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Bushwhacking West Scar

West Scar Ridge Mountain Canister
West Scar Ridge Mountain Canister

I bushwhacked West Scar on Saturday which has the reputation of being one of the most difficult bushwhacks in the White Mountains. It’s not. Still I had a fun time hiking with some old friends, I got some more off-trail hiking in, and I came home smelling like a spruce tree.

Scar Ridge Bushwhack
West Scar Ridge Bushwhack

Our trip on Saturday started at the base of the Loon Mountain Ski Resort, just outside of Lincoln, NH. The first part of the hike starts with a climb up to the top of Loon on the Brookway and Walking Boss slopes, which are quite steep, a black diamond, someone said. We walked mostly up on the grass, switch-backing back and forth to help reduce calf fatigue.

Hiking Up Loon Mountain
Hiking Up Loon Mountain’s Ski Slopes

But the views were stunning from the top of Loon Mountain! We could see the Kinsmans, Cannon, Garfield, Galehead, the Bonds, Hancock Notch, Franconia Ridge, and two 3000 footers I want to bushwhack named Big Coolidge and South Whaleback, right across the road.

We climbed Loon to get to a herd path located at 3,000 feet, which runs to the start of the bushwhack portion of the hike. The entrance to the herd path isn’t marked, but it’s obvious if you look for a gap in the foliage. Once you get on it, the herd path is marked with orange tape and very easy to follow.

There’s not a lot of online intel about the route to West Scar, but we’d found two trip reports that we’d based our pre-trip research on:

My friends had also obtained two GPS tracks from hikers who’d previously climbed West Scar.

While my preference is not to use a GPS track to navigate,  this wasn’t a hike that I’d organized and the people on it didn’t have the same purist navigation aesthetics that I do. We ended up using a combination of GPS and compasses, if only because it’s easier to follow to a compass bearing when bushwhacking. Still, I was happy to make this a reconoiter for future reference, knowing that I’d probably come back to this peak at a later time from a different direction.

Open Forest
Open Forest

The bushwhacking portion of the hike to West Scar traversed mostly open forest and it was pretty easy-going. We came across quite a few herd paths to the summit, which I tend to be leery of because I’ve followed them in the wrong direction before thinking that they “must” lead to my destination.

Stil herd paths can be a good way to save energy rather than scrambling over blow downs or bashing your way through thick spruce if they head in the right direction.These herd paths headed where we wanted to go and we made great time, summiting after 90 minutes of bushwhacking, shortly after 1 pm.

Scrambling over Blowdowns
Scrambling over Blowdowns

After signing the log book, we headed back, trying to find the way we’d come in. That’s when the bushwhack got more fun for me because we had to do quite a bit of “real” bushwhacking and navigation. We’d come off the peak at the wrong angle, trying to follow an easy heard path down, and gotten way off bearing. We corrected by staying on the contour and looping around West Scar before reacquiring the herd path out. There was a point though, where I was willing to say “f*ck the herd path, let’s just bushwhack back to where we need to be.” I just don’t trust herd paths, I guess.

My buddy Pam
My buddy Pam

Once back on the path, we flew back out to the Loon Mountain slopes and quickly hiked down the mountain slopes  to our cars From there it was a short drive to the Woodstock Inn for burgers and brews before the trip back to Boston. A great day back in the hills with good friends.

Total hiking time was 7 hours with 7 miles and 2779′ of elevation gain.

Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:


  1. Great write up. What software did you use with the topo layout?

  2. Being a westerner (Colorado) I had to google the term “herd path.” Out here, that would suggest either a cow trail or deer trail! I think a herd path is what we call a “social trail”–one made unofficially by popular use, which is also not necessarily the best route for erosion control, etc. The Google results suggest this term is used mainly in the northeast? I would assume there are many more people leaving footprints in the White Mountains than the Rocky Mountains, due to the proximity of a large urban population.

    • Good catch! Skurka said the same thing to me a few weeks ago. A herd path is a social trail. He’d never hear the term or “guard spruce” either which describes the dense wall of spruce trees that guard many bushwhacking summits in New Hampshire.

  3. Hey Philip, it looks as though you nailed W. West Scar, but not E. West Scar and it’s canister. W. Scar Is a 2-part summit. If you find the right line, it’s a 10-minute 1/2-mile…

    Also by way of clarification, it’s E. Scar (a NH100 peak a couple of miles to the east on the ridge) that’s the famous/tough one wherein the phrase “Christmas Tree Hell” was coined.

    • No I know. Are you supposed to bag both to make it count for the NEHH or NHHH lists? I got the impression from the folks I was with who were working on the NEHH that just the one counted.

      • Philip, it totally depends on your own personal moral compass. What criteria are you personally comfortable with satisfying in order to declare that you’ve successfully summitted a given peak? I the case of W.Scar with its two peaks, the one you visited has an officially USGS-measured elevation of 3774′. The E. peak does not have an official elevation, but from the USGS contours is at least 3760′ tall, and less than 3800′ tall. AMC technique would be to interpolate to 3780′ — grounds for treating the E. peak as “the” peak. Personally, because of this uncertainty as to which is taller, I believe that it’s necessary to cover both bases.

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