Brush can be a backcountry horror, but there are snow, brush thrives. The classic example is a low-ways to avoid it. altitude gully swept by avalanches in winter and a
Wherever there is running water or sliding torrent in summer. Conditions are perfect for shrubs that flourish during the short summer season, bend undamaged under the snow, and quickly sprout again.
Along riverbanks, brush keeps a window on the sun and builds a narrow, dense thicket. A river that frequently changes course prevents large trees from growing but permits a wide belt of entangling brush. At subalpine elevations, avalanche snow that lasts late into summer prevents the growth of forests and leaves the valley floor crowded with brush.
Mountaineers prefer mature forests. The forests help by blocking sunlight, stifling growth of the deciduous brush that makes for rough going. Young forests, however, only add to the brush problem. The second-growth timber that springs up densely after a fire or windstorm or logging is at its worst when about 20 feet high. The branches fill the space between trees, and deciduous brush continues to thrive.
Blowdowns, avalanche fans, and logging trash are even tougher to get through. The chaotic jumble can slow progress to a crawl and justify a major change of route. Tough and twisted scrub cedar that clings to cliffs and bands of rock presents another hurdle.
When a skirmish with brush is inevitable, there are ways to minimize the hassle. Choose the shortest route across the brushy area. Use fallen trees with long straight trunks as elevated walkways. Push and pull the bushes apart—sometimes by stepping on lower limbs and lifting higher ones to make a passageway. On steep terrain, use hardy shrubs as handholds.
Brush can be dangerous: down-slanting vine maple or alder is slippery; brush obscures the peril of cliffs, boulders, and ravines; and brush snares ropes.
The best policy is to avoid brush. Here are some tips:
• Use trails as much as possible. Five miles of trail may be less work than 1 mile through brush.
• Consider traveling when snow covers brush. Some valleys are easy going in May when you can walk on snow but almost impossible in July when you must burrow through brush.
• Avoid avalanche tracks. The best route up a long valley may be on southern or western slopes, where avalanches hit less frequently than on northern and eastern slopes. When climbing a valley wall, stay in the trees between avalanche tracks.
• Aim for the heaviest timber. Brush is thinnest under the big trees.
• Travel on talus or scree and remnants of snow, rather than in adjacent thickets.
• Consider traveling on ridges and ridge spurs. They may be dry and brushless, while creek bottoms and valley floors are choked with vegetation.
• Consider climbing directly to timberline to take a high route above the brush. This may be worthwhile if the valley bottom seems impassable, and the valley sides are scarred by avalanche tracks.
• Consider going right into the stream channel. The stream bed could be a tunnel through the brush, though you may have to do some wading. Dry stream beds are sometimes ideal. In deep canyons, however, streams usually are choked with fallen trees or interrupted by waterfalls.
• Look for game trails. Animals generally follow the path of least resistance.
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