Swimming in the White Mountains




Photo by Joe Klementovich

Courtesy photo

Open water swimming enthusiast Jay Atkinson.

At 7 a.m., Lake Chocorua is empty and flat, a dim gray mirror giving back the rocky cone of Mount Chocorua. The sky is blackened by Old Testament clouds, with only a few patches of blue to the east. Tiny water bugs skim over the surface of the water, impressing their zigzag patterns. A few drops of rain freckle the lake, sending out five or six concentric circles before disappearing. 

There’s no one around as I wade into the clear, pebbly-bottomed lake, rolling out my neck and loosening my shoulders. The water is neither too warm nor too cold. I say a quick prayer and make the sign of the cross as I lower my goggles and set off. All I can hear is the wild echo of my breathing. 

So begins one of my favorite solo adventures, a swim across a deserted lake in the White Mountains. Go early, and don’t mind the weather. Stick to lakes that have banned powerboats. A triathlon-style wetsuit and neon swim cap will insulate you from the cold, add to your buoyancy and make you more visible. Practice in the shallows until you’re confident enough to hit the open water. 

Time to choose your adventure:

On The Water: Spend a day paddling the upper portion of the Merrimack River. You’ll need a sturdy canoe and paddling companion, personal flotation devices, dry bags and plenty of fresh water.

Camping: As the sun fades, keep a lookout for an uninhabited island. For a great night under the stars, pack a tent, sleeping bags, powdered soup and a quick boil stove.

Exploring: Growing up, I fished with my dad along remote stretches of the Swift, Ellis, Saco and Pemigewasset rivers. Head out in the early morning, with just the sound of the river for company.

Climbing: Get vertical on Cathedral Ledge and test your core strength. Local guide services include Eastern Mountain Sports, the International Mountain Climbing School, Synnott Mountain Guides and Northeast Mountaineering.

Hiking: Starting from Route 16, the Imp Trail is a 6.3-mile loop up and over the Imp Profile cliff. It was my son’s first winter hike, and is a great trek in all seasons.

Adrenaline: My rugby pals and I stage our annual DIY Triathlon in White Mountain-adjacent Rumney each September. It's a 1,000-yard swim across Stinson Lake, a 12-mile bike ride and 1-hour hike up Rattlesnake Mountain. A sense of humor is required.

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