Chocorua’s Free Health Spa

Hiking up the Liberty Trail on the south side of Mt.Chocorua, I suddenly realized that in northern NH there are free health spas in or adjacent to every town. Every mountain is a potential health spa, depending on whether you choose to check in and get with the program.

 Health spas, the paid ones, usually include massage, saunas, hot tubs, swimming, and some sort of calming practice like meditation or yoga. The main goal is to cleanse and relax the body from the inside out as well as from the outside in. That means keeping hydrated with plenty of water. 

Sweat is the body’s most natural way of cleansing. Sweat heats up and massages all of our systems and uses sweat glands to wring them out so every system has a fresh start. Every joint gets well oiled.

 Hiking in June practically guarantees a successful spa treatment. With plenty of black flies, even slathered in bug spray, it pays to hike as quickly as possible uphill because we know the air is cooler the higher we climb, 99% of the time. If there’s enough wind on the summit, there will be no bugs bothering our lunch and siesta so there’s great incentive to get up there. 

The walk itself can be a meditation, even if there’s some chatting going on. Conversation tends to be a sorting out, rethinking, brain cleanse, with the last leg of the hike to the top often being in silence to better access fresh air.

 Hiking poles make the hike kinder to your knees and hips by spreading the weight bearing load to include the shoulders and arms as well, while still allowing you to build up a good sweat. They also encourage a good upper body workout.

 There’s a steady succession of wild flowers, open evidence that diversity thrives. The spring dance of blue bead lily, lady’s slippers, sarsaparilla and violets was well underway at the base of the mountain. Further up, these same flowers were in bud, waiting for next week’s hikers. Last week’s hikers saw lots of painted trillium peak below, and at a higher elevation, I got to see a perfect tiny painted trillium that had clearly just opened up. The parade changes every week and invites our attention up the mountain. This week huge spreads of magenta Rhodora greeted us as we neared the sunny summit dome.

 If you want to hike in a truly relaxed state, breathing 2:1 is the way to go. Just make your exhalations twice as long as your inhalations. The easiest way to practice this breath is to count your paces. You may start out breathing 6:3, then shift gears to 4:2 and 2:1 as you gain elevation. If you cannot exhale for 2 paces to every 1 inhalation pace, it’s time to stop and rest. This practice develops the habit of deeper breathing regularly.

 So, your free health spa takes care of your cleansing sweat massage and by the time you reach the summit, you may be lucky enough to be fully soaked. As you cool down in that delicious breeze (in your quick dry shirt) you may even need to put on that extra layer in your pack while you enjoy lunch, the view, your friends, and maybe even a little siesta.

 Depending on the day and the temperature, you may need the extra layer as you cool down, hike out, go home and take a salt bath or shower to complete your free spa treatment.

 PS: I also carry at least 2 liters of water, a wind/rain shell, light fleece, hat, first aid sack, high protein sandwich, nuts, and an orange to assure the full treatment!

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