The Bush Classification System

Not saying I’m the first to consider such a thing, but a cursory search of the internet (i.e. the first first page of google results) suggests that no one has fully expounded on the nuances of bushwhacking, including it’s grade of difficulty/frustration, as well as some of the inventive techniques one might employ to wade through the underbrush jungle.

Before I lay out the details of this wondrous activity, I think it’s first important to define what bushwacking is. For instance , when is one bushwacking vs simply hiking off trail? Or scrambling? From my point of view, bushwhacking occurs when two criteria are met:

  1. One steps off the trail and hikes the unaltered earth as it is without the prior manipulation of man.
  2. One hikes through/upon a vegetative environment-consisting of grass, shrubs, bushes, trees, vines, thickets, brambles, etc… (A note on the ethics of bushwhacking- Yes, there are fragile ecosystems that probably aren’t helped by being trampled over. Use your own judgment about the appropriateness of engaging in a foray into the bush. If you’re in an extremely popular area that sees high use, and there is a well-defined trail, maybe resist your extreme lust and temptation for the bush, and hike on the trail to minimize your impact. But often, the best places have no trails, and bushwhacking is the only means to get there. And while ‘whacking, I suppose do your best to be graceful (if such a thing is possible) and try to tread lightly. Don’t damage the landscape any more than you need to. It’s my opinion that good sustainable bushwacking utilizes no techniques that irrevocably change the environment, like using a machete to hack one’s way through the meat.)


We should cover a few terms, or more accurately, random words I’ve chosen to use when discussing the topic of the bush:

The meat- The thick of it. The heart of the bush. Being in the meat means you’re really in it, you are in a committed section of bush.

Passion of the Christ- If you’re truly in the midst of a bushwacking adventure, you kind of regret being there. You’re suffering. There will be scars. The flora will lay whip upon your flesh. It’s somewhere around 2.5 on the 3-point fun scale. It will be a Christ-like experience. Use it in a sentence: Braahh, I did some gnar gnar bushy; some steep and loose class 4 manzanita. I swear man, those branches whipped the shit outta me, I got cuts everywhere, it was a real Passion of the Christ!

Bushido- Similar to the code of the Samurai, this is the code of the bush. Adhering to the ethic of honorable and sustainable ‘whacking, as well as demonstrating a behavior that is reverent and respectful for the art and science that is bushwacking.

Awftrail- Any natural place off an established trail that is notably terrible to travel across/through.

Awftrailer- Someone who explores the awftrail; another term for a bushwacker.

Bitchslap- Pretty self-explanatory. When a branch under sufficient tension is wound back and spring-released with its full vengeance landing upon one’s slappable face. Usually a good squeal or whimper is let out when this occurs.

Tree wrap- Wrapping one’s wrists around the extending branches and grabbing handfuls of the stuff to aid in either the ascent or descent of the bush. This is a critical technique for tree-rappelling.

Wax on, Wax off- The zen master approach to wading through the awftrail, maintaining one’s centeredness through this horrid terrain by calmly and effortlessly windshield-wiping the brush out of one’s face as they travel.

Skydive- This occurs when one is travelling downhill through the bush, and rather than spend the time to pick one’s way through the mess, one decides to let gravity do the work, launching forward with the dreams of an eagle in one’s heart and hoping that the dense, dense bush will cradle the landing.

Bushmastur- TBD. The bushmastur is a title earned by a determined awftrailer who has completed a classic and challenging bush line. While these routes haven’t yet been identified, they will be class IV/V bush routes of significant duration, completion of which will earn oneself an honorary distinction of Bushmastur. Maybe a cool sticker/patch will be made as an insignia.


Let ‘s keep it simple. We’ll copy a page from paddling and climbing. A scale of I-V, ascending in difficulty. Unique to the sport of bushwhacking, however, the higher the grade, often the more monotonous and terrible the endeavor becomes. A quick review of the grades:

Class I-Basically tall grass.

Class II- Mmmkay, now we have a little bit more diversity in what we’re dealing with. Definitely some shrubbage. Maybe the angle of terrain has kicked up a bit. You’re huffin’ and puffin’ baby. Plant’s are definitely gettin’ all up in your biznaz, requiring constant dodging and swatting.

Class III- Ok, it’s starting to get good/horrible. No doubt the terrain is quite steep. You are on your hands knees at many times, which is tricky, as you also require your hands to navigate and reign in the bush. Class III may include steep, loose terrain that is hard to gain purchase on as you slide backwards into the bush’s woody tentacles with each step. It may include rocky landscapes with simple scrambling through and up boulders, but complicated by the outcroppings of bush pointed in one’s face like the floppy bayonets of a drunk army.

Class IV- What the f**k am I doing? You just know when you’ve found this schtuff, mainly because you want to cry, and the only thought crossing your mind is ‘how long will this last?’ Sight of a trail, or even just a reprieve in the grade might result in a spiritual and/or sensual release. It’s steep, like “Damn gurrrrll!” steep. You would no doubt be tumbling down the mountain like this- Hot Rod Fall Down Mountian, if it weren’t for you desperately clinging to the abundant overgrowth that surrounds you.

Class V- Near mythical status-in both it’s sheer difficulty and its misery. The routes are sustained. Mistakes are consequential. Pain is unavoidable. You wouldn’t ever do the same route twice. It often results in PTSD. 

This is by no means definitive or final ruling on the sport of bushwhacking. Its tenets, ratings, and definitions are all open to revision and addition. I’m just laying it out how I see it. Get out there and discover what bushwhacking is to you. The bush calls to us all.

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