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Mount Osceola and Middle Osceola Bushwhack

East Osceola from Mount Osceola Ledges
East Osceola from Mount Osceola Ledges

I popped up to New Hampshire for a quick hike last week, climbing two 4,000 footers, Mount Osceola and and bushwhacking to Middle Osceola. The first time I climbed on Mount Osceola, this was a few years back, I met a guy named JR, who is a well known bushwhacking hiker in the White Mountains. He collects old trail guides and maps of lost trails and bushwhacks to rediscover them. When we first met, I remember thinking that bushwhacking was a hobby that I was unlikely to take up myself. Little did I know how addictive it is to step off a trail and prove your self sufficiency and navigation skills.

The trip up the Mount Osceola Trail was straightforward enough, climbing about 2,500 feet in 3.2 miles. To make things more interesting, I decided to carry a full pack on this trip with all of the gear and food I plan on using during an upcoming 4 day backpacking trip. Although I hike a lot during the week near my house, it’s hard to get more than 1,500 feet of elevation per day, so I figured climbing 3,000 feet on this hike would be a good training run, especially with a bushwhack tacked on at the end.

I made it to the old fire tower foots on top of Mount Osceola after two hours, had a snack, and admired the views. It was still blustery out but the sun was glorious and warmed the ledges. The North Tripryamid slide was clearly visible before me, as was Arrow Slide on North Hancock about 10 miles to the north. There is still snow on Mt Washington and the northern Presidentials but you can start to see earth above treeline, so the snow pack must be melting off. Weather and wife permitting, I hope to take a crack on Mt Clay next weekend when I go up to do some trail maintenance on the western flank of Mt Washington.

Middle Osceola Mountain (4220')
Middle Osceola Mountain (4220′)

After summitting Mount Osceola, I backtracked down the Mount Osceola Trail to what looked like an old herd path heading to Middle Osceola. My goal was to bushwhack to the summit and then scope out the next peak along the ridge named West Osceola (4114′), another bushwhack. Neither of these two peaks are climbed much but they’re both on the esoteric and difficult Trailwright’s 72 peak list.

I was a little anxious about doing a solo bushwhack, but I reckoned I’d be able to at least bag the Middle Peak which is only a quarter mile off the Mount Osceola trail. It lies on a well defined ridge, so ‘all’ I had to do was walk along its top to reach the summit. The Western Peak is a bit farther along on the same compass bearing but there’s a steep col between the two peaks.

West and Middle Osceola Bushwhack
West and Middle Osceola Bushwhack

The herd path was indeed a herd path, a bit overgrown, but it headed in the right direction for about 200 yards, as I skirted along the western side of the ridge. But it ended abruptly in a huge tangle of blowdowns. I got around them by dropping down a bit and then continued climbing up the western flank of Middle. The woods were pretty thick  and I had to power through, snapping branches in my path.

I made it to the top of Middle after 30 minutes and wandered around looking for a sign or canister. Nothing, but it was clearly the summit. I’d gotten a few good scratches on my hands and arms on the way in which were bleeding, and torn my clothes. Good times! Next time, I need to bring a pair of gloves and a thicker jacket or something.

West Osceola (4114')
West Osceola (4114′)

I started heading toward West Osceola but the slope dropped sharply into the col surrounding the peaks and the woods became ferociously thick. I quickly decided to turn around and do this peak another day when I could hike in with a larger group. Navigating to the peak is not difficult, but I was concerned about my safety doing it alone.

West Osceola is a beautiful peak with open ledge on its western flank. Seeing it up close like this, I’ve started to wonder whether tackling it head-on from Middle is the correct route or if there might be an easier way in, hiking around the eastern base of Middle Osceola.

Hiking back to the Mount Osceola Trail was much more tedious. I’d drifted over to the eastern side of the ridge on my way back and  drew yet more blood battering my way through the spruce. But the woods opened up as I neared the trail again and I was back on the path out in no time.

Not having a trail to rely on, really changes the trip planning process! Bushwhacking is like discovering a whole new type of hiking for me and proving to be very stimulating.

Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:


  1. Does “bushwacking” fall into the leave no trace rules? If so are there a new set of guides to follow? I am curious because I plan a couple of bushwacks this year, but I want to try and follow the leave no trace guide lines. Thanks.

  2. Nice report. Always wondered about those neighboring humps to the West of the main peak.

    Sidenote: I met JR this Winter on the FireWardens trail on Mt Hale. We ended up hiking down together. He was telling me about his bushwacking adventures. Interesting stuff. I believe he’s working on the grid. No GPS with this guy, definately kicking it old school with map and compass. Definately made the hike down go much quicker!

  3. Joseph,
    LNT and Bushwhacking do not belong in the same sentence, hey hey. No matter where you hike you do some damage, even if it is to erode the path just that bit more. Bushwhacking is not something to enjoy so much as to get to where you are going, at least here in the NE. I have lost backpacks, and other bits of clothing to this…even other gear. I don’t worry too much about LNT principals when I do a bit of a bushwhack. Broken branches are the norm. If I get lost, I can follow these out, besides not loosing an eye. Moving logs happens.Virgin campsites happen at times. (Trying to continue on a trailess hike through dense forest at night is an exercise in futility. Oops, dropping off a cliff face was NOT what you intended.) ‘Corse, then there are open forests with beds of pine needs 3′ thick begging to be slept on..just too nice to pass up. Not to worry, all traces will be swallowed up in a week or so, if you follow LNT spirit, if not the letter. Not quite a rain forest, it is wet and humid, lush with growth. There is some piece of growth somewhere that will benefit from a broken branch. Mosses, lichens, fungi will all descend on such a rich food source. A plant will grow in a foot scuff. As long as only a few practice this art, nothing will be really damaged. Only when the locust like swarm of humanity decides to harvest the ground (including the minerals in the rocks) do we really have problems. Some areas are very fragile. Climate change, global warming is destroying the alpine landscapes of NY, Vermont, New Hapshire and Maine, indirectly caused by too many people and NOT caused by hikers being sloppy in the woods, though they contribute. Never, leave anything in the woods. Don’t take anything from the woods. But, change will happen anyway…LNT is just saying thank you for not happening now..

    Finer details, like stepping on a moss covered log only to find out it is covering a 4’ deep hole, are accidental, but really, no less damaging. There is too much to worry about. It used to be open to sunlight, it wasn’t, it is again. This is a hard call. Damaging? Or, restoring? Both are correct over certain time scales. When the log was a tree, it killed grass, and other non-shade tollerant species. Soo, we chop it down. It rots and is coverd by growth. It eventually breaks down to soil and starts all over. Depends on your time scale what is damaging. I say none of it truely is. LNT is a catch phrase and not absolute. In some areas it is absolutly essential. Tearing down a lonely juniper in a desert to burn? In others, it doesn’t make much difference. Making a fire in the NE is not that bad and may help. Eventually, it would all burn anyway, thanks to some fire sourse. Depending on what time scale you are thinking of, a footstep is not LNT. It can destry Alpine growth in the NE. On other trails it helps grind in leaves making the trail more durable, rather than slick with open clay.

    It takes more than LNT to not harm the country we hike through. It takes an understanding of the underlying geologic, biological, and physical laws around you. For myself, I love the feeling of being in tune with nature that only bushwhacking can give a hiker. Just remember that nature doesn’t care a damn about the individual. That is the BIG problem for most hikers. To reach your goal, without being injured or even killed in the process of traversing nasty terrain.

  4. I guess a trail blood stains, shredded bits of pack, and chunks of flesh likely isn’t LNT.

    Of course, my brother has a theory about the statement that going off trail causes erosion. He says if it weren’t for erosion, we wouldn’t have any National Parks. A careless Native American probably caused the Grand Canyon by cutting across a switchback.

  5. I just finished a 5 day master educator course with Leave No Trace and one of my questions was whether LNT and Bushwhacking are compatible. They are and there are practices you can try to adapt to help minimize your impact on a bushwhack such as spreading out and not using the same route in or out if you are walking on a non-durable surface such as spagnum moss or flowers. Rocks, snows, leaf litter and duff are generally more durable especially if covered with wood and twigs, they are not saturated with water, and not on higher angle slopes.

    As marco correctly points out LNT is not a set of rules, but a set of principles or ethics. If preserving the wilderness for others to enjoy is a priority for you, I would recommend that you sign up for an LNT awareness class if only to help you think about ways that you can minimize your impact. There are a lot of things you can do to avoid creating paths and encouraging overuse if you decide that’s important to you. LNT isn’t the only way to go about this, but it is a useful framework for making certain decisions.

    • I should also add that one of my Master Educator LNT instructors (think Obiwan) expressed a desire to start bushwhacking with me in the White Mountains.

  6. Dennis Peterson

    Seems like a lovely place and an excellent hike. A fine read, thank you.

  7. Returning to thornton gap from Osceola this week, I noticed a trail to the west just before the descending switchbacks. Was this an old route of the main trail? Or could it be a trail to middle or west Osceola?

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