By: Rachel Shoemaker, Interpretive Ranger at White Lake State Park
With eyes closed, you feel the sand between your toes and the soft caress of the breeze on your skin. From across the lake, you hear the mysterious sounds of the loons as they call back and forth to one another. Upon opening your eyes, you see the majestic peaks of the Sandwich Range reflected in the clear, calm waters. This magical place is known as White Lake State Park and I get to experience it all summer long.
Every week, I take visitors out on the trails around the lake, where we identify species of trees and learn about the critters that live there. For my ponding program, we dip our nets in the water to see what aquatic insects we can find. Other times, we play fun nature games on the beach or learn through my hands-on tabling activities. At night, we’ll listen to the call of the loons on the lake or tell spooky stories about local legends. Check out the White Lake program schedule if you want to drop by for one of these activities.
There’s a couple of things these programs have in common. For one, they all reflect my passion for the natural world and my enthusiasm to share this passion with anyone who will give me the time of day. Secondly, all of my programs are set against a beautiful backdrop that features views of the grand White Mountains. I cherish everything about White Lake and in my mind, the mountains looming beyond its shores are what complete the picture.
These mountains are always beckoning for me to see them up close, taunting that I will never be able to hike them all in their vast numbers. In that, they are correct – there are many, and I only have until October. However, that doesn’t mean that I can’t hike the NH48, the Appalachian Mountain Club’s (AMC) list of 48 peaks over 4,000 feet in elevation!
As a resident of Western NC, I’ve been fortunate to have always had the Blue Ridge Mountains practically in my backyard. Growing up, my family was always taking my brother and me hiking and many of our vacations consisted of visiting National Parks. My love of hiking and the outdoors has only grown with time and has intensified while living in New Hampshire. Since visiting NH last summer on a family road trip, I’ve developed a slight obsession with Mt. Washington and the many other peaks that accompany it on the NH48.
I hiked my first two 4,000-footers, Osceola and East Osceola, in late March with a couple of friends who also work in the SCA NH AmeriCorps program. It was also the first time I ever got to use microspikes! Shortly afterward, one of these friends invited me to spend spring break hiking the Pemi Loop with her – I said yes without hesitation.
The Pemi Loop was indescribable. One of the most popular multi-day hikes in New Hampshire, it was also my very first multi-day backpacking trip. The spectacular summit views, ridgeline views along Franconia Ridge, rugged terrain, and over 9,000 feet of elevation gain make this trip a memorable one. It feels like a rite of passage for me; a transition from hiker to backpacker and more extreme adventurer. I should also mention that the Pemi is a peak-bagger’s paradise. Since my friend so graciously planned the trip with our fondness of 4,000-footers in mind, we were able to hike 13 of the 48 in 5 days!
Since then, I’ve gone on a few more backpacking trips with friends from my program including the Carter-Moriah Range and the Presidential Traverse. Occasional car-camping trips have also become a thing in order to accomplish multiple 4,000-footers in a weekend that aren’t remotely close to each other.
Some climbs have been harder than others and there have been a few times where I’ve either had negative thoughts or felt I couldn’t do it. Something I’ve learned from these unique experiences is that you can always do it. Your mind and body are extremely capable and nothing can truly get in the way as long as you take care of yourself and keep that nagging voice in the back of your mind in check. Once you climb that mountain (literally or figuratively), you will be glad you did and be ready for more.
I enjoy the mountains on so many different levels. Recreationally, it’s an awesome hobby with a caring, unique community – you meet a lot of cool people on the trails! Physically, it’s challenging and a great way to stay in shape. Mentally, it’s what I need to push myself and feel relief from the pressures and responsibilities of everyday life. Emotionally, it forces you to spend time on personal reflection.
Being a hiker, backpacker, adventurer, and nature enthusiast, makes me happy. It’s what drives me and keeps my passion burning so that I can be the best and most motivated version of me possible. It’s what helps me share that passion through my programming with park visitors at White Lake, so they can either realize or develop their own appreciation for nature. As visitors gaze out from the sandy shores of White Lake, I want them to get the whole picture. I want them to peer into the clear, sparkling water to see what lives beneath the surface. I want them to squint into the distance and wonder if the bird they’re seeing is a loon or a duck. Have they walked the trail around the lake and wondered about the trees and plants that live there? Maybe like myself, their portrait of White Lake State Park is complete as they lift their gaze to the jagged peaks standing on the horizon.