Kristina Schelling, 25, scrolled through the Maine Hiking Facebook group for inspiration. A post from Jesse Reynolds caught her eye and sparked an all-day adventure up Vermont’s highest peaks.
“He had been interested in hiking the VT 5 in a single day,” remembers Krissy. The “Vermont 5” refers to the state’s five 4,000′ peaks: Mount Mansfield (4,393′), Killington Peak (4,236′), Camel’s Hump (4,081′), Mount Ellen (4,081′), and Mount Abraham (4,016′). Krissy had attempted this feat last winter, but was quickly sidetracked when her car got stuck in deep snow on Camel’s Hump Road — the very first stop. “I of course wrote back, saying that I too had that interest.”
Jesse and Krissy messaged back-and-forth and became friends. They soon planned their goal hike for June 24. The night before the hike, Jesse drove from his hometown, Portland, Maine, to meet Krissy and her blue heeler rescue, Sierra, in Burlington. They confirmed their routes and set an alarm for 2 a.m.
“I woke up around 1:45, excited to have beaten my alarm and nervous for the day ahead. I was much more awake than I thought I would be. I mowed down a giant bagel and an Extra Strength 5-hour Energy shot as we drove to Mansfield,” recalls Krissy.
The three started up the moderate Haselton Trail, a 2.8-mile trail to the “nose” along Mansfield’s ridgeline. Shortly in, Krissy became nauseous and began dry heaving. She urged Jesse to continue, not wanting to slow him down or for him to witness any vomiting.
“I worried that he would worry about how the day would go after that. I worried about how the day was going to go,” she says. “But as I neared the nose and sunrise broke, I began to feel so much better. It was without a doubt the most beautiful sunrise I have seen in a very long time.”
Hooked on Hiking
Krissy had started hiking about seven years ago during her undergrad at Saint Joseph’s College of Maine. Being a native New Hampshirite, her first hike was Mount Monadnock. “I thought it was magical. I was so enchanted by it, I even agreed to go back [the next morning] for a sunrise hike with friends,” says Krissy. Having completed the same hike twice in less than 12 hours, Krissy was officially hooked on hiking. She spent the rest of the summer completing one sunrise hike per week. Once the semester started, she continued her hiking in Maine.
“I figured if I could climb the tallest one, I could climb them all. The White Mountains became my place of sanity. They were my escape and a place that I could push myself, mentally and physically,” recalls Krissy.
In 2016, she did the Pemi Loop — a 30-mile hike with 10,000’ elevation gain that summits eight of the NH 48 peaks — in a single day. “It was the most challenging thing I had ever done. To this day is still one of my proudest accomplishments.”
Mt. Mansfield, 4,393′
Now atop Mt. Mansfield and watching Sierra enjoy the summit, Krissy felt peace. But she had four more Vermont peaks to reach before day’s end. She headed back down the Haselton Trail while Jesse explored more of Mansfield. This, however, didn’t go to plan.
“I fell three times. Once was completely harmless. One time, I fell right onto my back, but luckily the bladder in my pack saved me from losing my breath. And one time, I fell and smashed my ankle into a rock. That one hurt a lot.”
Upon reaching the parking lot, Krissy refueled with dark-chocolate covered cookies and Gatorade. She put her legs up to rest, but worried about how her throbbing ankle would affect the day’s plans.
Camel’s Hump, 4,081′
When Jesse returned, the three headed to Camel’s Hump. “We went up and down Burrows Trail, effortlessly. I was amazed at how little I felt my ankle while we were moving. And I felt so good while we were moving. We made great time. We met a lot of super friendly people and uber-cute pups. It was the perfect morning out on the Hump.”
Mount Abraham, 4,016′
Next, they traveled to Mts. Abraham and Ellen, via Lincoln. “Being fully exposed in the sun, it felt warm but I still felt strong,” recalls Krissy. The group made good time up Lincoln, enjoyed snacks and views from Mt. Abe, and continued on.
Mount Ellen, 4,081′
“A hiker informed us that Mt. Ellen was further out than expected, and that haunted us a bit. But our energy and happiness were renewed once we reached the cairn.”
Jesse, Krissy, and Sierra surpassed the summit to the ski slope, where a group studied rocks and glacial movement. “We talked with them, and like everyone else, they told us we were ‘crazy’ for attempting such a goal.”
They started to think so themselves as they followed the ski slopes down Ellen. “We thought that going down the ski slopes would be faster than cutting back over the ridge,” explains Krissy.
“The growth on those ski hills was almost as tall as me in some spots. Sierra, who is only 30 pounds, was not always easy to spot. She had a blast here though. It was quite comical to see her leaping around in the overgrown brush. I fell a lot during this, but at least it was soft landing. We got to the ski lift we thought we would follow to the Lincoln side and it just went up… and up…. and up. I laughed probably kind of like a crazy person.”
Jesse and Krissy agreed to continue through the overgrown ferns down the ski hill instead of following the lift. Upon reaching the bottom, a sign informed them that they were still four miles down the road from the Lincoln parking lot. “I lost all hope. I told Jesse I could drive him to Killington, but there was no way I was hiking it. I never thought a descent could take so much out of me, physically, mentally, and emotionally.”
Killington Peak (4,236′)
Jesse tried for a hitchhike, and two miles into their walk, someone stopped. A truckdriver named Beefer drove the trio the last two miles. “My moral boosted instantly,” says Krissy. “He told us we were ‘crazy’ and that Killington could wait. I agreed.”
Beefer dropped Jesse, Krissy, and Sierra at the parking lot. Krissy ran to her car and hugged it, then downed a veggie wrap. The group still had Killington to ascend via the Bucklin Trail, but Jesse had an idea. He researched alternate trails and found the Killington Peak Loop — a 4.1-mile trail with a 1,600’ gain. Bucklin Trail is 7.2 miles with a 2,522’ ascent.
“That sounded much more doable, so I said ‘Screw it, okay! Let’s finish the five!’” says Krissy.
They arrived at Killington around 8:30 p.m. They followed well-packed ski hills while Sierra chased bugs and plopped into water along the trail. “But so many times I felt like turning around. I kept going back and forth between feeling so strong and powerful and so tired and defeated.”
The three reached the staircase and Krissy felt another rush of energy. At the summit, “the biggest, brightest moon” greeted the hikers. “‘We did it,’ we yelled!” After a quick descent, Krissy felt invincible. She, Sierra, and Jesse had each completed more than 28 miles along Vermont’s five highest peaks — with a total of 11,873’ elevation — in less than 24 hours. “It was a high like no other. I was so proud of my tough lil’ pup and my new crazy hiker friend,” she says.
While hiking five peaks was challenging, Krissy says it reminded her what she’s capable of. “I lost a good friend right before COVID started, and like many people this past year had been hard on me. This hike helped me to recognize that I can push on, and that’s just what I’ll keep doing.”
GMC doesn’t officially keep track of “peak bagging” or other endurance hiking feats in the Green Mountains, beyond recognizing those who complete the entire Long Trail end-to-end (at once or in sections) or those who complete all 88 Long Trail side trails. But we recognize the mental and physical fortitude required to undergo such a journey, least of all managing the logistics and 5+ hours of driving required!
If you’re inspired by Krissy and Jesse’s journey and want to undertake an epic adventure of your own, remember to hike your own hike and always err on the side of caution. Hiking in the dark should only be done by the most experienced of hikers, and we don’t recommend doing so alone. Follow the HikeSafe Hiker Responsibility Code and always pack the ten essentials of a safe hike, including but not limited to food, water, extra layers, first aid supplies, navigation, and a working headlamp. Want to start with just one of Vermont’s 4,000-footers? Check out hike recommendations here.