you feel like it.

Mt Oscar

This is a map of my route, enhanced with slope shading. Areas that are purple and a darker shade of red or orange have very steep gradients and best avoided because they’re cliffs. Areas colored yellow are also steep, but less so.

Walking down FR #155
Walking down FR #155

In planning my approach from the southwest, I wanted to climb up to the saddle between Oscar and Rosebrook by following a route with the gentlest gradient to make it easier to hike.

Saddles are usually quite flat, which can make it hard to tell where you are visually when you hike through one. My plan was to hike to the area slightly above the saddle on the Rosebrook side, so I’d be able to see the point where the gradient (descending from Rosebrook) flattened into the saddle. Knowing where I was, I could then use a compass bearing to stay in the middle of the saddle, which I presumed would be choked with vegetation, and make my way over to the Oscar side and climb its summit.

From Zealand Rd, I got onto Fire Road #155 and followed it past a cairned climbers path that leads up to Oscar’s cliffs. I kept walking until I could make out the ridge connecting Oscar and Rosebrook through the trees. Autumn is the best time to bushwhack because the leaves are down and you can see where you’re going.

I started looking for a good entry point to enter the woods, but there were overgrown logging cuts, probably about 10 years old, to the left of the road, full of densely-packed young trees that are hellish to bushwhack through. I continued down the road until I found a narrow strip of hardwoods between two of these logging cut areas and headed toward Rosebrook, looping around and behind the logging cuts. The woods were nice and open with widely spaced mature trees and a dense carpet of dried leaves.

Climbing up Rosebrook off-trail and in spruce
Climbing up Rosebrook off-trail and in spruce

I started climbing gradually up the side of Rosebrook, climbing diagonally to get closer to the saddle and away from cliffs that I could see overhead, much higher up. I hit a band of spruce trees at 2200′ and climbed through it until about 2650′. This was a painstakingly slow process because I couldn’t see my feet below the waist-high spruce and had to lumber over blowdowns and boulders that I came across but couldn’t see until I was on top of them.

But I could see the curve of the slope to my left, where Rosebrook folds itself into the saddle so I had a pretty good idea of where I was and figured I’d arrived when I hit 2650′ and the gradient flattened out. From here I started heading toward Oscar, dropping slightly in elevation as I anticipated, but bushwhacking through head-high spruce and more pencil woods.

The next moment I stepped onto this trail, which I hadn’t expected.
The next moment I stepped onto this trail, which I hadn’t expected.

Then I stepped out of the spruce and onto what looked like a trail running between Rosebrook and Oscar. I hadn’t expected one to be there, but I wasn’t complaining. I quickly saw blazing that indicated that it was a snowshoe and hiking trail and followed it to the Oscar summit, just beyond a huge ski gondola.

Open Ledge on Mt Oscar with view of Middle Sugarloaf
Open Ledge on Mt Oscar with view of Middle Sugarloaf

The summit area on Oscar is really pretty with wide expanses of open ledge and excellent views of Middle Sugarloaf and Mt Hale. I enjoyed the view until I got cold and then headed back down. Rather than taking a new route back, I basically backtracked the way I’d come, once again descending through the spruce band to the hardwoods below. Once I was down to 2000′, I had to loop around the logging cuts again before regaining the fire road and walking back to Zealand Rd.

Middle Sugarloaf Mountain
Closeup of Middle Sugarloaf Mountain Summit Ledges.

Other Relevant Trip Reports

As a rule of thumb, I don’t pay much attention if any to other people’s bushwhack trip reports when planning a trip because I like to plan my own routes. Still, these made interesting reading after the fact:

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. I am glad to see your write up about Mt. Oscar. We have often camped at Sugarbush and have wandered some of FR 155 numerous times. No one seemed to know where it went. All the other trails in that area are too heavily used. While we would not attempt the bush whack, maybe a trail to the mountain top could be marked at some time.

  2. Thank you phillip for your report on your walk in the mountains near mount oscar,the scenery there is very picturesque going by your photos!! In particular middle sugar loaf looks a very fine mountain. James Hobbs.

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