Even though I’m seven months pregnant, it didn’t take much to talk me into climbing Killington Peak (one of Vermont’s 4000 footers). In fact, all my partner had to say was, “Hey Patches, do you want to climb a mountain?” My answer, of course, was “Yes! Which one?” The mountain he suggested was Killington (elev. 4242′) in Vermont.
The last time I’d climbed Killington was in 1998 on my thru-hike of the Long Trail (LT), so we did a quick check of the different trails to the summit. The Bucklin Trail, which approaches the peak from the West before joining up with the LT and the Appalachian Trail (AT) seemed like the best choice for our day hike. It would be an out-and-back hike of a little less than 8 miles round trip with an elevation gain of ~2400′.
Trip Report: Killington Peak Via Bucklin Trail
- Date: August, 2021
- Activity: Day Hiking – Out and Back
- Difficulty Level: Moderate
- Trail Name(s): Killington Peak (elev. 4242′) out and back via the Bucklin Trail and the AT (~7.8 miles total; ~3.9 miles each way)
- Bucklin Trail (3.4 miles) from the parking lot to the Appalachian Trail. The first two miles to Irene Falls is gently and easy. From there, the trail begins a steady moderate climb the rest of the way to the Appalachian Trail/Long Trail Junction.
- Long Trail/Appalachian Trail (0.1 miles) to Cooper’s Lodge and the Killington Spur. This stretch of trail is generally easy.
- Killington Spur (0.2 miles) to the Summit of Killington. The final push to the summit is rocky, steep, and strenuous, but it doesn’t last long.
- Trail J (0.2 miles) from the Summit down to Peak Lodge for a snack, water, and flush toilets! This trail is short and moderate and chock full of tourists when the gondola is running. On the plus side, you may be able to purchase food and beverages at the lodge.
- Location: Wheelerville Rd, Mendon, VT
- Access and Amenities: Parking area and trail kiosk. No restrooms or outhouses available. No fee.
As a pregnant hiker, I find that I am much slower while climbing mountains than usual, so we opted to do a three-day camping trip to Vermont with our climb of Killington bracketed in the middle so we could get an early start on our hiking day, and not have to worry about a long drive home after our climb.
Bucklin Trail (~3.4 miles; easy to moderate)
We arrived at the Bucklin Trailhead Parking a little bit before 10 am on Saturday morning and were pleasantly surprised to find the parking lot more than half empty.
As advertised, the first 2 miles of Bucklin Trail were fairly flat, wide, and easy, so they went by fast. However, the easy stuff came to an abrupt halt just after the “Irene’s Falls” sign 2.3 miles from the trailhead. From there, the trail veered away from the stream and started gaining elevation much more quickly, ascending nearly 2000′ in the next mile.
In this steeper section my pace slowed significantly. The extra weight of pregnancy definitely makes hiking harder. That and my uterus crowds both my diaphragm and my bladder so I get short of breath more easily AND I have to pee more often :-P However, we kept a slow and steady pace and eventually made it up the to junction of the Appalachian Trail/Long Trail.
LT/AT (~0.1 miles; easy)
Although we only followed the Appalachian Trail/Long Trail for a short distance, it was nice for me to visit the white blazes of my thru-hiking journeys.
The stretch of trail between the Bucklin Trail and Cooper’s Lodge (an AT shelter) was standard AT fare with plenty of rocks and roots, but didn’t gain much elevation.
Although we were eager to get to the summit and the views it offered, it was definitely time for a refueling break for me. So we stopped and ate some snacks/lunch lounging in the sun at the tent platforms behind Cooper’s Lodge (The spur trail to the summit of Killington is located behind the lodge, just passed the tent platforms.)
While we were there, we ran into some thru-hikers and I offered them some trail magic. I’d packed in half a dozen extra raspberry bear-claws and macaroons just in case we ran into hungry thru-hikers. During my 2013 AT thru-hike I was so hungry and so low on food that I hadn’t been able to climb the spur to the summit of Killington. Instead, a day hiker had offered me a snack and I’d headed straight to the Long Trail Inn and a long-awaited resupply… so it was extra special for me to be able to offer some of this year’s AT thru-hikers extra snacks. They each took a bear claw and a macaroon and headed to the summit.
Killington Spur (~0.2 miles; strenuous)
After resting and fueling, we were ready to tackle the final 0.2 miles of steep rocky trail to the summit. This section didn’t last long, but it definitely gave me a full body workout and was very slow going. It reminded me of a lot of the other trails to the summits of 4000 footers in New England. It still went by one step at a time, but each of those steps was much bigger. There were definitely places where I was using my hands/arms to help balance my body as I scrambled up and over the rocks of the trail.
Before long, the trail was steep enough and high enough that we could start to see spectacular views of the valley stretched out below us and we emerged onto some rocky outcroppings where we could stand, catch our breath, and take in the views. It was gorgeous.
However, we knew when we finally reached the summit because it was crowded with folks that had hiked the much shorter and more moderate 0.2 miles from the gondola to the summit. The summit was big enough for all of us, and it was such a spectacular view and a spectacular day that we didn’t mind sharing it. Also, it meant that we were able ask someone to take a photo of us at the summit.
Beyond the Summit (~0.2 miles)
After a short break at the summit, we decided to hike over to see if the Killington summit lodge was open. It was so nice out I was looking for an excuse to linger at the top of the mountain, and I was daydreaming about what kind of nice icy cold beverages might be available at the lodge.
The trail over to the gondola and lodge immediately dropped into the trees, but didn’t descend very far before opening up onto the grassy ski slopes. It was a little bit surreal after all our long hours of hiking to see the constant stream of people, mostly mountain bikers, emerging from the gondolas and spilling out onto the ski slopes. I’d heard that mountain biking on Killington was a thing, but hadn’t realized just how popular it was!
At the platform for the gondola they’d set out a sign that said “Ski Lodge Closed for Private Event”, however I wasn’t sure I believed the sign because I’d seen so many people hiking between with lodge and the summit with ice cold beverages. Since the lodge was just a couple of hundred feet further we decided to check it out anyway. Sure enough, the lodge was open. It turns out that the sign said open on one side and closed on the other side. They’d faced the open sign towards the gondola riders and hadn’t given any thought to the hikers that had come up the long way.
I was surprised at the number of different ice cold beers and microbrews were available at the Summit Lodge, but luckily there were a few nonalcoholic beverages available too… so I loaded up on cold drinks, ice cream, and chips and lingered a while longer near the summit before my partner nudged me and suggested that we should probably start heading back down. By that time it was already passed 3pm, and we was definitely right.
Heading Back Down
On the way day, we just reversed our steps. However, over the course of my pregnancy I’ve definitely noticed that my ankles have become more unstable, especially on the downhills. Having sprained my ankles more than enough times for one lifetime already, I pre-emptively wear BOTH of my heavy-duty lace up ankle braces when descending mountains while pregnant. I also carry both of my knee braces with me in cases my knees get cranky, but so far I haven’t had to use them.
In general, the descent was just long, slow, and careful. The steepest parts of the spur trail to the summit I essentially had to sit/slide down in parts because my center of gravity is a bit out of whack and I wanted to err on the side of not falling, but in general it wasn’t too bad.
We made it back to the car a little bit before 6pm, happy, tired, and hungry. Since it was getting late we decided to stop and get dinner at the McGrath’s Irish Pub at the Inn at Long Trail in Killington. I’d stopped there for dinner on my LT thru-hike (’98) and my AT thru-hike (’13), and it was the perfect way to finish our day hike in ’21.
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