Surviving the Mt. Tom death march

I used to be in fairly decent physical shape. It has only been seven years since I did a 30-day bicycle ride from San Francisco to Somerville, NJ. So when Lisa Lacasse asked me if I wanted to do a sunrise shoot from Mt. Tom in Woodstock, Vt. I didn’t think anything about it. I even asked if she wanted to invite her photographer friend Derek MacDonald to join us. The full moon would be setting, so there should be some great photos.

Mt. Tom isn’t huge, it isn’t even big by Vermont standards, much less anything out west. There are two ways to get there, a long gentle hike of about two miles from the back side and a more direct way from the village side that takes about 30-45 minutes if you follow the switchbacks.

So the three of us met at 5:15 a.m. in the park at the base of the hill. Lisa ran a half-marathon earlier this year and is an avid hiker, but she is older than me (not much). Derek, it turns out, is a trail runner and marathoner and runs up Mt. Tom trying to break a sweat. I didn’t think anything about trying to keep up with them.

I don’t have a light tripod, in fact, I don’t have anything light, so I threw a camera body and three lenses into a backpack with my tripod and I was ready to go.

Derek, it turns out, doesn’t bother with switchbacks. He goes straight up the mountain. So there I was, in the dark with my headlamp blazing, trying to keep up with the trail-running marathoner. About 1/4 way up I got close enough to Lisa to see if she was breathing anywhere nearly as hard as me. I could hear her breathing so, even thought I couldn’t talk, I thought I was OK.

About half way up, I needed a break. I peeled off my long-sleeve shirt and drank a bunch of water. I was still breathing too hard, so I needed to sit down. I hadn’t eaten any breakfast, so I pulled out a Cliff bar and hoped for some energy. After at least 10 minutes, I finally got to the point I could talk, so we headed up again.

I think Derek realized I might not survive if we kept going straight up the mountain, so we went the rest of the way on the switchback trails. We made it to the top and the fog had rolled in covering everything below. Which was good, because at that point I was totally overheated and I needed to sit. I must have looked bad because Lisa got a towel wet and put it on my neck as I sat on a bench and tried not to pass out. I was rather glad there wasn’t anything to shoot because it was going to be while before I was in any shape to shoot. More water and a Lisa-made muffin and I was finally ready to go.

The fog was the bad kind, high and thick. I love the low lying type in the valleys but this fog wasn’t cooperating. We spent a couple hours shooting pictures from both sides of the mountain and we got some decent shots but not what I had hoped for.

At least the hike back was downhill and I didn’t need an ambulance.

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