Backpacking off the trail in New Hampshire

7:39 p.m. on June 11, 2010 (EDT)
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hey guys, i dont have much backpacking experience but i have a question for you all.

In a couple weeks i plan to go to the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire, it is one of the best rated camp grounds. I am not into the whole camping "scene" if you know what i mean, groups of tents, cars off to the side, beer, music etc.

I was thinking of going to the campground, but then literally walking off into the bush from there, a good ways in so i can be away from people.

Assuming that i have the appropriate supplies, and i know how to get back to the campsite, and people know where im going, is this a good idea?

I just want to test myself in the real bush before i do anything too crazy.

8:19 p.m. on June 11, 2010 (EDT)
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If off trail and off site camping is allowed then go for it. How can you be lost and that far from rescue if needed in NH?

8:34 p.m. on June 11, 2010 (EDT)
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Stoogemiesters journal entry............. "Ve are very lost in the vast vilderness and and have two mivlies of major journey to any major road in any direction. Dos roads and places of habitation seem an inszvermountable conquest to reach........... Vell, Vil camp here and vait for our vrescure. Viel ve svlowy die."

Just kidding you, bud.

9:37 p.m. on June 11, 2010 (EDT)
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Nothing wrong with a lil offtrail hiking as long as you have a GPS or map&compass so you know where you are and/or can find your way home. Do tell others where you are going, not just us. That way should you fall off a cliff, get washed downstream in a river or get lost someone will know where to search for the remains.

9:42 p.m. on June 11, 2010 (EDT)
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You can check the us forest service website for specifics on the area you are going, but as a rule of thumb you can camp anywhere that is 200ft or 1/4 mile depending on the area you are in from trails, structures, or bodies of water. As long as you have the proper equipment for the trip, and are prepared for the weather then your plan is not a bad idea. If you have specific questions about what gear you should bring then ask away, we would be more than happy to help you.

There is a brocure on the forest service site for backcountry rules for the whites, take a look at it. It has all of the areas and what the regulations are for camping, fires etc. Posted the links, bottom one is the brocure.

9:56 p.m. on June 11, 2010 (EDT)
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There is a brocure on the forest service site for backcountry rules for the whites,

That just does not sound right.

5:57 a.m. on June 12, 2010 (EDT)
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6:32 a.m. on June 12, 2010 (EDT)
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You might also read

If you are not properly equipped and prepared for the worst, you may be charged for your rescue here in NH. That seems eminently fair to me. :)

Despite the fact that NH has some paved roads, as noddlehead quipped, people die in the Whites every year. The weather is very unpredictable, the terrain can be difficult (the Granite State). Expect ice-storms in June above treeline. Always prepare for self-rescue, don't expect someone else to bail you out. Don't expect GPS coverage in the tight valleys. IMO, a map and compass is essential, people have wandered for days in just a few square miles of dense, fourth-growth softwoods, where the range of vision is ten feet at best.

Enjoy the trip - the White Mountains are a beautiful area.

9:38 a.m. on June 12, 2010 (EDT)
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I must admit that I only know about navigation in the west where landmarks can be seen for miles. I do not know what I would do if dumped in a forest with no way to "see out".

11:11 a.m. on June 12, 2010 (EDT)
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Try hiking on slickrock country like in Utah, where trails go for miles across open sandstone with few or hardly any trailmarkers. Usually th best and only way to mark the routes are rock cairns. But even then they can be had to spot amongst the already rocky landscape. And that is the country I am planning to spend the Fall, Winter and Spring in come September. But I plan to be following the bottoms and edges of the multitude of side canyons along the Parunuweap and Paria Rivers.

The middle Parunuweap canyon with the White Cliffs of the Grand Staircase Nat'l Monument in the distance. Highway 89 can be seen cutting thru the hills in the upper middle of the picture and a road that leads down into an area called the Barracks winds its way along the East Fork of the Virgin.

At the beginning of the Barracks with the open pink sandstone country along the upper Parunuweap.

Wading at the end of the trails, from here its all in the water.

A muddy bend in the river becomes a quicksand trap. The grey muddy swirls are where I was sucked into the mud and had to swim it out. The water along the sandstone cliff was too deep and cold in the October hike.

11:52 a.m. on June 14, 2010 (EDT)
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Stoogemeister: the thing is, the Whites are a pretty serious range, from what I gather. "A good way in" could be a harrowing trip, even this time of year. As long as you're prepared, well-supplied, and can read the weather, give it a go!

12:38 p.m. on June 14, 2010 (EDT)
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I'll also emphasize an issue that has been alluded to repeatedly above: navigation. Do you know where you're going and really know how to find your way in the woods, off-trail (map and compass, GPS)? Will you be trying this in an area with which you're familiar?

Having the right gear is one thing, but knowing how to travel safely is another one entirely. People get lost in the Whites year-round, even those who aren't planning on going off trail to get away from people. And it can become a serious situation quickly.

I'm not trying to dissuade you from going backpacking or camping outside of campgrounds. I totally understand not wanting to stay at a campground and also prefer being away from others, especially large groups. I just want to make sure you have the skills to travel safely on your own where you decide to go. (Your original posts sounds like you're considering all of these factors already, which is great.)

If it was me, with not "much backpacking experience," and I was headed out solo, I'd consider a short backpacking trip, on-trail, that allowed me spend a night or two at some tent sites and/or shelters along the trail as the next step. It will be less busy than a campground and you'll get in some hiking and get to work on your backcountry camping skills with less risk.

Let us know if there are other factors we should be aware of and/or how it goes.

Good luck!

4:53 p.m. on June 17, 2010 (EDT)
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there is some middle ground between campgrounds, cars off to the side, beer & music (one extreme) and bushwhacking off-trail and into unknown terrain in the white mountains. and i agree, you need to be able to navigate effectively with a map and compass, particularly if you go off-trail.

in and around the presidentials, there are lean-tos, tent sites, and tent platforms that are only accessible on foot - pretty much rules out most of the beer and music crowd. best way to identify these is to use the AMC guide and research in advance where you plan to go.

the Appalachian Mountain Club also maintains sleeping quarters at Pinkham Notch (accessible by car and a big jumping-off point) and huts that are accessible by hiking in. the huts have caretakers, meals, bunkrooms, but it's by no means car camping. you usually have to reserve space. the huts are a great way to hike challenging terrain without having to lug a tent and lots of heavy food, though you still need a sleeping bag plus snacks/lunches. it's how my dad introduced us to the Whites when we were kids, and it's a good option for relatively inexperienced hikers.

an alternative is the Randolph Mountaineering Club (RMC), which maintains cabins, a lean-to, and some tent platforms, all accessible only via a reasonably strenous hike in. no reservations - it's first-come, first serve, and you have to bring in all your own food, tent too if you use a platform. these RMC shelters tend to attract a somewhat more experienced population, which you may prefer. the shelter caretakers are pretty good about keeping things under control - no cell phone use inside the shelters, for example.

Finally, you can indeed go off-trail and camp in the woods, so long as you're at least 200 yards from a trail and a body of water, and except for certain restricted areas and provided you don't leave any traces. i have done that a lot in the summer, either in a tent or a hammock with a tarp strung overhead. i recommend hiking in a few miles before doing that, though, and don't do that above the treeline in any event. i would only tent above the treeline in an absolute emergency situation, and i would never recommend that to someone with little experience.

Apart from where you sleep, heed the advice above about changing weather conditions. First and foremost, respect the weather. I don't care how good your gear is - hiking toward the treeline in bad weather in the White Mountains is dangerous due to the risk of exposure (hypothermia) and accidents. particularly up high, even in July and August and no matter what the weather looks like at lower elevations, it's prudent to plan for winds in excess of 50 miles per hour, temperatures in the 30's, and freezing rain or snow. that means layers that will keep you warm if it's wet out, rain pants/jacket, hat, gloves, warm socks.

9:42 p.m. on June 17, 2010 (EDT)
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To the OP's question about backpacking off-trail in the Whites... though I live in California now, I spent my early years in New England. IMO, while it's theoretically possible to backpack off-trail there, I'd say in most areas it's not practical. The vegetation tends to be dense. It'd be difficult to make any kind of headway. Unless you just happen to be in a stand of relatively open pine forest, I think you'd find it's impractical to move along, especially carrying any kind of significant pack.

Technically you could do better above treeline. But this would be strongly frowned upon since the alpine vegetation there is very fragile and takes years to develop. A single stray boot scuff can destroy years of growth. Damaged vegetation can lead to erosion, and hence further damage.

If you just want to get off the trail a short distance to find a secluded campsite, that's certainly possible (and very nice). But I doubt you'll enjoy trying to actually 'backpack' over any distance that way.

As for Leadbelly's comment above ... that's true, the Huts and Shelters are sort of a middle ground and offer a unique backcountry experience. It's also true that you (in most, but not all) cases, you do avoid the beer and music crowd. Then again, anyone who's gone into the Pemigewasset Wilderness on the Wilderness Trail (?), and seen the groups carrying beer-laden coolers on long poles between them, will realize this isn't always the case. Other areas tend not to have that extreme, but can be very crowded (I recall a night at Imp Shelter, in the Wildcat Range, in the late 70's, when there were over 60 people staying at the campsite (I counted them... I was a volunteer caretaker that weekend for the AMC).

Sorry, not to sound discouraging... if you pick your areas carefully, you can find reasonable solitude, off-trail camping, and maybe even short bits of off-trail backpacking :).

12:40 p.m. on June 18, 2010 (EDT)
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I've gotta admit.. Some of my most rewarding hikes involved a little off-trail bushwhacking. So much backcountry in our wildernesses and only a mere 2% of it is trails. And where's the adventure if you can't do a little exploring?

Of couurse... know your area, be prepared, don't go alone, have a map/compass, yada yada. basically take all advice from the experienced folks who have posted above.

If youre not well weathered in backcountry primitive camping, try easing your way into off-trail hiking with some test hikes and over-nighters.

with all that said.. don't get bogged down with technicalities and forget to enjoy yourself out there!

1:15 p.m. on June 19, 2010 (EDT)
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... don't get bogged down with technicalities and forget to enjoy yourself out there!


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