Most people don’t realize that hiking trail design is a spin-off from landscape architecture where trail designers deliberately plan vistas and trail features to heighten our experience of natural beauty. Given that background, some element of the pleasure we experience hiking and backpacking has been pre-programmed by a human mind and may not be entirely natural.
Instead, bushwhacking or off-trail hiking, may be the only way to truly experience the White Mountains as they are.
These are deep thoughts, but I’ve been thinking a lot about bushwhacking, ever since I got lost near Owl’s head a few weeks ago and had to use my compass to bushwhack out to a trail. I kept my head and knew what I was doing, but it felt a lot different from my normal hikes, even in the challenging terrain that I frequent.
First off, bushwhacking requires a level of situational awareness that is uncommon in hiking a trail. For example, how often do you consult your map to match the features in front of you? How carefully do you plan a walk? Do you normally carry a compass out of your pocket and in front of you to stay on a bearing? How many animals do you actually encounter on a trail hike?
Compare this to the experience of bushwhacking where you are very likely to come across animal tracks, in forest which is not trampled by heaving day hikers. Where you need to train your senses to perceive and track your progress across the lay of the land, where direction ceases to be ordained by the eyes, and you need to rely on a compass or GPS to find your way. Where the forest fights back, scratching, cutting and bruising as you penetrate it’s depths, and where common sense is eclipsed by thirst, sweat, and determination.
By bushwhacking, you can find vistas that most people will never see, climb unnamed peaks, and camp beyond perception. You cease to observe and become a participant in the comings and goings, the buzzing and the chirping, the courtship and the dance. You bleed and curse, twist and fall, sweat and fart, at one with the spiders, toads, the ferns and moss around you.