Total Miles: 104.5
The air, even overnight, could be worn like any other article of clothing. A bit like a shirt that fits a size too small. Suffocating with its humid stickiness that gives everything an imperceptible dampness, even the things you know to be bone dry. Sleeping in it is an exercise in futility. At least it always has been for me.
Only 15 feet away, the rush of the nearby creek had at least been an equally pleasant alarm clock as it had been a lullaby last night. Restless sleep or not, the pot of gold waiting at the end of today’s hiking rainbow would be a return to a familiar and special place: The Inn at Long Trail.
It’s the kind of place that stands still while time swirls around it, not unlike a rock jutting up through a river’s current. And it’s precisely that quality that I find so endearing. The comfort of familiarity, predictability. The very things that make a place feel like home.
Standing at the crest of Sherburne Pass in the shadow of Pico Mountain ski area, the Inn is an institution all to itself owing most of all to its Irish-themed pub where the rock of the mountain behind quite literally forms one of the walls. It also sits directly next to the path of the original Long Trail, the blazes still visible from the parking lot.
Famous for its rollicking live Irish music on Friday nights, I can still hear the sound of it drifting up to our room as I write this. Along with it, you can almost hear the collective exhale of the patrons who want nothing more than to be done with a pandemic that isn’t quite done with us.
When we set out this morning, a simple climb up and over the second tallest peak in Vermont stood between us and the Inn and the promise of a beer in its pub. The trail to Killington Peak is a never ending tangled web of roots, the only interruption being when rocks briefly stand in for those roots. But the sky was as clear as it has been, and the trail was silent. No hikers, no wind, just the sound of our footsteps and the rhythmic clacking of our trekking poles against the rock.
The Long Trail itself—oddly enough—doesn’t actually climb directly over the summit of Killington Peak but instead skirts just 0.2 miles below the summit. With the weather as perfect as can be, we didn’t miss the opportunity for a quick detour to the top. Waiting there was the reward of an unobstructed view in all directions.
Not that getting up and down those pesky 0.2 miles was any bargain. Not when nearly 400 feet of elevation change over a pile of jumbled boulders stood in our way...
Stepping off the trail and into the parking lot of the Inn for the third time on a long distance hike like this was like coming home. It’s the same feeling I had growing up and always returning to the same beloved family vacation spot in Canada. Years may have come and gone, but you’d hardly know it. What better place to saddle up at the bar and have, what else, but a Long Trail Ale?