Throughout many of my hiking posts I frequently use the word 'bushwhacking'. I learned this word from my dad when we would bust through the woods on a walk and was recently surprised to learn that it is actually had a legitimate definition. Honestly, when pushing my way through vegetation or crawling through a thick swamp, I'm usually not that interested if a word has an appropriate definition. For me, bushwhacking has become a bittersweet curse that means scratches, bruises, and the occasion fulfilling sense of satisfaction.
As I've stated multiple times before, I started hiking for the waterfalls. Trails and directions were of secondary interest. After all, it's easier to find a trail if you start at the waterfall, where you know it goes. A trail could start on the side of the road, near a parking spot, or behind a building, and trailheads are rarely marked. Most of my hikes involved picking a destination, hacking my way in, and then doubling back to find how the best route in. Bushwhacking became a regular part of my hiking.
Once I left waterfalls behind and increased the variety of hikes I started to avoid trails for the extra challenge. Busting out of the undergrowth onto a scenic drop in the river or out on an outcropping overlooking my surroundings was much more rewarding than following an established trail. Not only did I get the extra sense of adventure but I often noticed more sights along the trip. An extra set of falls downstream, a huge tree perched percariously on the ridge, or some old foundations left for the forest to overgrow became extra bonuses on long hikes.
Bushwhacking is something worth preparing for, though. Leaving trails behind also means walking away from help options. I've had plenty of experience, both positive and negative, and have learned the hard way that there is more to bushwhacking than just wandering away from my car. Below are a few things that I try to remember before setting off on adventures, especially if they involve sans-trail hikes.
This one is a bit obvious. It doesn't matter if you're hiking in the summer heat or spring rains, long sleeves are important for several reasons. Ticks, black flies, and mosquitoes are not only annoying but can spread diesease. Branches and rocks can scratch and cut (although I've had a few gashes go straight through denim). Also, temperatures can change quickly. I've had drops of more than twenty degrees during a hike and ended shivering in the summer. Pants and either a long sleeved shirt or light jacket should be standard attire for bushwhacking.
I am particularly bad about this one even after running into some dangerous situations. If I'm going over five miles through rough terrain I (usually) bring water, and more than ten miles (usually) have food too. Supplies are hard to pack and haul through the bush. Deciding to bring medical supplies, extra gear, or extra water can be difficult depending on the time of year and hike. I try to pack enough gear to feel safe and comfortable carrying, but without a water filter or dependable camelback I've run into a few tricky issues. I'd recommend being more safe than sorry. If it's a long hike far from civilization you might want to have enough for an overnight… For overly-optimistic me, that's some water, snacks, and a knife.
Have a Plan B
This is the most important point. Bushwhacking is hard and can add hours onto a trip. If something bad happens you don't want to have to retrace a difficult path. Whether 'something bad' is a physical injury or just a bit of fatigue, having a Plan B is important and has helped me a lot over the years. While I do enjoy bushwhacking and usually lean towards it, I'm not bull-headed enough to wear myself ragged trudging on the least-taken path or not give myself an easy way out. While it can be fun and rewarding, bushwhacking is not the only way to enjoy the outdoors.