Column, Living the Dream

Many paths to a summit

By Merisa Sherman

The fog came across the summit of the mountain in waves, wisps of clouds making their way across the sky. There had been no clouds down below, but here, sitting at the top of the mountain, the fog was so think you would think you could step right off the rocks and walk across the clouds. The fog wasn’t that pure white of the clouds you see from below; it had almost a eerie glow to it that barely madesense. How could air be so thick that you cannot see through it?

But here it was. Like an invisible blanket wrapped around me. I could see the trees and rocks and moss right up close to me, but nothing beyond that. It wasn’t like driving in a fog, where you cannot see the hand in front of your face. It’s different — like the fog was afraid to actually seep into the forests of the mountain, perhaps the pine trees holding off the clouds. Fog is technically a cloud that touches the ground, but it really never did. The thick canopy of Vermont’s forests always seems to hold the fog at bay.

The moisture was there, however. Life under the canopy was thriving. Pine trees and moss were alight with such a vibrant green you would have thought it had been raining for weeks. The rocks were sweating so much you worried about slipping onto your back but the ground was practically dry. I could feel the heaviness in the air matching the heaviness of my breath as I tried to push myself up the steep rocks of the Sherburne Pass Trail.

The humidity was close to 100% and I could tell because the sweat was pouring down my face. I could feel the salt liquid exuding from every pore in my body as I was trying to keep the same pace whether the trail wove across the mountain or headed straight up. I only have a my small day pack, filled with a water bottle, my first aid kit and emergency bivvy, a sun protection layer and an insulation piece. The woods are just as cold and lonely today as they were 200 years ago — I never leave home without being prepared to spend the night in the woods.

But I have also hiked this original section of the Appalachian and Long Trails with a full through-hiking backpack and wow, can this ascent be a soul-searching section of the journey. It has something for everyone — you wander about through the well trodden path, your hips are never stationary as you wove about. A foot on a rock here, or maybe on the dirt there. There are a few spots where the canopy opens up just enough that the sun can peek through but it’s more likely that you will be looking up at a stone or root staircase.

It’s beautiful, this trail and one of my absolute favorite hiking experiences. It teaches agility and perseverance. It is not the kind of trail where one can just blindly put one foot in front of the other — you must be in the moment, focused and driven or you will never make it past the turnoff for the Little Pico Triple. There is no view until you are almost at Pico Shelter; you must look deep inside yourself to continue, especially when your legs want to slow down on the steeper sections.

There is no rhythm to this trail, no expected moments or thought-free sections, which I think is one of the reasons why they moved the AT/LT in 1999. I know that’s not the real reason, but when you hike the new section, it certainly seems that way. There was nothing challenging there except remembering to keep walking. On your way to the Churchill-Scott Shelter you can actually find your mind wandering as your legs seem to act remotely. If you tried that on the Sherburne Pass Trail, you would flat on your face in a matter of seconds.

But that’s okay. Everyone is out there to hike their own hike, to follow their own path up the mountain. Perhaps next week I will take the new section rather than the original section. What’s super cool is that you can summit from either side. You could summit Pico via a stroll on the Hershey Highway, you could take the gondola up Killington and skip over on the ridge line or you could start at Wheelerville and take the Bucklin Trail. Heck, you could walk all the way from Georgia or Maine to summit Pico if you really wanted to. Or you could wait for the snow to fly and ride the chairlift up in the wintertime. Do whatever the outdoors means to you — just make sure you get outside and enjoy our beautiful Green Mountains.

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