Climbing the mountains of New Hampshire and Vermont has long been a tradition at kimball Union, whether as a class trip, an all-school outing or, as in more recent times, part of new-student orientation. In October 1892, The Kimball Union, the student newspaper, recounted the story of A Trip to Ascutney. Many of you have stood on The Hilltop and seen in the distance, a lone mountain peak. This is Vermont’s Mt. Ascutney where, long ago, students dreamt of a school holiday and the promise of a mountain climb.
In the fall of 1892, excitement was building throughout the school. The writer began, “To us few pleasure trips seemed more enjoyable than a mountain climb. More than that: this one had long been anticipated. … Time dragged slowly on … but when, one night, the boys began to whisper, ‘Ascutney tomorrow,’ always ending with the warning, ‘Don’t tell any one, for Prof. doesn’t want it to get out.’”… The rumor was correct, for the next morning students arose at 4:30 am and assigned their teams, set off for the mountain “with ladies and gentlemen agreeably mingled … at last reached the base without mishap. … The mountain towered above us threateningly, but we set out with good courage, and at 12 o’clock arrived at the spring, one mile from the summit. … ”
After lunch, they were ready for the last mile “clambering up ledges, over rocks, and through fallen trees … more than one young gentleman there learned to heartily appreciate the rocky hills of New England; some couples even sought out the roughest paths and toiled up them without a murmur!” The writer’s words best describe their thoughts when, at 1 pm, they at last reached the summit: “Here words fail to describe the grandeur of the scenery now before us. To the westward, rising range after range until they blended softly with the lofty summits of the Green Mountains, we saw the foot-hills of Vermont. Below us, on every side, were secluded hamlets and flourishing towns. At our feet lay the valley of the Connecticut, the river winding like a silver ribbon among the hills. Away in the distance rose Killington, Mansfield, Camel’s Hump, Monadnock, Kearsarge, and Cardigan.
“As we looked upon this scene, with the ever-changing foliage of Vermont and New Hampshire, now tinged with the brighter hues of autumn, we could not but lose all thoughts of our hard climb in a feeling of littleness, yet of exaltation, which cannot be imagined by one who has not, at some time, stood alone upon the summit of a mountain.” At 3 pm, they retraced their steps downwards, stopping for a moment at the spring. The 15-mile journey home was passed with singing and laughter as they enlivened the “clear evening.”
Thirteen years later, in November 1905, The Kimball Union reported on a senior trip, The Ascutney Ride. “At last the longed for day arrived, and what a day it was! The sun never was brighter, the autumn air never more invigorating, and nature never more beautiful, than when the class of 1906 went on the Ascutney ride. It was one of those quiet days in the latter part of September, when the frost had just begun his work and when the trees were dressed in their many hues.”
By 9 am the girls were in the “Surrey” and the boys in a “brake” drawn by “four coal-black horses. … With a yell for old K.U.A., and a crack of the driver’s whip we were off.” Reaching the base of the mountain, the class and “chaperones” changed from their leather shoes to “rubber bottomed ones,” wrote their names in the climbers’ book, “and last but not least, drop[ped] our mite into the box … to help improve the footpath up the mountain.”
“At last we were off, past the orchard, through the pasture, up the old wood road to the path, and then we realized what was before us. The lean ones … shook their heads in a doubtful way, but the stout ones gave us courage by their confidence, and we began our climb in earnest.” They, too, stopped at the spring for lunch, and an hour later reached the summit where they enjoyed the glorious scenery. Before descending, too soon they felt “as time had passed too rapidly,” the class left their mark on the granite hill. “In after years, if any of us ever again visit the place, our hearts will beat a trifle faster, and our minds will be filled with the pleasantest of memories, as we see, carved upon the ledge, these magical signs, ‘K.U.A., 1906.’ … At about 9 pm the lights of Meriden loomed into view, and a few minutes later we were warmly welcomed by Principal Tracy and Miss Searle. A warm supper was relished by all, and then, ‘good night.’”
Today, you can leave Meriden by car and arrive at the foot of the mountain in 35 minutes where you then have a choice of hiking up the entire mountain (three miles) or driving to the parking lot and walking the last mile to the summit. Either way, it is a wonderful day trip.