Hike: Pico/Killington

SUMMARY

For this hike I parked at the lot across the street from the Inn at Long Trail on Route 4 in Killington, Vermont. I hiked up the Sherburne Pass Trail to Pico Camp where I took the spur trail to the summit of Pico Peak. I returned to Sherburne Pass Trail and continued south on it until the junction with the Long Trail and Appalachian Trail. I followed this trail south until Cooper Lodge shelter where I took the spur trail to the summit of Killington Peak. I returned using the same trails but bypassed the Pico Peak spur trail.

This hike was twelve and a half miles long, included 3500 feet of elevation gain and took me six and a quarter hours to complete.

Trail map

Map of hike (interactive map)

TRIP REPORT

After a three and a half hour drive across three states I arrived at Sherburne Pass in Killington, Vermont, at 7:15 am. I pulled into the parking lot across from the Inn at Long Trail and found the weather to be conducive to a long hike: 50 degrees, mostly clear with a little fog. Despite the relatively early start (for normal humans, not myself) there were already seven cars in the lot.

There were also some tents pitched in a designated area for through-hikers. The trail I was about to head up was part of the Appalachian and Long Trails until they were rerouted in 1999, but Inn at Long trail was still a popular (if relatively expensive) stop for through-hikers.

I stepped into the shade of deciduous trees and headed south on the Sherburne Pass Trail. My first stop on this 12+ mile day would be Pico Peak, a New England Hundred Highest, followed by my real destination, Killington Peak. Killington was my final New England 4000 Footer in Vermont, and my next to last in all of New England. I had done my final Maine 4000 Footer, North Brother, two weeks previous, and would be doing my final New Hampshire 4000 Footer, Mount Moosilauke, the following weekend. I was on a tight schedule.

The trail started off easily going through typical verdant Vermont forest. I waited for two trail runners to pass at a water crossing and then the trail headed up hill at a more moderate slope. A solo woman passed me heading down and after some switchbacks the trail broke from the trees onto a ski trail. The trail climbed steeply between long grasses and wildflowers and afforded a nice view downhill.

Mountain dirt road with distant mountains covered with clouds

Looking back while heading up a Pico ski trail

The trail re-entered the forest after a few hundred feet, but it looked like people had continued up the ski trail to the summit of Pico Peak. I opted to stay on the trail.

Shortly thereafter I came upon a wooden structure beside the trail. It was the Pico Camp shelter that probably saw more action when the Appalachian Trail and Long Trail crossed its front lawn, but it still looked well kept.

Cabin in woods with distant ski trails

Pico Camp with Killington ski trails in the distance

On a tree next to the spur trail to the Pico Peak summit was a sign warning of the high porcupine population in the area and the danger they posed for dogs. I took note to stay away from prickly looking lumps in the forest and headed on up.

This trail was moderately steep, climbed some rocks and crossed access roads/ski trails. When I got to the summit area I found a ski lift standing watch in the breeze. I went up the steps of the summit cabin to continue to the peak and was assailed by a foul smell. Looking around the porch I found a slew of porcupine quills and poop slung about. The porcupines were definitely nesting (if that’s what porcupines do) around the building.

Ski lift on mountain top

Pico Peak ski lift

I got to the radio-tower-littered summit at 8:45 am and sat down on a concrete footing for a snack break. I had thought I would enjoy sketching my surroundings, so I had brought along colored pencils and a sketch pad. But, either the cold breeze or my rust sketchy skills prevented me from putting too much effort into the matter.

Looking down ski trail with distant mountains covered in clouds

Pico Peak summit

Color pencil sketch of trees, mountains and sky

Color pencil sketch from Pico Peak

Once my sketch was complete I hopped down from my perch and headed down the mountain. The ski trail on the way down provided a nice view toward Killington Peak, my next stop.

Ski trails with distant mountain covered in more ski trails

Looking toward Killington Peak from Pico Peak

Soon after Pico Camp was the trail intersection with the Appalachian and Long Trails. I found the trail to be wet, rocky, root-y and otherwise uneventful, quintessential Long Trail hiking from my limited experience. I passed a whole bunch of through-hikers on the easy climb toward Killington Peak.

After the trail began to climb more steeply I discovered Cooper Lodge and the spur trail to Killington Peak’s summit. The stone shelter and the tent platforms above it were empty so I just continued toward the summit.

At 10:30 am I finally broke above the treeline to find myself enshrouded in clouds and and whipped by winds from the northwest. I explored my second antennae-littered summit of the day among a surprising number of other people and then headed across what was signed as a ski trail to hopefully discover a better view.

A strange grinding sound permeated through the trees, so I trudged across the rocky trail hesitantly. To my surprise I discovered an active gondola and the likely source of all the people milling about. Beyond the gondola was a summit lodge with a cafeteria and bar. I clearly had not done my homework on this hike.

I explored the area a little and learned why my brother (who lives in Vermont) was keeping tabs on my hike. He had planned to ride the gondola to the top with my nephew to surprise me, but my nephew had gotten car-sick on the way and they had to turn around.

Gondolas rising above grassy ski trails with distant mountains

Gondolas rising to Killington Peak from the lodge below

I took an early lunch and watched mountain bikers get off the gondola and speed down a dirt road hooking around the summit lodge. I got lucky during my break as the clouds broke a little and I was able to catch some of the surroundings.

Looking through clouds to distant mountains

View between clouds on Killington Peak

I headed back down once I completed my lunch at 11:00 am. On my way past Cooper Lodge there were a few through-hikers considering stopping for the day. A frazzled-looking guy peeled away from the others and began questioning me about the summit and the lodge above. He was quite talkative and was thinking about quitting the trail. I couldn’t speak toward the prices in the cafeteria as I hadn’t checked, but hopefully he went up to get a warm meal and improve his spirits.

The hike out along the Appalachian/Long Trail was as uneventful as before. There were a slew of hikers with dogs. At one point I passed a family of hikers, the little boy leading the way liked my orange plastic man (emergency whistle) hanging from my daypack. The only other excitement was a bunch of shirtless hippy runners with a boombox. Probably a fairly normal site in the Vermont woods (said with affection).

After passing Pico Camp and heading down its slopes I was surprised by the coughing of nearby ATVs. I stopped on the trail and watched them rumble by. They looked to be part of an ATV tour; one of those not-really-outdoorsy activities that “Outdoorsmen” take part in. How one can enjoy nature while zipping around on a roaring exhaust machine is beyond me. But I may be biased. Where I live now is surrounded by ATV and snowmobile trails. Once I got out of earshot of the ATV trails I peacefully resumed my hike.

Close up of a butterfly on flowers

Bright July colors

I got back to my car at 1:30 pm and the lot was overflowing. I paused before departing when I noticed rock climbers across the road climbing the face of Deer Leap Rock.

Though this wasn’t the most exciting hike I’ve taken, it was satisfying to complete another Hundred Highest and my final Vermont 4000 Footer. It was surprising and disappointing to run into so much civilization while out in the woods. Every time I thought I found a peaceful vista I was accompanied by radio towers, gondolas, lodges or ATVs.

It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here.
—Edward Abbey

VIDEO

Video of Pico/Killington hikeVideo of Pico/Killington hike
Music from Free Music Archive: “Audio Assassin” by Audiobinger

HISTORY

  • Killington Peak used to be known as Mount Pisgah
  • The first horse path to Killington Peak was cleared in 1859
  • Pico Peak and the surrounding forests were a present to Mortimer Proctor, a Governor of Vermont, in 1910, which he sold to Pico Ski Inc. in 1948.
  • Killington Basin Ski Area opened in 1958, lift tickets were sold from a chicken coop
  • The Killington Peak Lodge opened in 1967 to support a new gondola to the summit, which was the highest capacity and longest ski lift in the world
  • The Appalachian Trail and Long Trail once traversed across Pico Peak, within 0.5 miles of the summit, but were rerouted to the west of the mountain in 1999.
  • Cooper Lodge was built in 1939 and is the highest shelter on the Long Trail, only 0.3 miles from the summit of Killington Peak

STATS

Date Hiked: 24 July 2016
Temperature: 50°s
Trail Conditions: dry, wet rocks and roots
Weather: mostly sunny
Wind: NW 30mph

Highest Elevation: 4235′
Elevation Gain: 3500′
Distance: 12.5 miles
Book Time: 8:00
Actual Time: 6:15

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