By Elaine Cushman Carroll Milton Times staff

Milton resident Jennifer DeLeonardis knew she’d turned a corner when she printed out the official list of the New England 67 as COVID-19 was settling in.

While she has never been a list keeper, she admits she enjoyed checking off each of the 67 mountain peaks in New England that are over 4,000 feet tall that she had already climbed.

Then she set her sights on the remaining ones.

This fall, DeLeonardis said she has just one more to go: Mount Mansfield in Vermont.

She explained when she realized she had turned a corner.

“I’ve never been a list keeper but all of a sudden I’m looking at the list,” she said.

DeLeonardis is planning a trip with her life partner Robert Reenan in October to achieve the goal.

“It was a great way to spend COVID,” DeLeonardis said in a recent interview in a courtyard at Fuller Village where she works as director of aquatics and fitness.

DeLeonardis, who was once an owner of the former West Newton restaurant, Lumiere, said she did her first hikes when her son was four years old and she had a sense that it would be good for him as a person to connect with the outdoors.

That was 14 years ago and Christopher is now a senior at Milton High School.

They enjoyed the “gorgeous but small mountains”


Milton resident Jennifer DeLeonardis

DeLEONARDIS from Page 1

of Acadia National Park.

Christopher now sets too brisk a pace to hike with her, but they still sometimes tackle a mountain at the same time.

In 2015, DeLeonardis got a little more serious with a group of friends who took on a section of nine peaks in the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire.

Despite being gung-ho about the experience, life, jobs, and everyday things sidelined the best of plans.

During the COVID-19 restrictions, mountains were open, DeLeonardis said, adding that Reenan was also an inspiration.

“He keeps saying you could have done it without me,” she said, shaking her head no.

According to DeLeonardis, it was the natural beauty of the mountains that initially drew her in. She said what takes her breath away are vistas where contrasts exist, such as where a mountain peak meets a body of water or a valley of fir trees.

“When you see that contrast, you’re kind of blown away,”DeLeonardis said.

She loves the whole experience of hiking. including the times when you have to challenge your mind and your body just to take that next step.

“It’s frequently peaceful. It’s a way to remove yourself from the hustle and bustle. You know you’re not going to be able to answer your cell phone,” DeLeonardis said. She also likes the sense of community of hikers, although the recent increased usage of the trails has led to dirtier trails.

DeLeonardis said the pandemic also helped her get more active about sharing her passion with the residents of Fuller Village, an over 62 community.

She went to Fuller after she left the restaurant and had become a personal trainer.

DeLeonardis said she lucked into the job after agreeing to fill in for a person who went out on maternity leave a little over five years ago. The person didn’t return, and she was given the job permanently.

DeLeonardis said that in her job, she is often asked to recommend an exercise for someone.

“I tell them that the best exercise is the one you’re going to keep doing because you love it. That’s usually the best for you,” she said.

When a resident asks why he or she is not losing weight despite working out, DeLeonardis, who said she loves to eat cookies on the trail, said the truth is that it’s difficult “to out-exercise your fork.”

DeLeonardis said that during the pandemic, she was able to offer more outdoor experiences for Fuller Village residents including snowshoeing and hiking nearby at the Blue Hills.

“It was nice to transfer something I love to the residents,” she said. “It’s not for everybody.”

DeLeonardis said winter hiking is becoming her favorite since it bypasses two things she doesn’t enjoy: bugs and hot weather.

“The scenery is so different. It’s stunning,” she said.

DeLeonardis is drawn in by sights like frozen fog and sun shining on snow-covered trees as well as by the deep silence.

She said Mount Jefferson is one of her favorites in the winter, particularly an area that is like an open saddle in the mountain, where “it felt like you were crossing the moon.”

“Talk about quiet. It’s remarkably quiet,” she said.

DeLeonardis believes that while hiking, it is particularly important to find a pace that you can sustain and abide by the rule of hiking that the slowest person with you sets the pace.

She is currently hiking with a friend who is 71 and wants to hike the New Hampshire 48 again as a person over the age of 70 despite having knee and back problems.

DeLeonardis recommends that people who have never hiked before simply get a pair of good, sturdy shoes and “just go out and start walking. The more you do it, the better you’re going to get at it.”

“We’re lucky here that we have the Blue Hills,” she continued, adding that there are checklists of smart hiking protocols that people should follow for basic safety.

Those include always going with someone in case something should happen and bringing water, sunscreen, and bug spray.

She said winter hiking requires more planning and a day pack with supplies, a compass, a map, food, multiple layers of clothing, snow shoes, crampons, an ice axe, insulated hiking boots, and wool socks.

DeLeonardis said she found out first hand that hiking in snow can also result in a sunburn on the roof of your mouth so a neck gaiter is a must.

“Don’t rely on your phone for anything,” she said. “You really have to track the weather and be smart about your decisions.”

She recalled that she and Reenan, whose most recent goal is to climb the Northeast 111, which includes New York peaks, in the winter, had to turn around three times at the trailhead to a mountain on his list because of the weather.

“It would have been at some significant level of risk,” DeLeonardis said. “The mountains are not going anywhere.”

She said her favorite hiking quote is “Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory.”

DeLeonardis said she has no interest in heading to a mountain like Everest and maybe some higher peaks in Colorado.

“I plan to go back to the ones here that I fell in love with,” she said, adding, though, that she has no plans to print out the list again.

Jennifer DeLeonardis at the summit of Mount Lafayette in New Hampshire, one of the 66 mountain peaks she has climbed in New England. (Photo submitted by DeLeonardis)