Welch-Dickey’s Free Health Spa

We’re lucky to have free health spas in or adjacent to every town in Northern New Hampshire. Every mountain is a potential spa, depending on whether you choose to check in and get with the program. Welch Mountain is usually one of the first in NH to be clear of snow in spring and this year’s balmy opening week must have claimed a record!

 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. Think 2 liters.

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. It was already 65 degrees F. when I started up Welch and my back was wet under my pack by the time I reached the Welch Ledge, a popular destination for folks who want a short hike on a well maintained trail alongside a lively brook.

Hiking on a balmy March day practically guarantees a successful spa treatment, especially on a day when the summit is 80 degrees F. There are no black flies and the trails are so well groomed that you can avoid ticks by walking in the center of the trail and steering clear of branches. (Yes, ticks are here year round and so are the deer and four-leggeds that carry them.)

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 each peak often being in silence to better access fresh air.

Blueberries calmly covered the Welch and Dickey summits and open cliffs with red buds, just waiting to pop out and provide us with lush berries this summer.  A few Jack Pines greeted me; they’re the ones that benefit from forest fires because the heat pops open their seeds. They are only found in four places here in NH, this mountain loop being one of them. Mounds of slivery blue reindeer lichen perked up and showed off fresh sage-green tufted offspring. A new generation of deep green partridge berry leaves peeped out from under leaves. It’s a time of year when every hike seems like a new adventure.

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 and help to maintain balance around muddy areas or the occasional ice remnants.

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 pass the summits, you may be lucky enough to be fully soaked.  As you cool down in that delicious breeze (if there is one) 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.

The trip down via the Dickey end of the loop did have some remaining stretches of ice in areas shaded by spruce trees but they were negotiable with tree help.

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: In cooler weather, I 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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