Squam Lake, New Hampshire
In central New Hampshire, the best skating is on lakes instead of rivers. My favorite lake in New Hampshire is Squam Lake, 9 miles long and full of islands and secret coves like Dog Cove, where most of the movie "On Golden Pond" was filmed. In fact, there are so many islands and coves that you can only see a small portion of the lake at any one time. Much of Squam's shoreline belongs to conservation groups, and has the look and feel of wilderness. Since all the islands are similar in appearance, heavily forested with pine trees, skating end-to-end on Squam could be a navigational nightmare if you don't have a lake chart with you.
The best place to find a chart is in the village of Holderness at the west end of the lake --
at the Squam Lakes Association, the Squam Lakes Science Center, or at one of the boat yards.
One of the delights of Squam is its expansive mountain views. The loons have migrated south for the winter, but the scenery remains. Sandwich Bay is dominated by Eagle Cliff towering over its east flank. As you get farther from shore, the 4000-foot peaks of the Sandwich Range slowly rise up from behind the nearby hills. This range includes popular hiking destinations like Sandwich Dome, Whiteface, Passaconaway, Paugus and Chororua. From the middle of the lake you can admire East and West Rattlesnake, a symmetric pair of knobby hills rising dramatically from the lakeshore and backed by the rugged 2000-foot ridge of the Squam Range.
In January 1993 I skated several times from Sandwich to Holderness and back, passing through the islands along the way. The round-trip distance is just short of 20 miles. There are many possible routes through the islands, but here is the route I followed: Starting in Sandwich Bay in the lake's northeast corner,
I skated west along the north shore as far as Five Finger Point. I turned left and crossed the open lake, passing close by Loon Island, and slipped through the narrow passage between Long Island on my left, and Utopia and Merrill Islands on my right. Then I skated over to Mooney Point and followed the north shore of the lake all the way to Cotton Cove at its west end. I retraced the same route back to my starting point in Sandwich Bay.
The last time I skated on Squam Lake, it was in a snowstorm, and the snow was several inches deep by the time I got off the ice. I love to watch the snow fly over the tops of my boots as I glide along. I did not see any other skaters that day.
The principal danger on a large lake is from the pressure ridges that form at the joints between independently-moving ice plates. Pressure ridges are created by expansion and contraction of the ice in response to temperature changes, and the larger the lake, the wider and more dangerous the ridges will be. To get all the way across Squam Lake, I had to cross one pressure ridge that crossed the lake from the tip of Hoag Island on the north shore, across to Brown Point on the east shore. The ice was heaved up several inches out of the water, so it would not support my weight -- and the trapped air below acted as insulation, preventing the water underneath from freezing. Fortunately, I found one spot where the ridge had collapsed, and the new ice that had formed was strong enough to cross.
Copyright © 1998-2006 by Jamie Hess. All rights reserved.
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