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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Bushwhacking in the northern forest

After some of my bushwhacks, I've often sworn aloud I would never do this again. Being poked and prodded, cut and bitten and generally beaten up by the woods is not for everyone.

Bushwhacking is navigating off trail either to get to remote peaks, cut travel distance or just to see what a place looks like.

It's funny when you talk to many people who have done bushwhacks to remote points, you will often get different stories about how the terrain was etc. I find that some people can move easily through the woods and for some it is a fight to stay up right and moving.

1.First of all what do you need?

The equipment for bushwhacking is the same as most hiking. A sturdy backpack, good boots, food, water and so on. There are several clothing components that you want to carry as well-- pants instead of shorts, a long sleeved shirt instead of a t-shirt, a hat with a brim all the way outside (we call them boonie hats) and eye protection. If it sounds like you are cutting wood instead of hiking in some respects the way the woods treats you can be the same. I remember bumping into a fellow over on North Twin in New Hampshire a couple of years ago whose t-shirt was in shreds. I said "did you have an accident" and he said no he was doing the 48 from all 4 cardinal points and there are usually only trails from one or two. A compass and a topographical map of the area are very important and if you are getting on like me a pair of reading glasses.

2.Next how do you start.

Small. In the military the first exercise you do is to turn 90 degree turns with your compass over a few hundred feet. If you come back to the point you started you pass. With bushwhacking it is best to start with in a place that is fairly familiar to you plot a track or azimuth to see if you can follow the direction and stay on course. Then try to navigate over something harder with multiple hills and streams. Pick an area with known boundaries roads, streams, etc so that you can't get lost.

One big hint is to find where you are when you get out of your vehicle. Orient the compass and direction of the map. Trust the compass. It will remain true. You and I are however human.

I've never have used a gps but my experience from going with others is that you need a track to follow and understanding of topography to make it work. Many care both a compass and a gps as a backup.

3. How fast can you move, ie how long can you plan for hikes to take?

For example I average about 2-3 miles per hour on most hikes. Average time for a 20 mile hike is about 8-9 hours. But on a bushwhack you are often feeling your way through difficult terrain I would figure that your travel time is 50% longer.

4. Are there ways to make your experience easier?

One thing I've found is that there are often natural seams or ways of travel that avoid bad blowdowns, etc. One technique is to take a bearing aim for a point and if you have to shift one way or the other, take a new bearing so that you don't get pulled off to far by the terrain or the conditions on the ground. Some people use google maps to try to get a good idea of what the travel conditions might be like. Experienced bushwhack hikers can look at area from a distance and get an idea of what conditions might be like. Micro storms will create large areas of blow downs, etc.
Use what is there. Animals tend to follow natural areas that are easier to get from one place to another if they are going the same way as you don't fight it. Despite the fact that we think we are the only ones to ever hike to different unusual places it's been done before. Use the natural tracks of human movement to help you along.

5. Relax.

People are out in the outdoors for "fun", there is no shame in being lost. We used to call it being turned around as a kid. Slow down take in the terrain and it's beauty where ever you are. Navigation will go easier and faster if you don't fight the place.

6. Injuries.

When skiing in the backcountry the rule of thumb is to ski in groups of 3. While I'm one of the largest offenders it would be prudent to have at least 3 people when doing some of the bushwhack hikes. So that one person gets injured one person can stay with them and one can go for help. Walking in the deep woods can be exhausting and extremely unpredictable. It takes focus to avoid cuts, scrapes, broke or sprained limbs or poking an eye out.

7. What you gain.

If you like going to remote places, not seeing a lot of people, perhaps a little wildlife than Bushwhacking is for you. The challenges and perils are there but so are the rewards.

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