Day 6: Peaking at Nature

At 4241 feet, Killington is the 5th-highest peak in New England (Sugarloaf Mountain in Maine, where we’ll be staying in two weeks, is 6th). At 9am, poles in hand, we strode out our door toward the ascent that had been challenging us every morning from our south-facing window.

Ascent

For those in Colorado, picture a natural-trail Manitou Incline, but substitute 100 biting insects and 10,000 mostly poisonous wildflowers for every person you would otherwise see on that crowded staircase. The elevation gain is similar; the grade is 80% as steep.

On this clear, cool morning, we summited solo.

Without alpine poles one would have to clamber four-limbed in spots. With them, it was instead like a full-body StairMaster for ninety minutes, attended by an electron cloud of black flies around each of our heads. Also called “buffalo gnats,” these relentless biters plagued our journey, especially on the steepest pitches. Glenn asked to take care to not hike to close to each other, lest our individual clouds fuse into one giant black-fly molecule of doom.

An upside to these pests – and yes Rachel found one – is that they serve as a tiny but insistent cheer leading squad, urging to you ever faster speeds, as if you could outpace that orbiting halo attending your every move.

More than once along the climb we remarked how there was a perfectly good gondola just to our right, in which many sensible people used modern engineering – and windows, from which to wave at us – to accomplish a perfectly comfortable ascent.

After a full morning of perseverance, we reached the top, to be rewarded with this view.

We’re not too Colorado-spoiled to appreciate how lovely and tranquil the peak’s vista was.

Descent

Down is easier than up, especially when the way is carpeted with cheerful buttercups, flaming orange hawkweed and other wildflowers.

A section of the descent follows the Appalachian Trail. We plan to hike more of this 2200-mile iconic course in the upcoming week, but completing our first mile on it was a bucket-list item for us both.

Presence from Nature

Bad habits are hard to break. When you’re hiking – especially when seeking to reach a summit or other destination – it’s easy to let the habit of fixating on that future close you from your surroundings.

Pushing physical endurance can mean we focus on that goal, transforming it to a mantra that regulates the rhythm of our breath and our stride. This resulting meditative state plus endorphins from exertion contribute to the “high” many experience with exercise that helps to dull physical discomfort. While it’s a fantastic feeling all its own, it can dampen your senses and put you at risk of missing the very things you sought out – in our case, details of the lush, sylvan setting of Vermont’s Green Mountains.

Piercing the bubble of that trance, the call of a songbird springs your awareness back to the fore. That’s especially true when it’s an unfamiliar one. Today, Rachel was delighted to discover a new bird to mark off the checklist of her dilettante birding hobby, the Swainson’s Thrush.

Before you skim past this part thinking it’s tedious bird-nerd fodder, take a moment to listen to the extraordinary song of this drab forest denizen that features a funky feedback loop at the end. It’s not a sound one hears in our more familiar Rocky Mountain region, and it snapped us right back into the moment as Rachel called a stop to our march to find the source of this psychedelic treetop refrain.

A simple reminder to pause and listen for the music.


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