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Evening hikes and cool peaks as the summer wanes

So we're sitting around in late August eating copious burgers and dogs in Allyn's Lodge – five kids, me and two Sugarbush camp coaches, Dave and Chris. It's not quite carbo loading (yet the menu includes grilled corn on the cob and salad), but the food is adequate preparation for an early evening hike up to Lincoln Peak for the sunset, followed by an overnight camp in sleeping bags.

How cool is that? A splendid evening, a thousand foot or so hike, with no one else around and five willing kids and the promise of possible wildlife sightings as we amble up the grassy switchbacking swale that's called Jester in winter.

The young ones want to talk loudly, but we keep the voices to a minimum and sooner or later we spot a porcupine munching down some grass around the next switchback. The animal looks slow but vanishes as quickly as we spot him. "Are porcupines dangerous?" one of the little girls whispers to me and the conversation segues to all the other wildlife that is sequestered somewhere else on the mountain, such as the moose that mountainbikers and early morning walkers are wont to run into, and the black bear.

"What do black bears eat?"

"Honey!" is the answer in unison (gratefully no one says "campers") and it's a reminder that one of the implicit purposes of these outdoor adventure camps is to dispel the notion that the real American world mirrors the synthetic "Disney world." There is a certain amount of "unlearning” that must take place in the outdoors.

We talk a bit about black bear scat (new vocabulary word, that one) containing berries, seeds, sometimes the fur of small animals and even apples and peaches from orchards.

We get to the top and head for the LincolnPeak observation platform. It sits right next to the Long Trail heading south toward little Abe and Mt.Abe (maybe 30 minutes one way and worth the trip). It might be stifling down in the vast developed flatlands of southern New England, but up on the top of the ridge and resting on the wooden benches of the platform, it's sweatshirt or shell weather for most of us. The view is exquisite – Lake Champlain with the Adirondacks behind it and the rolling spine of Green Mountains, looking smokey and furred in the waning light.

We decide to stay just long enough for the sunset with its dark red tequila colors and the way it finally slipped behind the mountains like someone sliding a burnt orange poker chip without any intervening clouds. It left just enough light for us to get back down to the lodge. The kids descended fast and nimble until one inexplicably drops and nearly face plants, getting up smiling. For them, the evening was just starting, as they still had a campfire, ghost stories and a chocolate bar.

Since I really should leave the sleepover to the kids, I put on a headlamp, bid farewell and headed back down the fire roads to the bottom. I hadn't really done much night hiking before, just once I could remember coming down late on the normal route of Mt.Whitney in California, and I thought again about that hike for the first time since it took place. The little spot of light on the trail in front of you from the headlamp and not much else but darkness in the trees. I skated some on the rocks on the fire road and made the trekking poles longer to compensate for the knees, which are no longer good shock absorbers.

We should do another night hike, maybe Camel's Hump? There’s some temperate weather still left to go. If there isn't a song lyric then there should be, "there ain't no place like The Valley in the summertime."

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