Shoal Pond Peak Bushwhack
Where is the Wilderness? Definitely off-trail.
On this bushwhack, I climbed Shoal Pond Peak (3051′), a remote mountain in the eastern Pemigewasset Wilderness that took me a day to backpack into. After a pleasant evening camped along the North Fork River, several miles downstream from famous Thoreau Falls, I climbed Shoal Pond Peak in a 3 hour RT hike.
After studying the map for possible routes, I chose to come at the peak from the west, from the junction between the Thoreau Falls Trail and Jumping Brook, which drains the Bonds. While you can’t see the confluence of these two waterways several hundred feet below the Thoreau Falls Trail, you can certainly hear it. If you get the chance, it’s definitely worth rock hopping up along the side of North Fork to their confluence. These are not little streams, but raging boulder-choked rivers draining huge mountainscapes, and a sight to behold.
The initial ascent from the trail was steep up until about 2400′ and littered with blowdowns. I’d found a game trail path and followed it with relative ease around a sea of spruce. I knew it was a moose trail because of the prevalence and spacing of moose poop along it, some quite fresh when I poked it with my trekking poles. The trick when climbing a trailless mountain is being able to find open lanes that are easy walking to save your energy for when brute force is the only way to make forward progress. Game trails are one way of doing this.
I ran into mud and marshy ground at 2500′ passing through a flattish area, and then resumed climbing through fairly open woods covered with hobblebush. I’d drifted a bit south on my bearing to take advantage of the game path and tried to work myself back north to get back onto the proper bearing to the summit. There are sub-peaks on either side of the mountain and I wanted to stay well clear of them because they would look like a “local” summit if I fell off the north or south sides of the center peak.
At 2700 feet, I hit a wall of spruce that scratched up my hands pretty good – I’d forgotten to bring my bushwhacking gloves.
At 2800′, I ran into a band of ledges which proved very difficult to climb because every thing I tried standing on, from logs to roots, crumbled underneath me. At one point the ground beneath the ledges started to crumble below me and I had to scramble to avoid falling into the void under the ledge! I tried walking along the base of the ledges to get around them and eventually found a gap which I managed to scramble through and over.
At 2900′, I hit a another marhsy area, but I knew I must be near the summit, which is shown as flat and open on the topographic map. This was followed by another narrow band of spruce and then relatively open woods at 3000′, but little sign of a highpoint. I knew I had to be close though, because I could see the contour of the mountain sloping down to the east.
I started heading north slowly looking for a small gain of elevation when I caught sight of a bit of orange through the trees, and stumbled onto the summit register. I was elated. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as summiting a trailless mountain that only exists on a map. Invisible from below and set back in the forest a mile from the trail, I put my faith in my compass and altimeter and followed them through and over various obstacles, coming to exactly where I wanted to stand. It takes practice and confidence, but there is nothing like the feeling of self-sufficiency at achieving this type of goal.
See Steve Smith’s wonderful article, A Taste for Bushwhacking, for further insight into the mind of a bushwhacker.
I opened the canister and leafed through the register, seeing entries going back all the way to 1985. I added my own annotation to the record, a message in a bottle, and sealed it back up for the next visitor to find.
I decided to take a steeper route down to see if I could avoid the ledge and spruce that I’d encountered on the way up, heading nearly due west to intersect with the Thoreau Falls trail which I intended to hike north. This proved to be hazard free, but much steeper, and I emerged back on the trail about 45 minutes later, several hundred feet north of where I started my hike.
Scratched, bloody,muddy and with new rips in my clothing and gear, I headed north with a smile on my face and a tale to tell.
Recommended Guidebooks and Maps:
- Appalachian Mountain Club White Mountain Guide
- AMC White Mountain National Forest Map Set
- Exploring New Hampshire Map from the Wilderness Map Company