My hiking advice this week is take a friend to a waterfall. With high water lingering from the recent nor'easter, this is a good weekend to do go. Rain will likely return Monday.
Bringing a friend to a waterfall doesn't necessarily mean that you yourself have been there before. It could be a mutual exploration. But many of my readers have hiked for years in the mountains, and they likely know the rewards of bringing someone new to the area to one of their own special places.
With the lengthening days, it is easier to get out later in the day. In early evening this Thursday, I brought a friend to a trail with a series of waterfalls. I will describe that place, then make a few more suggestions.
But first, what is it really that attracts us to waterfalls? Breaking it down can be interesting. First of all, adult humans are 60 percent water. This causes us to "empathize" with it. As Loren Eiseley said, "If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water."
Second, the sound and motion of waterfalls create alpha waves in our brains. Brain waves are synchronized electrical pulses from masses of neurons communicating with each other. Alpha waves arise from a meditative and relaxed state, and increase contentment.
Thirdly, the collision of molecules in waterfalls or waves causes them to be positively charged, and the surrounding air negatively charged.
According to an article in Children and Nature website, "It makes sense that waterfalls can make you feel good, given that negative ions hitting out bloodstream can produce biochemical reactions linked to alleviating depression, relieving stress and increasing energy."
What else? On a different plane, in the Japanese Shinto tradition, special places in nature including waterfalls, are the dwelling places of "kami" or nature spirits. A western approach might be that waterfalls are one of God's creations, and worthy of admiration.
So whether you ascribe to chemical or spiritual explanations or both, from a renewal point of view, it is not a waste of time visiting waterfalls.
Anyway, Thursday evening I went with a friend for a walk down a trail called the Brook Walk on the Castle in the Clouds property in Moultonborough. The trail wound down Shannon Brook, which, through recent geological time cut through volcanic rock creating numerous and spectacular waterfalls, culminating in the impressive and well named Fall of Song.
This 1.6-mile round trip hike is a great evening stroll. My friend is getting to know the area, and fully appreciated this after work hike. She also enjoyed hiking downhill first, and then walking back uphill to finish. It is unusual when the second half of a hike is easier on the knees.
The property is steeped in history, and at each viewpoint above one of the falls is a sign with its name, historical highlights, and an old photo of it. At the Fall of Song, there is a boardwalk from the nearby entrance road. That may sound less that wild to you, but all is done in good taste there. Those who haven't seen the Fall of Song haven't really seen that part of New Hampshire. The natural forces that created it are the wildness.
What are other suggestions for waterfall hikes? Make you own. My first would be Arethusa Falls off Route 302. It is the highest falls in New Hampshire. The entrance road is located on the left just after the sign for the Crawford Notch State Park. My second would be Champney Falls off the Kancamagus Highway, located on a spur trail off the Champney Falls Trail. Both these suggestions are moderate hikes in.
For a fun walk to a historical falls near North Conway, go to Thompson Falls. To get there, take the Passaconaway Road near the southern end of West Side Road. In a couple miles bear right on High Street. Take that until it turns to dirt and continue, bearing left and to the end, where there is parking for the Moat Mountain Mineral Site. Take the trail through the mineral site, where the ground is obviously mounded from digging, and continue to the trail's end, where it hits a forest service fire road.
Here you can go either left or right. Going left, climb the gradual rise in the road around the corner until you see the subtle signs of a trail on the right, and possibly a small cairn. If you cross a bridge over a stream you have gone too far. Take that trail down to the falls. Going the other way, descend the road to just before a right hand turn in it.
The trail begins on the left. A left hand road to a camp at the turn means you have gone too far. Ascend the trail to the falls. The falls was visited by Benjamin Champney, founder of the White Mountain School of Art in the mid-19th century. This is an established mountain biking area, so be watchful.
Of course, off Route 16 in Pinkham Notch, just south of the AMC Pinkham Notch Camp, is Glen Ellis Falls. It is geared towards pedestrians, yet quiet this time of year, especially on a weekday. It will easily fulfill all the reasons we are attracted to a waterfall listed above.
When was a last time you were there? Bring a friend. Here is an incentive. Descending the steps all the way to the base of the falls, you reach a spectacular vantage point where a cool spray may blow up in your face in high water. On the rock wall immediately to you left, is a date carved in the flowing script of the 19th century. Check it out.
Enjoy waterfalls in the mountains. We are part of them, they are part of us.