Why would you want to bushwhack? Bushwhacking or "whacking" is not for everyone. You need to carry additional supplies. Navigational skills are a must. Your pace will likely be less as you find yourself spending some of your time negotiating obstacles and studying your course. What if you get hurt? The chances of getting hurt while whacking are greater than while following a trail. Most likely no-one will be passing by to help you. And what if you encounter severe blowdown or other obstacles?
|Thick but passable...|
So what's the other side of the coin? For starters, whacking can be a safe and enjoyable experience (with proper preparation). As with vacation planning, sometimes half the fun is the planning itself. If you enjoy trip planning, whack planning may interest you. For some people, the navigation/orienteering aspect of a whack provides pleasure. For others, solitude is important and they want to be away from a constant stream of hikers. You may find a thrill in being "off the grid" in a Thoreau type of way. The natural world may be what you are seeking or the primitive feeling of relying on yourself, your gear, and your knowledge to traverse a remote area.
|A little hard to get through|
To increase your chance of having a sucessful whack, you need to study your proposed route in advance. Look at a good topographic map of the area. What do the contours tell you? Are there streams, creeks or wetlands that you will have to navigate. Are there cliffs? Are there lots of little hills to get confused by? Topography can be studied. Traditional water courses can be studied. Keep in mind that water can change based on mother nature. Periods of heavy rain or spring snow melt runoff can greatly swell most water courses.
|Hardwoods usually are not too bad, especially when the leaves are down|
Google Earth can be a great tool to use to visualize an area in 3D before you go. You can even get a sense of whether the area is forested with hardwoods or softwoods. Of course you can't zoom to a level where you can determine blowdown, but it's a great tool. On Google Earth, you can also identify features and locations that you want to get to, and alternatively, those you want to avoid. You can note elevations and can establish coordinates of areas you are trying to locate. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) can also be great planning tools. It is also helpful to seach the internet for information about your destination.
In addition to maps and your trustworthy compass, a Global Positioning System (GPS) device is invaluable. A good GPS unit can double as an electonic compass. Many units have built-in altimeters so you can accurately know your elevation. Many also have topo maps built-in, or they can be added on. With a GPS Unit, you can set a course toward a predefined set of coordinates (waypoint), or you can save waypoints, or tracks (a series of waypoints). Saving a track can be valuable so you can see how you are traveling on a map. You can also use a tracback feature to retrace your route if you want to go back the way you came. Make sure you have a new set of batteries and a spare set. Geocaching is a great way to practice your navigation skills with a GPS device. Most smart phones can run GPS apps. I use Backcountry Navigator Pro on my Android phone as a backup to my GPS unit. Battery life on the smart phone wlll be a problem. You will need a spare phone battery and/or a solar charging device to get a day of more use out of your cell phone.
Of course, technology doesn't replace common sense. If the sun is out, you can use the location of the sun to determine the approximate time of day and approximate direction you are heading (or the direction you need to head). Know your weather forecast, and watch for changes in weather. If you run into obstacles like heavy blowdown, your progress with slow greatly, and it will become easy to get twisted around. Sometimes you'll come to a stream that you thought would be crossable, but it's not! You could come across timber growth so thick that it is nearly impenetrable. These are some of the unknowns and challenges that make whacking a pleasure or a curse.
If your intended route crosses private property, don't forget to get permission from the land owner, to hike on their property. It pays to be respectful. For you own safety, be sure to leave an itinerary, even a rough one, with someone you trust. Make sure you've got all the gear, food and information you need to survive outdoors if need be (especially in the winter). Remember to leave the backcountry the way you found it so others can enjoy nature as it should be. Remember the Leave No Trace principles!
Maybe you've guessed by now that I find bushwhacking to be a pleasure. If you haven't tried it, you owe it to yourself to try it once (on something within your own skill level). Not every site worth seeing on earth has a road or a trail leading to it. Happy