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:  

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!