Pemigewasset’s Free Health Spa

Sunday’s bright sun invited me up Mt. Pemigewasset in Franconia Notch for the thrill of One Winter Day at a Free Mountain Health Spa (FMHS.) I grabbed my microspikes and poles, packed my first aid kit, bivy sack, ginger tea and snacks, and headed north for the 1.7 mile hike up the mountain.

Thanks to earlier rain and high temperatures, there is a sneaky layer of ice under what few inches of snow we have, so it is best to keep that in mind with every step you take just about anywhere, but particularly over the variety of rocks and logs, puddles and streams that need to be negotiated on a hike.

An FMHS hike is different than other winter hikes because the object is to pump up a good sweat. On other winter hikes, we must layer our clothes judiciously to avoid any heavy sweating and potential chills. The last thing any winter hiker wants is a mishap needing a wait for help in wet clothes, or even a de-energizing slow cold walk out.

An FMHS hike is all about breathing. On the uphill, I usually pace myself using 2:1 breathing. My exhalations have to be twice as long as my inhalations. For example: exhale for 6 paces, inhale 3 paces and shift gears as necessary. When it becomes difficult for me to exhale for 2 paces and inhale for 1, it’s time to stop and rest a bit. The advantage to this breath is that it keeps me hiking in a relaxed state, yet gives my muscles a good stretch and squeeze. Hiking in tune with your own body is crucial. First, it guarantees that you will work up a good sweat. Think of it as the final spin on a complete wash. You still need the rinse cycle, but that comes later. Especially on the uphill, it is important to maintain a good sweat, not a roast, just a sweat. You may need to pocket your hat and open your jacket a bit.

Sweating clears the toxins and debris from our systems. An FMHS hike necessarily needs a brisk walk up a small, well- traveled mountain, one you have climbed before and know it is reasonable for you to complete the round trip and head home immediately after. Pack an extra layer to stay warm on the hike out. These recommendations are for an intentional FMHS hike only.

Using poles helps to distribute the weight so that our legs AND our arms are pumping us up the mountain without straining our knees. The Pemi trail winds its way around swells and streams, through hardwood forest gradually joined by evergreens that take over the nearer you come to the summit. The Pemi summit is a huge field of granite that wraps around evergreens to the east, looks south through the notch and west to Mt. Mooselauke.

At hike’s end, head right on home, treat yourself to a hot as you can stand mineral or solar salt bath, enjoy a warm meal, a good night’s sleep, and a fresh start on the rest of your life!

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