Saturday, November 22, 2014

Stratton Mt. & Mt Equinox

I had hiked two other VT NEHH peaks last Saturday (Bread Loaf and Wilson) but never wrote up a trip report. The big difference between last weeks hike and this weeks  hike was that Bread Loaf & Wilson are along the same trail so I only had a shallow cole between them to hike both ways. This last hike was actually two separate hikes starting from two separate trail-heads separated by a 45 minute drive.
 I arrived at the Trail-head of the AT/LT (a section where the Appalachian Trail and the Long Trail overlap) on Arlington-Stratton Rd (also known as Kelly Stand Rd) at about 6 am – I had left RI at ~ 0230 am.  My plan for the day was to bag Stratton and if I got back down early enough to drive to either Equinox or Dorset to try and try to bag two peaks to minimize my gpp (gallons per peak) – or $pp. The road was a combination of bare new pavement and a thin layer of packed slippery snow.   I started off by headlamp ~ 30 minutes before the sunrise. Stratton had a light dusting at the bottom with less than 2”  at the top. Lower water crossings were still wet but easy rock hops. The lower trail was light dusting over crunchy combinations of frozen mud and frozen snow. Upper trail started getting some hard ice that was slippery with light coat of dry snow but manageable without traction since they were mostly horizontal frozen puddles.  I reached the peak at about 9 am. It was cold and very windy - less than 20 degrees and greater than 30 knots I would guess.  I started going up the tower but only went half way because of the high winds and the iced steps.  I didn’t stay at the peak long because of the cold and my hopes of getting a second peak in before dusk. I had planned to put my spikes on at the top but forgot and was shortly reminded by a hard fall backwards (onto my pack).  It was a fast (for me) hike down and I reached the bottom at about 1030.   My cars gps said that it was only 9 miles to the trailhead for Equinox. Unfortunately that was via a closed road. After my old gps sent me through some alternate back roads and another detour with a bridge that had probably been out for several year, and a quick stop for a sandwich, I arrived at the Equinox preserve at about noon. 
The Equinox summit trail is only 3 miles each way vs. 3.8 for Stratton but has a lot more vertical elevation than the Stratton peak (2700’ vs. 1700’) that I had just done.  It starts off as a fairly easy grade wide trail (possibly an old carriage road) with a lot of local traffic of people walking their dogs. I saw three very hyper dogs (one Lab and two English setters I think) with gps collars with antennas attached bounding in and out of the woods. When their owners caught up with me they said on average (per their gps’s) the dogs hike about 5 times the distance they do on each hike. The first hour of this trail, though not that steep was very hard for me. I had to stop every 5 minutes for 10 seconds and lean on poles to catch my breath. I think the main problem was that I had forgotten to take my meds this morning before leaving RI - most importantly my Spiriva for my emphysema.  I was seriously fighting with myself against the temptation of turning back but finally bargained with myself that if  wasn’t reasonably close by 3pm that I’d head down.  I continued to slow my pace to the point that I didn’t have to keep stopping to get my breath but I was advancing at a ridiculous slow pace for such an easy trail.  About half way up in altitude, but probably 2/3rds by distance, the trail turns into a regular mountain trail – still not a scramble but steeper and narrower and more typical England Mountain trail.  There is a wooden bench where it transitions with views down the valley. I stopped for a five minute break and continued up the narrower trail.  Somehow I had caught my second wind or something at that point and the rest of the hike though steeper was not a problem. Except for dog walkers on the much lower sections I had not seen any other hikers until I was within 500 ft elevation of the top. This seemed a bit strange since there where dozens of fresh tracks in the light snow going up and down. When I finally met two hikers coming down they warned me that it was very icy the rest of the way and very windy and cold at the top.  I had noticed the ice getting worse at this point and stopped and put on my micro spikes. Shortly later I ran into two more hikers on their way down that confirmed that it was very windy on top. I held off on putting on more layers for the wind because I was still sheltered in the trees, though I could hear the high winds but was actually pretty warm with just several thin layers on. When I was only about 500 ft from the top, I finally took off my pack and put on a fleece insulation layer with a nylon shell over it.  I dropped pack and continue up to the top. The peak has an antennae tower on it with a closed welcome center nearby. There is actually a toll road that can be driven be up to the center in the summer.   I took a few pictures and headed down. There is an option of doing a short loop to Lookout Rock before heading down but I was already running late enough that I would be in the dark before reaching the bottom. My plan was to try and make it back down to where the trail widens before it got too dark.   On the way down I was lucky enough to have three deer bound across the trail only about 20 feet from me.  After three years of hiking in New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont, this is the very first time I’ve seen anything bigger than a beaver actually while on the trail. I’ve seen Moose a few times but it’s always been at or near the trailhead or while driving.  I was about dusk when I reached the carriage trail and I continued on for quite a while without needing a head lamp. But when I started getting closer to the bottom and heard a few gun shots I recalled that it was still deer season and put on my headlamp, not so much to see by, but to let hunters know that I wasn’t a deer.  It also started to drizzle freezing rain about half an hour from the bottom but it was very light and not a problem. The latest forecast I read the night before had called for freezing rain but it wasn’t supposed to come until the next morning.  I reached my truck feeling pretty good - much better than I did when I first started this second hike. Fifteen minutes after leaving the trailhead it started really raining hard – so I lucked out on that too.
This brings me up to 93 of the NE- Hundred Highest.   Three left in VT, one in Maine, and three in New Hampshire. My plan was to get as many done as possible before the start of winter then focus on my NH winter list (I have 25/48) with an initial hope of finishing the winter hikes this winter. With my performance on this hike, and the one last week (Bread Loaf and Wilson), I now realize that that would probably not be possible. So I think I’ll just focus on finishing my NEHH list first even if it goes into the winter and then work on my winter NE48 over at least two more seasons. 
I’ll try to post a few pictures later (nothing too interesting) but I’m in the process of transitioning from  a pc with a virus to a new lap top so it may take a while.


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