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Bushwhacking In Rocky Woods

Posted Sep 09 2013 5:00am
This past Saturday I took an REI Outdoor School map and compass navigation class held at Rocky Woods Reservation in Medfield, MA. It's a skill I've wanted to learn for a few years but never found the time to pursue it. After getting lost in Nobscot Reservation on a Bay Circuit Trail hike a month ago, I thought it was time I finally got around to doing something about it. This class fit the bill.

During the classroom session we learned how to use a compass, read a map, take a bearing, adjust for delineation and other useful information that we would soon put to the test during the field session of the class. This was the part I was waiting for. Time to get dirty!

Our first "assignment" was to bushwhack from a trail junction to a large rock formation known as Whale Rock, a distance of approximately one-third of a mile. Our instructor informed us that beginners typically bushwhack at a pace of one mile per hour so we should be able to complete ours in about twenty minutes. It took me thirty. Oh, and I missed Whale Rock by about 100 feet.

 If you look closely you can see three of my classmates in the brush.

As the name implies, bushwhacking involves moving off trail, often though thick vegetation, over, under and possibly through downed trees and limps, climbing rocks, avoiding holes and an assortment of other obstacles. For those who have never bushwhacked let me tell you it is exhausting work!  
 One of the more open spaces on the bushwhack.
The map I used showing the three bearings I calculated and followed.
The second assignment was to move from Whale Rock to the summit of Mine Hill. This bushwhack was harder than the first because we had to navigate around a pond that was on the direct bearing plotted to Mine Hill. By maintaining a constant compass bearing, changing directions, counting steps, hard effort and a little bit of luck I was able to reach the summit of Mine Hill dead on......and dead f'ing last, well almost.
For the third and final assignment we learned how to intentionally miss our mark when it makes for an easier and faster bushwhack. Our goal was to travel from trail junction 13 to trail junction 15. After marking our bearing and studying the contour lines on the map, we determined a bearing slightly north of our marked route would take us over flatter terrain and still get us to a trail near the intended junction. This last bushwhack turned into a race, sort of, as we were all tramping though the woods with more speed and confidence than earlier in the day.  Great fun!
I hope to practice and become more proficient in this new-found skill over the coming weeks.  Perhaps an orienteering race or two will be in my future.
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