By Merisa Sherman
With my eyes focused upward, my feet found their places without hesitation. My feet didn’t need my eyes to tell them where the rocks and roots were, they just slid into place like they had so many times before. I felt my right femur swing outward, moving around a larger boulder and then moving back into line for the next few paces. My hips swung left and right with the flow of the trail, moving around a large tree for a left-hand switchback. As we hiked along, my entire body relaxed into the trail and I felt myself become one with the mountain itself. I was home.
The first part of the hike begins gradually through a steep section of woods, which sounds contradictory but a great use of switchbacks keeps you from burning out. Instead, your body has a chance to warm up, focusing on technical footwork as you manipulate the rocks, roots and mud underneath the thick canopy. In the spring, the trail is lined with trillium and other shade loving wildflowers, but the fall is mainly overgrown ferns and mud. Well, it’s always muddy, actually. The canopy is so thick that nothing ever really dries underneath. So nice and cool underneath, you’re almost surprised when you step into the sunshine to cross the ski trails.
But into the beating sun you go, moving from slippery rocks to loose ones as you step onto a work road. If you’ve never done this hike before, you might think this is the brutal steep part, but you will soon realize that this is only the warmup for your hip flexors, quads and calves. You’ll need them at full strength later in the hike. The sound of your breathing might prevent you from hearing any of the birds flying around, but the view is simply stunning. Look down Preston’s Pitch and you can hear the crowds in the wind, cheering for Mikaela at the Killington World Cup races. Or let your eyes follow the Killington Road and look outward at the depth of the green mountains in the distance. Notice what is around you and be immersed in the magic of the Superstar wildflower gardens, an entire field of vibrant reds and yellows that can only be seen by the few who venture up this hiking trail.
You step over the snowmaking pipe and catch your breath, finished with this short, brutal section and rejoice in the shade of a quick canopy section before coming out onto the middle of Ovation – where you walk through these tall bushes. It’s a quick section, but it pulls your eyes toward Snowdon. The lift towers sparkle in the sunshine, and your mind shifts toward dreams of the ski season to come. Your heart rate has dropped enough to catch your breath, and your legs are ready for the traverse across to Cascade – or so you think.
The mossy journey across Julio and Anarchy is wonderful, as you keep an eye out for new lines to ski through the woods. There are no little trees in here, just big fat ones and ferns, the perfect playground for those crazy winter folk who slide down the mountain. The hiking isn’t difficult, but pay attention is because there is simply so much to look at and study as your walk across from Skye Peak to Killington. Until that left turn, that is. Once again, you find yourself lifting your foot to your knee, taking big, vertical steps as you climb higher and higher under the canopy. It’s a nice progression, adding technical and climb together as you look for the right foot placement to make the perfect staircase before coming out in the Light and looking down at the Canyon before you.
And start the last brutal ascent. Up Escapade and a quick work road traverse before latching onto the final ascent of the Cascade Headwall. Just do it. Glance over at the gondola a few times, but keep your feet moving on the well worn path. Peek down the bike trail as you cross it, but don’t succumb to your body’s demand to stop – the hardest thing to do on this hill is to start back up again! Keep your hips forward and take little steps, big steps, whatever it takes but just find your rhythm and let your mind wander into the zone while your feet keep moving. As you get to the headwall, you might need to reach your hands out for some help in a few spots, but you’ll know when. Probably when you trip from exhaustion and your hand is just there, already touching the mountain wall in front of you.
But you’re there. At the top. The wind wraps itself around you and mixes with your breath. You’ve woven a path through the mountain and felt her energy through your feet and up your legs. A mountain that you’ve been looking at for months, from a distance, is now once again a part of you and you of her. For those few miles, you were connected to the earth and intertwined with her existence. For that moment in time, you were one being, one entity, one soul. Breath in her energy, mix it with your own and become stronger, more serene and more at peace with yourself than at any moment before. Treasure the top out and the journey that went before.
Then grab your mask and pass, and enjoy that sweet ride down in the gondola.