Killington + Pico
Should have brought the snowshoes...
PeaksKillington (4,236ft), Pico (3,957ft)
TrailheadRoute 4, across the street from Long Trail Inn
TrailsSherburne Pass Trail, Pico Link, Long Trail
Total Distance12.52 miles, 4,768ft elevation gain
TimeStart: 6:33am, 5:15 Round Trip
Weather20s/30s temps and misty in the early hours, quite windy and cold above trees, partly sunny on the way back.
Trail ConditionsSlushy snow with thin (very breakable) top crust
GearUsed: waterproof trail runners + microspikes. Recommended: snowshoes + boots
Partners in CrimeCody & Rye
Though we only live about an hour from the trailhead, and I’ve run a race up the Killington ski slopes before, neither of us had ever summited the second tallest of Vermont’s five 4000 footers. We decided to take Sherburne Pass from Route 4 south to tag Pico on our way. We had originally planned to take the Long Trail all the way back north to make a sort of loop, but I forgot Rye’s leash at home, so walking a mile on Route 4 with a loose pup called for an out an back instead.
Dawn came right as we got ourselves ready to go at the trailhead, so we never had to use our headlamps. The parking lot was much larger than we had expected, and there were only a couple of cars there, though we assumed we were the first ones on the trail. Though we brought them in the car, we decided that with the freeze and thaw happening with the weather lately, and judging by our experience last weekend at Moosilauke, we made the decision to leave our snowshoes behind. This would lead to hours of frustration postholing our way up and down the mountains on the trail to come.
The first part of the trail ran up what seemed like a mostly icy stream through the woods. The blue blazes were easy to follow. I am not sure why we didn’t decide at this point to turn back and grab our snowshoes since we could already tell that the trail was not as packed down as we thought and we were sinking in a couple of inches as we stepped. 1.5 miles in the trail started making sharp turns, though they were pretty clearly marked. At 2 miles the trail dumps you out on the Pico ski slope without clear markers of where to go, but you turn uphill and stick to the edge of the forest and then around 1/10th of a mile later you turn back into the trees at a sign that warns of the “Dangerous & Desolate Area beyond this point… You are on your own and should be prepared to spend the night in the woods”. We weren’t, but then it wouldn’t have been too bad given the nice little shelter that was open just ahead (~2.8mi).
From the shelter, we took the Pico Link (0.4mi to the summit) trail which was very icy and a lot steeper. It led us across a snowcat road and past the ski lift. We reached the summit (3.4mi) in 1:13. It was quite underwhelming – just lots of ski slopes and associated infrastructure and trees. Rye was certainly a little freaked out by the sound of the lift, and the fog added a certain layer of mystery to it all.
We retraced our steps to the road and followed it down for 0.2mi before heading back into the woods on the other side. The trail turned into the official Long Trail/AT at around 4mi and we followed the white blazes through a Lord of the Rings-esque forest – very green and shrouded in fog. The trail basically follows an easy-grade ridge between Pico and Killington for a little over 2 miles. The trail is very icy in parts, with patches of dry trail, and then increasingly slushy/snowy/very-annoying-if-you-don’t-have-snowshoes. I was cursing myself for not bringing my snow shoes. And on top of it, I was trying out my new Topo waterproof trail runners and was too stubborn to put on my big gaiters, so I was getting snow in my low-top shoes. I felt like a dummy…
At 6.6mi we got to another shelter right before the last 0.4mi push to the summit. The trail became extremely steep and icy for the last 0.2 miles. We reached the summit (6.9mi) in 2:26. The rocky summit was very impressive, although the structures blocked some of what would have been a 360 view. It was very windy and cold so we didn’t stay long, but the clouds moved out of the way a few times so we could see all the way to New York.
We headed back down the trail, postholing and feeling sorry for whomever has to hike after us (though we clearly weren’t the first folks to leave their snowshoes behind). We were motivated by the promise of delicious tacos and affogatos from Abracadabra Coffee in Woodstock on our way back, but we needed to make it there before 12:30. For some reason, we hadn’t expected it to be such a long hike mile-wise, so looking at the ground we had to cover, we tried as much as possible to run. By now the fog had burned off and it was a nice sunny day. We made it back in 1:24, for a total time of 5:15. And best of all, we made it in plenty of time for tacos!
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