Sometimes, the Summit is Not The Goal

By Kasandra “Bagels” Fleury

The forecast was for a perfect summer day. In Vermont, those days tend to be few and far between , so with low humidity and temps in the 70s, I decided to spend some quality time with my  favorite hiking partner and older dog, Maggie. It had been too long since she and I ventured to the trails alone, without my puppy, and I knew she would be just as happy to get above the trees.

I chose a mountain that we used to frequent but have not been to in a couple of years, due to us chasing our NH48 list and playing in the higher peaks of the NH White Mountains. Vermont’s Mount Hunger is not a super big mountain but it certainly packs a punch. You have the option of two trails to access the rocky summit. The Waterbury Trail (starting in Waterbury, VT) is pretty much straight up and really tests the hiker’s stamina. Maggie and I have hiked that trail more times than I can count. This time, however, we headed to a trail on the other side of the mountain…  to the Middlesex Trail. This trail begins at the end of a quiet dirt road, typical of most of our mountain hikes here in the Green Mountain State, and the road to the trailhead was bumpy and scattered with potholes. Maggie knew we were headed somewhere exciting and the moment my car turned onto the last road, she began whining in the backseat. When we arrived at the trailhead there was one car there already but that was it. Perfect. My kind of hike.

I let Maggie set the pace and she was prancing along, tail held high. The birds were singing and the bugs were hardly a problem. The Middlesex Trail begins as an old wide road of sorts, a gradual incline as you walk along, it’s a nice gentle way to begin a hike. Before too long the trail reaches a small rock cairn that indicates you need to turn left and follow the trail into the woods. Across the river we went, Maggie stopping to wallow briefly before trotting up the trail ahead of me. We have a game we play along our hikes that involves Maggie hopping up onto rocks, stumps, dead trees, etc and waiting for a treat. She always looks like she’s smiling while she poses for her cookie. Love that little dog. The trail crosses streams and finally becomes a single track trail again. That’s when it starts to really climb. We passed by what is usually a nice waterfall but with the super dry summer we have been having here, it wasn’t even a trickle.

Just before we really begin to break above tree line, there is a sheer rock face. In the past the only way to get up this section was to hold onto a rope that dangled from the trees and pull yourself up as you walked the rock. Now there is a metal grate staircase. The staircase was installed sometime within the last few years; this was the first time we encountered it. When we reached the stairs, I wasn’t sure how Maggie would do. She’s not a fan of grated steps, but with some encouragement, she walked up those steps without trouble. We had a treat party at the top and then she turned and picked up her pace as we got closer to the summit. When we did reach the summit, the views were awesome. There were only a couple of other hikers at the summit and Maggie seemed as relieved as me to see that. We have always had our snack at the same spot on this mountain. I asked Maggie if she wanted to go to our spot and she immediately ran to a flatter rock overlooking Camels Hump, Mount Mansfield and the gorgeous Vermont landscape below. We spent almost a half hour up there, enjoying the breeze and the views.

When our snack was done, I gave Maggie the choice - we could either backtrack and go back the way we came, or we could head down the Waterbury Trail towards White Rock Mountain. Maggie always knows which way is best and she decided we needed a second mountain that day. So off we went. The upper section of the Waterbury Trail is steep. It’s straight up and very rocky. I remember meeting a trail runner from Colorado years ago at this location and she said we Vermonters are nuts because we don’t believe in switchbacks. That is so true! Very few trails in Vermont have switchbacks. Many times I find myself standing there and wondering who thought putting the trail there was a good idea. Got to love Vermont. 

We made it down the steep upper scramble to the intersection with the Bob Kemp Trail. This would take us to White Rock Mountain. I love this trail; it’s gorgeous and so green in some places. And when you come out of the woods onto the first part of White Rock Mountain, it is just so cool. It’s so open with smaller trees and vegetation scattered here and there. It feels like you have been transported to a different world. The actual summit of White Rock is high up above a very steep rock face and a short stone chimney. Maggie and I have always made it to the summit but on this day I made a decision. Maggie is going to be 13 years old this September. She probably has 6000 miles on her four paws over all the years we have hiked together. She has hiked all of the NH48 and all five of Vermont’s 4000 foot mountains. Maggie is still an amazing hiking dog, but she is slowing down. She is beginning to show her age a bit this year and I did not want to push her. She wanted to keep going because Maggie believes we climb until we reach the summit. But no summit is worth risking the safety and health of my dog. She is my best friend and she has nothing to prove. So I chose a quiet place just below the super steep scramble and that is our new “summit.” Once Maggie realized I wasn’t going to give in, she settled next to me and we just sat there together and watched the turkey vultures riding the air currents.

We followed the Bob Kemp Trail over some amazing wooden steps and down some steeper rock sections and then we reached the intersection with the Middlesex Trail. An easy hike back to the car from that point. When we reached the car, Maggie did her celebratory roll in the grass before hopping into the backseat and falling asleep. A super awesome adventure and a successful hike for sure. But this was an emotional hike as well. Hiking with Maggie as always been special but now that she is in her senior years, each hike with her is even more so. When we reach a summit together now I always thank her for letting me tag along on yet another adventure.