Of all the spectacular corners of the planet, my favorite is the one closest to home. The blue lakes and humble peaks of New Hampshire’s White Mountains were my first introduction to The Great Outdoors. Early hikes with my family weren’t always inspiring. I was an unathletic kid, and the youngest, with little tolerance for tired legs.
But somewhere around middle school my attitude toward the Whites shifted. Reaching a summit was no longer a chore, but empowering in a way nothing else was. I fell in love with the way the conifers became spindly near treeline, and the deep blue-green striation of peaks fading into the horizon. In class I daydreamed of watching dusk settle over a mountain lake or lying on my back at midnight and fill my vision with constellations and meteors. I welcomed challenge and fatigue because they made me feel strong, and they let me visit places that flooded me with rushes of wonder and joy.
The Whites were my portal to the rest of the world. Once I had learned to haul a pack, pitch a tent, paddle a canoe, I longed to take my skills everywhere. Over the years, the “Places to Visit” list I started at age 16 has only grown longer (certain trails in New Hampshire are still on it). Perhaps I love the Whites so much because they gave me the tools and the curiosity to seek adventure all over the earth.
The mountains near my new home in Colorado dwarf the Whites. But to me, those millennia-worn domes back east will always seem grand. Pointing the car north while on visits back in New England never fails to send a flutter of delight and anticipation through my chest. No matter how many far-flung ranges I walk through, I’ll always be glad to return to the pine-scented groves, granite crags, and everlasting hills where I took my first hike.