Life Lessons Gleaned Hiking Down Camel’s Hump


Camel’s Hump is one of Vermont’s best-recognized landmarks. Towering above much of the Green Mountains, it remains unspoiled by roads, ski areas, or phony cell tower trees and is a favorite destination for hikers of various ages and abilities. Most of them in good physical condition.



Camel's Hump from afar
Camel’s Hump from afar


Legend has it that it was originally named Camel’s Rump, and the name genteelly morphed into another part of the anatomy with the arrival of Victorian era settlers. Whatever the anatomical metaphor, she towers majestically above the surrounding ridgeline each time I speed my way north along Rt. 89 between Montpelier and Burlington. I’ve wanted to climb her since I first moved here eight years ago.


Vermont’s own Long Trail runs across Camel Hump’s rocky summit and, according to the guidebook, it’s a four-hour, six-mile hike to the top — with a 2,000-foot gain in elevation along the way.


It would take me eight and a half hours.


Here is the story of my climb to the top on June 24, 2015. Or, rather, my trek to the bottom. It’s the story of the lessons I learned as I made my way down, slowly, alone, and very, very carefully.  I’ll present the story in 12 additional installments over the next five months, weaving in other topics as needed.


Starting out, we were a band of five: my mother, my son David, and my grandsons Elijah (11) and Raleigh (9). Four generations on a half-day trek. What could go wrong?


Here we are, ready to go.  Water bottles and walking sticks at the ready.


Starting off 2
Photo, courtesy of David Ackerman



Oh yes; we had our dogs too.  Here’s Dave with Palanji (with his own backpack) and Sasha.



IMG_1050 2 copy


We’d packed a lunch, had water bottles plus a “bladder” that Raleigh carried on his back, and plenty of high energy snacks.  We had leashes for the dogs, walking sticks, cell phones, bug spray, and lots of enthusiasm.


What we didn’t have was time.  A washed out bridge necessitated a rather lengthy, unexpected detour. Long story short, we got to the parking lot at noon. Not our original plan, but for an expected four-hour hike, it wasn’t too bad. We ate our lunch in the car and set off soon after.


The trails were well marked and in excellent shape.  Rustic, to be sure, but well maintained through membership fees to the Green Mountain Club.


Photo, courtesy of David Ackerman



Many times they led us through an old stream bed and often we passed man-made water diversion systems, made with logs in some places, or flat rocks in others, all to help direct the water off the trails. I was impressed.





Soon enough, it became clear that my mother’s hike was going to be considerably shorter than ours.  After we bid her adieu (I thought she was heading back), she continued on another half mile (1.7 miles total — she proudly corrected me), then turned around and went the 1.7 miles back to the car.  There, she’d have a mere two-hour wait until the boys showed up because, as it turned out, she got back to the car at about the time we reached the summit.


The summit.  It was as spectacular as we’d heard.  From our perch 4,083 feet above sea level, we could see the Adirondack Mountains of New York to the west (beyond Lake Champlain), the White Mountains of New Hampshire to the east, and the rest of Vermont’s Green Mountains stretching north and south.



The summit 2
Photo, courtesy of a friendly stranger at the top.  That’s me, collapsed beneath the dogs.



So often we hear the adage, It’s not the destination; it’s the journey. I believe this. I also believe the journey is even better with a spectacular destination urging you on.  So, sometimes, it is the destination!


Photo, courtesy of David Ackerman



To set a goal and achieve it is an exhilarating high.  And, if you have enjoyed the metaphorical roses all along, it’s even better.


But my exhilaration at the summit was tempered by the realization that I still had my descent ahead.  I’d not be skipping over the rocks like the more agile hikers I’d seen.  That much I knew.



It had taken us five hours to get up.  Granted, down goes faster than up. But for some (like me), down is considerably harder than up. There are the knees. And the hips. And the plantar fasciitis that had only recently healed after two years.


Dave and I decided that the boys, the dogs, and he would go on ahead.


So, we took some pictures at the top and, shortly after five o’clock, parted company.


Dave and the boys (and the dogs) reached the parking lot two hours later. My mom took the boys (with the dogs) off for snacks and Dave turned around to come back for me with a better set of hiking poles than my sole painters’ extension pole.  We would reach the parking lot at 8:30, four minutes before the skies opened and an unexpected rainstorm drenched the surrounding area.  Really. Four minutes.


Of my three and a half hour trek down the mountain, the first two of those hours were alone, my body inching its way carefully over rock and ridge.


I hadn’t gone long when I realized this phrase was running in a loop through my head:


When the going is difficult, each step we take is of equal importance.


I knew I needed to pay attention to my footing, diligently. I would take no step for granted or haphazardly, no matter how short the stride, or how flat the surface. I would be very careful.


When the going is tough, each step we take is of equal importance.  


I heard it again, thought that’s not unique to the mountain, and began to think of other settings besides mountainsides where the individual parts of the whole hold equal importance: links in a chain, members on a team, students in a classroom, votes in a ballot box, atoms in a molecule.


When “grains of sand on a beach” flitted through my head, I knew I’d lost control of my metaphor.


Fortunately, another adage began looping its way around my head, then another.  Before I reached the parking lot, I’d collected a slew of “life lessons” that fit my situation as I picked my way down the path, “life lessons” that were, I thought, as apt off the trail as on.  I took pictures too.


Over the next few months, I’ll share my list of “Life Lessons Gleaned Hiking Down Camel’s Hump.”  And, in keeping with the cultural icons of my generation, I’ll list them Letterman-style.


Each will be short and accompanied by one of the photos I took before my phone died.  I hope you’ll add your own real world examples to my trekking down the mountain lesson.


Here, once again, is the first lesson, counting backwards:


#13   When the going is tough, each step is of equal importance.


1 IMG_1072




How about you? What parallels to real life does this lesson bring to mind? Have you had some “tough going” in your life? Were the steps you took to get you through that time of equal importance?  



40 Responses

  1. marian
    | Reply

    The views are spectacular all along the way, but so is your account of the interaction among the generations. My Mother, even in her prime would never have been game for that. Kudos to your mom’s gamely attitude.

    Some tough going? The year and half Cliff and family lived in a teeny travel trailer braving the “wilds” of an itinerant camping life when our kids were tykes. It was an adventure indeed, keeping the family together as Cliff took his art show on the road. I have written about it, but not published anything.

    My lesson: When the going gets tough, hang on for dear life.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I’m afraid I’d not have made it down the trail very far if I’d followed your advice. 🙂 Besides, I imagine you did LOTS of different things to keep your brood in check. Did you have to enforce a “no running” policy, or was that just a given in such close quarters? Could you say, “go outside and run around” at each stop? I can’t imagine. I hope you publish your stories from that era.

  2. Susan Jackson
    | Reply

    I hope you didn’t have to do it in the dark–looking at that path I would be so terrified of falling(especially now while my knees are healing again). In Germany just coming down the mountain (hill really) was really worse on knees, hips and back than going up!! I am impressed!!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      That’s part of what kept me going, Susan. The sun was setting. I was so grateful we were at that point in the seasons when the days are particularly long. I’d say it was dusk when I got to the parking lot; it was dark maybe 15 minutes later. The rain was the bigger surprise. Truly had good hiking karma spurring me on. (I have not forgotten that picture of your knee. So glad it is healing).

  3. Ian Mathie
    | Reply

    Great article. I like you photo too, but it makes me think you must have extraordinarily long legs, given the spacing of your stepping stones!

    That was some hike. In my youth I’d have romped it, now I’ll just live vicariously through your report.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Yes, I can see you hoping along over those boulders and rocks, Ian. I don’t think I ever had a phase where I’d do that, though. I take risks, but not ones that might lead to pain. I’m fairly choosy in my risk-taking. 🙂

  4. When I was a college “freshman,” my boyfriend who was a student at UVa proposed a hike up Massanutten Peak. We climbed up rather easily, but what I recall was our crazy descent. We RAN down that mountain, swinging from branch to sapling, unable to slow down and just praying that no hidden root would send us to the hospital. I was terrified and exhilarated. Neither of us were hurt. Amazing.

    Today I would go down just like you did — very carefully.

    But look what you got out of it — 13 blog posts!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Oh Shirley, that does sound exhilarating, now that it’s over. 🙂

  5. Merril Smith
    | Reply

    I love your first (or 13th) life lesson, and I look forward to the rest.
    I would have been scared to go by myself–and your phone died? And kudos to your mom for hiking as much as she did!

    I can’t think of any specific stories right now, but I suppose your message also applies to life in general. It’s always one step at a time, and each one is important.
    I’m thinking of my daughter and new son-in-law who were just married this past Saturday, and how the wedding was their first step in journey together.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      How exciting for you. Congratulations. I think wedding planning is a great analogy. You know when you’ve reached the “bottom,” and while you’re getting there, mailing those invitations on time is just as important as reserving the right band or ordering the food. Can’t have one without the other, not if you want to get to that particular “bottom.” Thanks. That’s exactly the idea, Merril.

      • Merril Smith
        | Reply

        Actually no mailed invitations though–all done online. 🙂

  6. Susan Joyce
    | Reply

    Love the family adventurers in action! Fun photos also! Thanks!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Susan. Always good to have you stop by, all the way from Uruguay.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I should mention here to the others, that Susan’s memoir, Lullaby Illusion, is currently on a 99 cent special. In it she brings us right into the Cyprus civil war (which somehow, shadily involves her husband). Riveting.

  7. Joan Z. Rough
    | Reply

    This reminds me of the time many years ago when Bill and I hiked up Ireland’s holy mountain, Croagh Patrick. True pilgrims do it in bare feet. We wore hiking boots and as we got near the top, the ground got very gravely. For each step forward I slid two or three steps back. But we finally made it. On the way down, we met others, most older than we were doing it as if it was a walk in the park. I remember chanting several adages to myself going both up and down and wish now I could remember what they were.

    Maybe I’ll remember them as I hike with you up and down Camel’s Hump! Looking forward to more.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      I have a hunch, Joan, that they’ll be quite similar. I’ll be eager to hear.

  8. Katheen Pooler
    | Reply

    Janet, I really give you credit for this adventuresome and vigorous undertaking. I felt as if I was right there with you. Brava! And it’s quite a nice bonus that you have 13 life lessons to share. I’m looking forward to them!


    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Kathy, I’m very glad you’ll be coming along on my hike and hope you’ll have your feet up while you join me. 🙂

      • Ian Mathie
        | Reply

        How can she have her feet up while she hikes with you? Are you promoting armchair tourism Janet?

  9. […] When the going gets tough, each step is of equal importance,  […]

  10. Janet Givens
    | Reply

    Hey Ian, there you are. I missed you this week. Armchair tourism, now there’s a dandy phrase. Sure; I’d promote that. It would necessitate the reader living vicariously, I imagine. And what greater compliment can there be, for a writer, than to have the reader live “as though.” So armchair tourism: bring it on.

  11. […] #13    When the going gets tough, each step is of equal importance,  […]

  12. […] #13     When the going gets tough, each step is of equal importance.  […]

  13. […] #13    When the going gets tough, each step is of equal importance.  […]

  14. […]    When the going gets tough, each step is of equal importance. #12    Sometimes, perseverance is more important than having fun.  #11     Sometimes, there […]

  15. […] #13     When the going gets tough, each step is of equal importance. […]

  16. […]   When the going gets tough, each step is of equal importance. #12   Sometimes, perseverance is more important than having fun. #11    Sometimes, there is no […]

  17. […]    When the going gets tough, each step is of equal importance.  #12    Sometimes, perseverance is more important than having fun. #11    Sometimes, there is […]

  18. […]    When the going gets tough, each step is of equal importance.  #12    Sometimes, perseverance is more important than having fun. #11     Sometimes, there […]

  19. […] #13    When the going gets tough, each step is of equal importance. […]

  20. […] #13    When the going gets tough, each step is of equal importance. […]

  21. Cherie
    | Reply

    I love that you had a whole crew with you for the hike. Beautiful views!

  22. Fancy
    | Reply

    Good going! Quite an achievement. I love how the name had to alter for the Victorians!!
    Fancy recently posted…Irish SunMy Profile

  23. John rieber
    | Reply

    Terrific post…and as has been pointed out, what a great family adventure…it seems that logical thinking throughout an adventure like this, with a willingness to adapt and adjust instead of stubbornly sticking to an original plan is a great thing to learn…
    John rieber recently posted…Paddling Around The South Pacific! Three Amazing Memoirs About South Seas Adventures!My Profile

  24. Carol Taylor
    | Reply

    I love walking but have a fear of heights and clambering over rocky places which I have done here when we have done the waterfalls but I move very gingerly..I prefer flat ground but it did look lovely 🙂

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Funny you mention that, Carol. There was one point near the top, above the tree line, when I quit. I had had enough and my son and the boys and gone on ahead; there was a spectacular view AND, (the biggy) I could now see just how high up I was and that to my right was a VERY VERY long way down. So, I just sat down, got comfortable, took off my shoes and socks and soaked up some sun knowing my family would find me on their way down. But my grandsons were very soon back to get me and with their encouragement — “it’s not too much farther; no, it’s not that steep, etc” I went all the way. But I wouldn’t have done it alone.
      Janet Givens recently posted…Celebrating Cultural Diversity: Why bother?My Profile

  25. […] #13    When the going gets tough, each step is of equal importance. […]

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