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Shoal Pond Peak Bushwhack

Shoal Pond Peak Summit Register
Shoal Pond Peak Summit Register

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.

Shoal Pond Peak Bushwhack
Shoal Pond Peak Bushwhack

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.

Abundant Moose Poop
Abundant Moose Poop

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.

Open woods at 2400'
Open woods at 2400′

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.

Wall of Ledge
Wall of Ledge, behind the spruce

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.

Shoal Pond Peak Canister
Shoal Pond Peak Canister

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.

Figuring out the best route down from the summit
Figuring out the best route down from the summit

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.

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  1. Pretty amazing to think that summit register has been out there that long!
    Any idea what’s the oldest register still out there?
    And I never thought to think about it, but who maintains those and where do they go once full?
    That would make a neat blog post :)

    • There’s no organized force that maintains the registers and the irony of that top photo is that the AMC doesn’t officially maintain the 3000′ list anymore. Still, I get a kick out of seeing those old registers in the PVC tubes and even more so when there’s just a mason jar at the summit instead.

  2. Thanks for sharing.. definitely my kind of trip….When hiking cross country in terrain like that I wear a pair of Snake Chaps, not Gaiters. I bought them from Cabela’s some, let me check, yeah my nephew is 40 this year so it was 24 years ago. They are well worth the money.. I bought them mostly for protection against the heavy pointy, prickly, sticky, vegetation of the Chapparell on the West Coast and as a second thought for Snake protection. I also reccomend at Pack with no outside pockets to catch things on or a Military Surplus Bag from the Nam era which were made for running through the brush..Or one of the old Boy Scout Packs if you can find one in good condition..Were you wearing a pair of those Trail Sneakers? How did they work out in that wet marshy ground?

    • My feet got wet and one shoe almost got pulled off in the mud,but otherwise they were fine. Trail runners only get sketchy when you have to climb through fields of blow downs. That does happen. I’ll probably switch to a mid height boot as the season turns to autumn for a bit more protection and warmth when wet.

      • Thanks for your honest, as always Answer…Though they are heavy boots, I have to train for a couple of weeks before a cross country hike if I plan to wear them to get my lower leg muscles used to the weight. But I have found no better boot for those occasions where the terrain is so varied from dry to wet, to soggy, etc. etc. Their called the “Matterhorn” made by Danner. Run abou $250.00. Solves all those issues… Glad I checked, I could not find them on the web, the nearest style and design to them is now called the Danner “Ft.Lewis Boots” from what I could find. I did buy them 18 years ago..Great boot but a bit heavy for trail travel, similar in design to my former Military Issue Combat Boots in the 60’s..

  3. Hi,

    I enjoyed reading about this trip. I’m also a regular reader of this blog which I enjoy very much.

    I have a question regarding bushwhacking and Leave No Trace (since I know you are a Master Educator). I know LNT mentions “travel and camp on durable surface”. I’m not sure how to reconcile the two?

    On one hand if it’s not practiced by many I guess it won’t really damage the wild lands, but on the other if it ever becomes fashionable for the hiking community to bushwhack wouldn’t that lead to new trails and campsites being created?

    • Phil will no doubt answer you as well. I have been “Stealth” Camping or LNT Camping for over 40 years. Most of the woodcraft followed by yesterdays experts is gone and was either never passed on or never taught. I learned mine from my Grandfather and my Father and the Boy Scouts in the early 60’s.WoodCraft is like when I make camp outside of an established campground I brush away the Duff, leaves and needles in an area of about 10 ft long and 4 ft wide. The National Forest by my current home allows for this as do some Desert Regions under the Dictate of the BLM Monarchy. I do not build a stone fire Ring, I use a Stove. In cold weather where I might like to sit up into the night and sit around a warm fire, I dig a hole the size and depth of my Baseball Hat or a Cat hole with my Cat hole tool. I build a Fire Reflector out of small 1 inch by 12 inch long sticks, not logs. We were talk an old Indian saying, whether the Indians actually said it or not I have no proof. But it went like this…”White man make big fire and have to sit far away and is cold. Indian make small fire, use less wood, and is warm”. When I leave, I make sure the fire is out in the hole via water or urine, not just packed dirt, and if in a rocky area I might place a rock over it. I never burn garbage in the fire place especially garbage that does not burn down to a fine ash. I then dismantle the Reflector and throw the sticks randomly out in the forest in every direction. I pack up my tent and get my Backpack ready to put on.. Then after everything is packed and ready to go, I do a search for any kind of man made materials and put it in my trash bag. Next I pick up handfuls of the brushed aside forest duff and from a height of three feet I “sprinkle” the Duff back unto the forest floor so it appears to be about 90% of what it looked like when I arrived. Sometimes my sprinkling isn’t that good so I go off a ways and collect some more Duff and sprinkle it…In a couple of days Mother nature will have added to the Duff, and her breezes will groom the site to Mother Nature is pleased…giving the forest it’s original haute courture (sp?) lols

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