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Mount Hale and South Hale Bushwhack

Mount Hale and South Hale Bushwhack
Mount Hale and South Hale Bushwhack

The first day of winter (yesterday) is a big deal in the White Mountains because it means that peakbaggers can finally start counting winter climbs against their Winter 4,000 footer lists. This peak list is much more difficult to complete that the four season 4,000 footer list because of the dreadful weather and limited daylight that accompanies winter in the Whites.

I marked the day by going on a long hike with some good friends and a few new ones, climbing Mt Hale (4,052 feet) and then bushwhacking to South Hale (3,700 feet), which is on the New England Hundred Highest List. It’s not a peakbagging list I keep track of, although I suppose that may change someday – I’ve actually completed over 90% of it already.  My main goal for the day was to bag Mount Hale for the Trailwright’s 72 list I’m working on and to get a taste a winter bushwhacking.

Winter days are short (sunrise at 7 am, sunset at 4 pm), so we started this hike very early, meeting at 7 am at the Mountain Bean, a coffee shop in the tiny town a Twin Mountain. I’d spent the night at a cabin nearby, but most of my friends had driven up from Boston, leaving  around 4 am.

Little River
Little River

We started this hike just up the road from the Mountain Bean, past the Seven Dwarves Motel, a very colorful landmark and a good place to park for overnights in the area. We got on the trail by about 7:45 am, hiking parallel to the Little River in the direction of Mt Hale. Temperatures have been unseasonably warm this December, so there wasn’t much snow except at higher elevations.

After about an hour or so of hiking we started to look for the Fire Wardens Trail, an unmaintained trail that runs up the back side of Mount Hale from the Little River. It’s not signed or anything, but it’s pretty easy to spot the grade if you keep looking up the hill towards Hale.

Then we climbed up and up to the summit for about 2 hours, bare booting the whole way. I was feeling pretty good. I’d slept well, had a big breakfast, and had pre-hydrated, but I was sweating like mad on the climb carrying a full winter pack, including group emergency gear. The grade up the Fire Wardens path isn’t that steep, but the trail just goes on and on.

Loki and David at the Summit of Mount Hale
Loki and David at the Summit of Mount Hale

Eventually we popped out of the trees onto the open summit of Mt Hale, which looked significantly different from when I was last here. The summit had been quite a large open area on my last trip, but the surrounding trees have really closed in over the past few years.

After a short break, a few members of the group decided to hike out and back to the cars while the rest of use went on to bag South Hale. We left the summit on the Lend-a-Hand Trail and hiked down about a mile, before forking right on a bearing of 215 degrees.

At this stage, our friend Alex took over navigating for the bushwhack because he’s got a fair amount of experience at it.  It was interesting to watch Alex navigating and how he traversed stretches of ground, staying at a particular contour interval to loop around obstructions and avoid steep ascents and descents. I think I’m hooked. Bushwhacking requires excellent compass and map reading skills, a fair amount of stamina to push through dense growth, good footwork, and vigilant group communication.

Refueling Stop on the Bushwhack Out
Refueling Stop on the Bushwhack Out

We made it to the canister at South Hale by 1:30 before descending toward to Little River to the west, joining the trail that runs along the river about 10 minutes past where we left to ascend the Fire Warden trail. From there we hoofed it back to our cars, arriving at 4:30 om.

Good hike. I reckon we did between 8 -9 miles in 7 hours of hiking, with about 2,000 feet of elevation gain. I expect to sleep very well tonight.

Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:


  1. I also like bushwhacking, and there is plenty of it in the Adirondacks. Sometimes I run into natural obstacles that prevent me from going where I want to go, but charting my own course through the wilderness is more exhilarating.

  2. If its Alex N I'm glad he got it. He was trying to convince us to add South Hale to our Hale, Zealand, Bonds hike next week. That hike is long enough we don't need to toss in some extra bushwhacking. :-)

    BTW – think South Hale is a New Hampshire Hundred Highest, not New England.

    Michael Blair

  3. Sure was- he mentioned that he'd been shopping that hike around. Me and PedXing really enjoyed it. I could have sworn it was the NEHH because it had peaks in Vermont and Maine on it when I looked it up last night. Will check again. I should probably keep track, after all….:-)

  4. Mike – I have to agree. I also enjoy the thrill of navigating by compass,map and reading the landscape. Taking it off trail and getting smacked in the face by spruce branches only adds to the pleasure. I might add, Alex also used past trip reports to plan the route. Very important.

  5. I took my family bushwhacking once to a remote mountain peak in west Texas…i had fun nut my wife and kids vowed to never do it again

  6. Just found this website and it looks fantastic and i can't wait to look through it all. I'm from England and spend most of my time walking in the Lake District, i also do the Coast to Coast every year. Keep up the good work, Rich.

  7. Welcome Rich! – I'll be applying for the 2013 TGO Challenge again next autmn- is that the coast to coast you mean or the one farther south?

  8. Hi, the one you mentioned is the Scottish Highland one i think, to be honest i don't know much about it so i'll have a look. Its the Wainwright C2C i do, St Bees to Robin Hood's Bay and Sept 2012 will be my 3rd crossing. The reason why i love doing it is not just because its a fantastic walk but because i meet many people from all over world, its a very popular walk with many Americans, Dutch, Australian, Germain to name a few.

    I'll try and look through your Website asap, it looks like there's lots for me to learn here.


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