Distance: 4.6 miles RT
Elevation gain: 1920 feet
Time: 7.5 hours
Trailhead: Drive 1.7ish miles on Haystack Road off of Route 3 in Bethlehem, NH; you will see a logging road with three boulders on your right (see photo below).
Lessons learned: 1. Gaiters can only take so much. 2. Don't underestimate the amount of actual whacking you may have to do. 3. Don't overestimate your compass orienting skills. 4. When off the herd path retrace your steps.
Bushwhacking 101. For over a year I knew Peak Above the Nubble (PAtN) would be my first significant bushwhack. New England's Hundred Highest List has three peaks in New Hampshire that require bushwhacking* and from my research, it seemed that PAtN would be the best choice for a first bushwhack (Merriam Webster defines bushwhack as to "cut or push one's way in a specified direction through dense vegetation").
I researched the hell out of this hike, viewed websites and trip reports, and also wrote to the authors for details (and even got a GPS track of a previous trip). In April I scouted out the trailhead and part of the logging road route in an effort to demystify the challenge.
We had planned to hike the Osceolas with Sandy and Joe. Sandy wound up working and they had to cancel. The weekend's weather prediction was "spectacular" and so our "Plan B" quickly became PAtN.
What extra stuff a hiker needs to bring for their first bushwhacking experience.
- Water purifier (normally we would not consider this on a five mile hike but I wanted to be extra prepared)
- Plenty of water - don't look at trip mileage, look at trip time - if it is 5 miles and 5 hours, bring enough water for a 10+ mile trip. And check to see if there is available water in the area.
- Old sunglasses or some other type of eye protection
- Older long sleeves and pants (I wore knickers and gaiters but the combination did not work that well)
- Compass and good orienting skills
- Pen (you will want to register your name in the little book located in the summit canister and the pens may not work)
- GPS (I highly recommend this - it made our day, however you must also be knowledgeable in compass orienting enough to at least get back to your car without a GPS should you need to)
- Lots of information about the hike (terrain, water availability, elevation gain, cliffs, vegetation)
- Just enough items to spend an uncomfortable but not impossible night in the woods (I bring these items on all my hikes)
- Lots of daylight! - just in case
- Shin guards (kidding, though we could have used them)
|Three boulders mark the logging road off of Haystack Road.|
|Bear right here, you will see the sand hill on your left.|
Here is where I made our first mistake. I grossly underestimated the amount of vegetation in this area, having read descriptions as "clear cut" and not "overgrown clear cut." Instructions from a friend indicated we follow the left edge of this clear cut to the woods and go up. It was like being in a corn field in August; we could not see where we needed to be. Immediately we started bulling through the thick vegetation. Our poles caught on everything and were a huge annoyance.
|Children of the Corn? No, Rich and I trying foolishly to whack the thick part of the clearing!|
Dealing with the distraction and frustration of the thick vegetation at the clear cut, I forgot my friend's advice to stay to the left of the clear cut and start my ascent from the left side. Once we got through the clear cut we immediately headed up into the woods, thrilled that the heavy stuff was over. The wooded area is fairly open with saplings, hardwoods and lots of debris to hop over but we could at least see where we were going.
Rich checked the GPS track we borrowed. We were on their track (we were trying to incorporate two different routes: one from my friend's description, the other from the GPS track we borrowed ).
Then we saw it.
A HERD PATH! Great! We jumped on it and headed up with total abandon, ignoring what we knew and the route on the GPS track. We got to the top of a ridge that wound up being too far right. Second mistake! We had to hike down and then up, avoiding small cliffs and boulders to get where we need to be (using nearby trees as immediate bearings). This cut about 35 minutes into our time and we were both annoyed, particularly when trying to whack through a spruce trap.
Navigating in the woods is taxing. A thought kept creeping in, "we are in the woods, gotta get back on trail." There is no trail. As the hill steepened we were forever placing our foot on iffy ground, trying to guess where the rotting fallen trees are hidden. My stiff, reliable gaiters were falling down, baring my calves, which the bugs loved. In fact, several bugs found their way in and just kept biting and biting.
|During my trip research, I wondered why there were so few photos of hiking in the woods on the way to PAtN. It's because no one wants to stop for photos when slogging up a hill of thick woods and iffy ground.|
Just before the summit of Nubble, we came across a left hand trail that led to nowhere; it seemed to disappear down a cliff. I had read about this trail in reports. We went right and the herd path led us to the top of Nubble. It doesn't have a view and at this point we have not seen any views so we determined that we missed a much easier, more pleasant way to this peak by heading into the woods too far to the right.
After lunch, we felt renewed and headed down and then up the herd path to Peak Above the Nubble. Along the way we did have one nice viewpoint and we had no problem following this path to what? The CANISTER, that's what!
|Finally the canister! I could not get the top off to sign the register without a struggle, though.|
As we skirted around the last blowdown we lost the path and headed down another (or maybe it was a "path mirage"). Once we realized our mistake, we tried to cut into the thick, littered woods to pick up the path but found this to be just a waste of time. After accepting that we had lost the path, we were able to retrace our steps and find it. Another 25 minutes wasted.
We were past Nubble and down to the end of the path in no time. The GPS was constantly checked to make sure we were close to the track. We were. We avoided the spruce trap this time, and stepped over all the moose poop, thanking the moose for clearing a lot of the way for us in their travels. We hit the lower section of the woods (2500') and descended through younger trees, following a small stream part of the way, closely following the GPS. Just when we were decided we were so over! picking our way through fallen, rotten logs, the clear cut appeared directly in front of us. At the high end of the clear cut there are beautiful views of Waumbek and the northern peaks. And, we could see the sand hill in the distance - the logging road where our car was.
This time, we were smart and quickly found our way through the smaller tree growth, following a stream along the way, keeping the tall trees and that one tall dead tree in our sites. This led us to the skidder road back to the sand hill, and to our car.
|So glad to see the car!|
Casualties - Be prepared to sport some war wounds from bushwhacking. Bug bites aside, I hit my head on edgy, broken off branches five times (once hard enough to bleed), smacked my shins countless times (big egg on my left one), received no less than a dozen scratches, and Rich has a small puncture wound on his left arm. Our clothing is in rough shape too, with pulls and small tears.
Final note: We relied heavily on the GPS and the track we borrowed from a previous hiker. If you choose to borrow a track, check the date of the track; winter hiking routes have an advantage with regards to vegetation. More importantly, don't rely on this method of orienting without a back up plan. Many times, Rich had me look at my compass to determine which way to go - once the GPS wanted us to go left when we clearly were not to go that way.
Final final note. We made some amateur mistakes on this hike that made the trip about 90 minutes longer than it had to be. Next time we will be smarter. Rich was clearly the day's hero with his GPS navigation and frankly we were glad to have this helpful tool. But, regardless of our time and our mistakes, another NEHH hike was bagged .
Rich said would do it again, but only if it was someone's dying wish......
* the other two bushwhack peaks are Vose Spur and Scar Ridge