The historic White Mountains of New Hampshire have welcomed hikers from all over the world for generations. They offer more than 1,200 miles of trails and many summits that deliver life-changing experiences, immense challenges, and breathtaking views. I’ve been attracted to the Whites since childhood for a variety of reasons, but no hike exemplifies their magnetism for me more than a single-day Pemigewasset Loop.

Hiking the Pemi Loop in the White Mountains
Credit: Adam Dufault

The White Mountains are Calling and I Must Go

I was just a kid when the mountains first called to me. At the exuberant age of 12, I asked my dad if we could climb Mount Monadnock. I don’t exactly remember what made me want to achieve this goal, but I had just finished reading Roland Smith’s novel, Peak, in a middle school English class which made me want to see the curve of our planet out in the distance.

While Mount Monadnock isn’t in the White Mountains—nor does it stand tall enough to see Earth’s curve—it was standing on that summit that made me want to visit the Whites and adventure in them for years to come.

About eight years after reaching Monadnock’s summit for the first time, I completed the NH48 (the 48 4,000-foot mountains in New Hampshire). Equally notable to the accomplishment, is that during that time the White Mountains became an integral part of my life.

Hiking Franconia Ridge in the White Mountains
Credit: Adam Dufault

Five Appealing Aspects of the White Mountains

1. They’re Great for the Goal Oriented

For years, my dad and I toyed with the idea of hiking the Pemigewasset Loop—an approximately 32-mile hike roughly following the perimeter of the 45,000-acre Pemigewasset Wilderness—over three days, camping at tent sites along the way. After years of laziness and putting the hike off, we committed to not only completing the classic White Mountain loop but to doing it in a single day.

For months, we ran local trails, hiked whenever possible, and prepared for the adventure—including its roughly 10,000 feet of vertical gain. Rather than letting another season pass without tackling the iconic route, we were meeting the challenge head-on.

During the last eight or so miles of the hike, I kept asking myself why. What would make me do something that put my body and my mind through such a taxing experience? I remembered all the work I put into getting ready to take on this epic undertaking and the satisfaction I would feel from completing it.

Two days after completing the Pemi Loop, I felt an undeniable need to do it again. The hike encompassed everything I love about the White Mountains and I missed the process that led up to the feat. Achieving this goal allowed me to live the healthiest three months of my life and made me the strongest version of myself to date.

2. They Remind You of Your Priorities

I recently began my first full-time job out of college, teaching high school English. While teaching is an incredibly rewarding job, working full-time, for the first time in my life, brought me anxiety. I couldn’t tell if the apprehension was due to doing something new or because I was getting less time in the mountains. However, I began thinking more about work than the mountains.

I was on the shoulder of Mount Washington, a couple of hundred feet off the Cog Railway looking at the Great Gulf during sunset, when I had a realization: I needed to prioritize my playtime, rather than squeezing it into my work schedule. I love my job, but at the same time, I’m fortunate that I have the mountains to escape to and remind me who I am.

Whether it was hiking in a thunderstorm down Valley Way Trail on Mount Madison, gazing at the countless colors of the sky during a Mount Pierce sunset, or breaking trail through feet of snow in winter conditions, the White Mountains had become my life.

3. They’re Physically Challenging

Hiking in the White Mountains can challenge you—some hike for views, some hike for spiritual reasons, and some hike for physical fitness. I like to think I’m attracted to hiking in the Whites for all of those reasons, but I can’t deny the satisfaction of pushing my body to its limits.

My single-day Pemi Loop forced me to create a physical version of myself that I didn’t know was possible. I was at my leanest after training for the hike that Backpacker magazine lists as the second-hardest day hike in the country. I lost nearly 20 pounds, was stronger than ever, and felt as though I could soar across the trails.

4. They’re Mentally Challenging

Many people believe that to summit a 4,000-footer they must be “physically fit” or “in shape,” whatever that means. While conditioning plays a role in successfully summiting a 4,000-footer, to me bagging one of these peaks is mostly mental, and just how “fit” you need to be is fairly subjective.

For example, I felt like I could cry at around the 25-mile mark of my Pemi Loop while descending Bondcliff Trail. It wasn’t my only weak moment; there were plenty of times that I thought about bailing, like when we passed the junction of Gale River Trail, which I knew would bring us out to a parking lot filled with cars. It would have been simple to abandon the hike and find someone to give us a ride back to our car.

However, if I had bailed, I wouldn’t have experienced the satisfaction of completing an objective I had poured so much into. Mental toughness in the Whites is about putting one foot in front of the other and realizing that every step you take brings you closer to your goal.

5. They’re Fulfilling

Perhaps, more than anything, the White Mountains offer fulfillment. Even after a long, 17-mile day to the near-view-less top of Owl’s Head, the unmistakable satisfaction of completing something much larger than ourselves never falters.

Or, for example, the feeling I had when I made it back to the car at the Lincoln Woods Trailhead, 20 hours after starting the Pemi Loop. The day delivered views that still replay in my dreams and moments that I bring up in conversation almost daily.

The final push up Bondcliff in the White Mountains
Credit: Adam Dufault

Why the White Mountains?

The White Mountains give us something to work for, remind us of our small place in the world, encourage us to dream big, and show us that we can overcome what some think is impossible.