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Monday, March 24, 2014

#86 Mt. Equinox, Vermont 3/23/14

 
Mt. Equinox, VT (3,855') via Blue Summit (Burr & Burton) and Yellow (Ridge) Trails, March 24, 2014

 
Mileage:  6.9 miles 

Elevation gain:  
2,934'

Trailhead:  This hike began at the green entrance gate (not the Blue Summit trailhead).  The green entrance gate is the designated parking to the Red Gate trail - intercepts the Blue Summit trail.  Parking lot is located at the west end of West Union Street in Manchester, VT (past Burr & Burton Academy, you can't miss it).  Limited parking is available (dog walkers park here) but there are other parking options. The Equinox Hotel allows parking (rear) and provides a short trail to West Union Street.

Hiked with Rich and members of The New England Hiking Meetup Group.  This was our first hike in a Meetup group and we were excited to meet new people. 

Mt. Equinox is on two peakbagging lists: the New England Hundred Highest (working on this one) and the New England Fifty Finest (not working on this one).  I was intrigued by Equinox's status on the Fifty Finest list and looked forward to hiking the highest peak in Vermont's Taconic Range.  The mountain also has an auto road (Skyline Drive) to the summit.

We spent the night in Keene and took Routes 12, I-91 and 11 to Manchester, VT the next morning.  We parked, gathered with the rest of the group and started up the well trodden, icy path to intercept Blue Summit trail.  Many dogs were being walked on this Sunday morning  (dozens).


 


That's about it for parking.

 

Green gate to the Red Gate trail (intercepts the Blue Summit trail).


 Kiosk about a hundred yards in.
It was cold, clear and calm today. Couldn't ask for better than that - except the calendars indicate it's spring

But not today and not here.  Snowshoes and Microspikes were the day's footwear.  Once we got past icy foot and paw prints, we were on a well trodden path of granular snow.  


The trail starts up quite gradually with a switchback here and there.  I'd read about unrelenting steeps and was waiting for them.

Gradual up.

Halfway up we saw a sign for a spring and went to check it out.  A huge pipe directs the water out and some nice ice formations adorned the puddles.

Ever see a pipe that big at a backcountry spring? Me neither!

 
Ice by the pipe.

Here's where the steeps begin.  Footing was great and the snow cold enough to provide slipless maneuvering.

Path meanders steeply.

The steeps go for a long stretch and my quads were burning.  I'd forgotten how much work it is to hike up in snowshoes (my last hike was in Microspikes, much easier). The woods are non-descript. We saw partial views on our climb and at one point trip leader Paul pointed out a very old section of the forest, but other than that it just seemed more of the same..... 

The terrain changes as it does when you arrive at a ridge - the woods get close and trees short - I keep looking for a tiny cabin and little elf chopping wood in the distance. 


Snow's deeper here, trees thick with white.

The path pops you out at a cell tower where we met a group of hikers.  I was glad to be done with that section - it's intense; we'd gained a lot of elevation in a short distance. 

The summit trees were covered with sticky ice, very magical.


Wet icy snow covers the trees.

Not quite at the summit, we headed up the small access road to the top. 

I hadn't really researched this hike.  Usually I pour over trail descriptions but lately I've been too busy  - or too lazy.  The abandoned summit building (Skyline Inn) I was looking for had been torn down and replaced with a "viewing center."  I walked around looking for the highest point to officially count this as #86 on my Hundred Highest list (not sure if there's a summit marker anywhere - too much snow!).

St. Bruno Viewing Center and parking lot (closed for the winter).
Exquisite views, clear as a bell.



More towers opposite the viewing center.

We headed down the auto road to check out more views. I can't remember a clearer day! 


Auto road.

Layered up and done exploring the summit area, we headed back toward the cell tower to visit Lookout Rock.



Down the path we went, knowing full well we'd have to hike back up.  But we wanted to check out Lookout Rock. After all, we might as well see all the sights in the summit area.

After poking around a bit we thought we found Lookout Rock (hard to tell with 2 feet of snow). Anyway, we were all ready to call it and head back.

Group picture at Lookout Rock (at least that's where we thought we were!).

Paul and Rich decided to break trail down the yellow "ridge" trail, which eventually connects with the Blue Summit trail. This would eliminate having to walk back up toward the cell tower to catch the trail there. 

The yellow ridge trail wasn't on my map.  My legs were fried and weren't up for breaking trail, particularly a trail not shown on my map.  I stifled a whine. But the trail was well blazed and Paul, Howard and Rich did the majority of trail-breaking.  We descended gradually, tripping over phantom roots and dodging branches heavy with snow, arriving at Blue Summit in no time.

We flew down the Blue Summit trail in wide, deep strides, the crispy snow holding the grip of the crampon all the way; softer snow present only at the very bottom. 

We had a great dinner at Mulligans (draft beer) and our legs stiffend up on the long ride home. Can't wait to check out this peak in summer!


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Mt. Moosilauke (WINTER 4K 7/48) March 8, 2014

Mt. Moosilauke  (4,802') via Glencliff and Carriage Road trails, 3/8/14.

Mileage:  7.8 miles RT

Elevation gain:  3,300'
Trailhead:  Rt 25 north to Warren, turning right onto High Street.  The trailhead parking lot is 1.2 miles on the right.

Hiked with Rich today.  This was to be our last winter 4k of the '13-'14 season and we wanted it to be special.  Rich was in charge of the particulars and he decided on Mt. Moosilauke via the Gorge Brook trail. 

I hiked Mt. Moosilauke in 2008 (see previous report) and remember it being quite windy at the top. Apparently we hadn't the desire to revisit the peak until now. 

We'd have to hike the 1.6 miles down Ravine Road to the trailhead but I didn't mind. Gorge Brook trail is considered the most moderate winter route at 2,800' elevation gain (400' of it gained during the road walk). And, it's in the trees longer - protection from Moosilauke's windy bald summit. 

After a tough week, I longed for a sweet walk in the woods.

How we wound up at the Glencliff trailhead I'll never know. Rich started flip-flopping between the options about twenty minutes into our ride.  Seems trip reports were favorable for Glencliff and promise of a steeper, more challenging route won out by the time we got to Warren. 

Steeper, more challenging route.  For me, it conjured up visions of icy cliffs and harrowing vertical ups.  I was hoping to end the winter with a fun snowshoe.  "I'm fighting a cold, my legs are tired," my insides whined.  I wondered just how much fun this would be. I should have researched this trail.  Still not really confident in crampons, I imagined Rich having to talk me down from a ledge...... 

Of course it was nothing like that. It was an fantastic hike, not soon forgotten.

The parking lot is small but one side of High Street allows for overflow. We saw seven cars in the lot.  Microspiked, we walked through the gate at the end of the parking area onto a road that intercepts the Glencliff trail.  It was a beautifully clear, crisp day and the forecast promised warmer temps as the day progressed. 

The beginning of the trail is mellow.  Looking down we could tell that snowshoes, crampons and Microspikes were the footwear of choice of hikers before us - with a post hole here and there. 
  
Trail starts out mellow.

Intermittent steeps and flats meander through the first two miles. The surface was packed snow with just a small area of ice to get around at 3,000'. 

After a few miles the trail steepens.
 
Steeper than it looks; Rich dug in to stay still for the photo.

The trail continues its steep ascent, getting even steeper just before the Carriage Road trail junction.

Steeper still. Trees getting shorter.

Sure, it's steep but footing is good. I kept waiting for the hard part, you know, the icy ledge or slushy scramble - something to warrant this trail's reputation of being "challenging."  It never came. Soon we were at the Carriage Road trail junction.

So far, we hadn't met a soul, very unusual for such a beautiful Saturday. It seems now that they were all at the trail junction!  We stopped to change our shirts and met about a dozen hikers in the short time that took.

Carriage Road trail junction.  A flat area out of the wind.

Met Neil and Erica - this is Erica's first winter 4k.

We were pumped - couldn't wait to hit the summit in .8 miles!  And, best part, the Carriage Road trail is almost flat!......

Rich heading up Carriage Road trail (.8 miles to the summit).

The Carriage Road trail to the summit isn't almost flat.  It rolls and pitches. 

Trees are falling back.....

It doesn't take long to be totally out of the trees and soon we were battered by the wind (where were those warm temps forecast?).  North Peak sat sparkling in the distance.  

It looked far away. 

Cairns dot the North Peak.

But .8 miles is .8 miles, no more, no less and I kept reminding myself that it always looks longer than it is.....  So, hoods up and heads down we followed the cairns on the scoured, crusty path.


Poor little cairn battered by rime ice.

As we approached Moosilauke's orange summit sign the wind tore our heads off (I'm not above a little exaggeration).  It was so exciting!


On last summit rock the wind pushed us backwards - we braced for a photo.

And it was so busy up there!  A lot of people fought the wind to tag the summit, get a photo and head to the old summit house foundation or duck behind a rock for shelter.

  
Getting a break from the wind.

As soon as we started our descent the wind lessened.  The view was breathtaking!

Hikers following the cairns to the summit.

View from the old foundation.

South peak in the distance. Not an official 4k but it's on the Trailwrights list.

In no time we were back at the Glencliff trail junction.  The steeps invite sledding and glissading, which makes for an interesting descent on foot.  Some areas looked like a luge track but I never felt the need to put on my crampons. In fact, I used existing post-holes on the sides to get down some of the steeper areas.  We flew down the rest of the trail, jumped in the car and turned the seat heaters on.

It was one fantastic day!  We found some dinner and a beer and gushed over the photos, talked trash about the summit winds and relished our experience.

The change in me after a challenging hike is palpable; it's like pressing my reset button.  It's so very clear why hiking saved me and I've become so obsessed. Each time I summit, each long, invigorating hike, I've won the lottery.