Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Mount Equinox, A Taconic Peak hiding out deep in the Green Mountain State

Map of the Mount Equinox Preservation Trust lands

For the last 5 years I’ve been saying, “This is the last year for this shell.” And every winter I manage to get to the end of the season wearing my 1999ish Marmot Thunderlight. At one time the Thunderlight was the lightest real mountain shell in production, and I snagged it for barely what store branded shells cost these days during a good sale. It’s still a good shell, but time erases DWR (durable water repellency), it stretches and de-laminates the Gore-tex membrane from the outer shell, and eventually seam tape and zippers wear out. I’ve re-DWR’d it several times over the years, including recently, and this works for a short while. Eventually the age of the fabric shows, and the DWR fails under moderate rainfall. Worst of all, the seam tape is peeling off. I could re-tape it myself, and I probably will, but it’s days as a bombproof all weather shell are done. Surprisingly, the jacket is still snow repellent, but extended rain soaks the outer fabric, and the inner Gore-tex cannot expire water vapor. I credit the Thunderlight for lasting so long because I took really good care of it, only wearing it in winter for the first 5 years, washing it gently, and Marmot USA’s bomber construction.

These days all the jackets for sale are light and flimsy. They lack redundancy and good hoods. The few that have all the features I want cost half a grand. That is too much for a shell that could get ruined in just a few years, or even a single trip! Most have waterproof zippers which can fail, but no way to seal the jacket if they do. If you are on Mount Washington ice climbing and your zipper fails, you have no way of sealing it, short of duct taping it shut. My Thunderlight had a velcro storm gusset over the zipper that would prevent this from happening. Sure, it added 2 ounces to the jacket, but what good is a jacket that doesn’t seal out the elements. Beyond the design choices, almost all outerwear are made in China these days, and while there is nothing wrong with Chinese textiles, the quality control is often not quite as good.

I was holding out for Wild Things new lineup, they still make their gear in NH, USA, but they’ve had several delays and my Thunderlight wasn’t going to last much longer. Anyway, I decided on the EMS Helix because it looks like a decent shell, it’s got newer System 3 membrane which should breathe a bit better (vs my original Gore-tex), and it’s backed by Eastern Mountain Sports guarantee, which is generally not too hard to fight for (but has been watered down quite a bit over the years from 100% satisfaction, to -"if we deem it worthy of of replacement we 'might' hook you up"- if something goes wrong. With the additional 30% off sale that was going on recently, I only paid a little more for this modern minimalist mountain shell than one of those cheap coated summer shells, so Wild Things is still a possibility down the line if the the Helix doesn’t meet my basic expectations.

A fellow Northeastern US blogger/adventurer has a brief initial impression of the Helix here. His impressions match mine in pretty much every regard, including the fact I haven't worn the shell outside yet either! That's all going to change this coming weekend when I will get to test it in what are expected to be full winter conditions. Blowing snow, 30+mph winds, sub zero windchills; you know, all the stuff that makes the Northeast a fun place to recreate!

Image from via New England Outside

Since the shell was available in Manchester, Vermont, I pulled out my guidebooks and checked what was hikable near Manchester. Sure enough, Manchester has quite a few hiking options and it’s also a short and scenic 45 mile drive from my home in Saratoga County, NY. As a matter of fact, the peaks surrounding Manchester are higher and closer than similar sized peaks in New York. I’d have to drive 60-70 miles in NY to get to a ~4000ft peak, and Mount Equinox, which is literally in downtown Manchester, is just shy of 4000ft.

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I love having lived in the region for a decade, some years getting out 40+ weekends a year (plus a year out of work, which was hardly wasted), and still have new places to explore. Not exploring Vermont with the exception of 2006 and 2008 was the best thing I could have done. I’ve come to really like Vermont, and not just view it as a speed bump in my drive to New Hampshire. I’ve now got a whole mountainous state that I’ve barely begun to explore, much of which is closer to me than the Catskills or Adirondacks! In some ways it’s cheaper too. Slower roads equal better gas mileage (but longer drive times regardless of distance), and Vermont gas is about 10 cents per gallon cheaper than New York.

I learned a few things too. Mount Equinox is in the Taconic Range, not the Green Mountain Range that covers most of Vermont. It’s also the highest peak in the Taconic Range at 3848 feet. The hike to the summit via the Blue “Summit” Trail is just shy of 3000ft elevation gain over between 2.7-3.2 miles, depending on what trailhead you start from. 3000ft gain is a pretty respectable ascent. You can hike 4000ft and even 5000ft peaks in the Adirondacks and barely hit 3000ft -and you can hike 3000ft peaks and narrowly miss 3000ft ascents in the Catskills and Adirondacks. Still, to me ascent is more important than height of mountain. For instance, Algonquin is 4.1 miles and ~2900ft ascent, and it’s the second highest peak in NY state. Though don’t be fooled into thinking that Algonquin's ascent is gradual. The first 1.5 miles of Algonquin are rolling flat terrain. The last .5 miles on Algonquin gains around 1000ft. Equinox on the other hand was a very consistent uphill from just about the start.

As I hiked up the Red Gate trail and the Blue Summit trail, I realized this could be a wonderful ski for a novice intermediate skier. The first 1500ft are over double track terrain with a gradual ascent and wide sweeping curves. The only problem is the locals tend to hike it in bare boots, and skiing could be treacherous. It’s too bad because on my visit the snow above 1800ft was perfect spring corn snow. Perhaps after a snow storm skiing this mountain is a real possibility.

There were lots of dogs out at the preserve, and Colvin had a good time playing with two of them. Colvin and one dog ran back and forth between myself and the other person about 200ft at full speed at least 5 or 6 times. He does love to run really fast.

The other thing I noticed, is despite the Equinox Preserve providing “Mutt Mitts”, which are overbuilt plastic poop baggies -you know ,so you don’t have to feel like you are picking up poop- AND a trash can, most people don’t bother cleaning up. There was poop within 10 ft in every direction of the trash can/Mutt Mitt dispenser. This really sucks for two reasons 1) some of us are reasonably responsible with our dogs waste 2) eventually the preserve will ban dogs. I don’t know why people cannot use the Mutt Mitt to pick up the poop and at least bury it 20ft off the trail and then double bag the used Mutt Mitt. This would mean you wouldn’t be carrying poop around all day and the preserve would still be opened to dogs in the future.

Ok, poop quiz? lets say you are 3 miles from the trailhead and your dog craps on the trail what do you do?

A) nothing, it’s not my problem
B) pretend you didn’t see it because you aren’t carrying dog poop all day
C) take a stick toss it into the trees and bury it under some duff

At Equinox A and B are the correct answers but in the real world C is the only right answer. And C is the only answer that makes (mostly) everyone happy and assures dogs can continue to come!

Please dog owners, clean up after your dog. It’s the responsible thing to do, and it’s the only way you will have places that you can hike with your dog.

Colvin and I didn’t summit Equinox, we were just about 500 vertical feet from the summit when my right heel started to get a hot spot. I’ve been trying to fine tune the fit of my Kayland Super Ice with stretching the boot and various sock combos. Despite sharing the A5 last with my Apex Trek boots, the best fitting boots I have ever worn, Kayland got cute with the toe box on the Super Ice and made it really narrow. Perhaps this was to give more control while technical climbing, but my average width feet just felt too cramped in the toe box on descents despite the rest of the boot feeling good. The Super Ice just arrived back to me after a months vacation in Colorado, and they are just about perfect now (right foot fits like a glove, left just a little snug). With a little tongue padding to force my heel to the back of the boot, they should be great. I could have taped my heel, but decided to call it a day.

Descent was fast, and as I usually do in the winter, I put on the snowshoes and cut cross country down some sections and linked back up with the trail. Off trail the snow was still knee deep in spots. Once I hooked back up with the trail, I took off the snowshoes and glissade stepped down the remaining trail, sliding a few feet with each step in the soft snow as Colvin and I ran down hill. It took us less than 30 minutes to get back to the car including putting on and taking off my snowshoes!

As far as Equinox, I’ll be back. The Manchester area will be great during a summer when gasoline might reach all time highs. I also really need to stay in hiking shape this summer, as I have several big fall backpacking trips planned, and paddling isn’t very good for hiking fitness. I’ll definitely be hiking more than paddling in the coming months. And like in the summer of 2008, I’ll be exploring Vermont a little more closely again, since most places are equally close to home as the Adirondacks and Catskills.

You can find out more about Mount Equinox and the Equinox Preservation Trust by following this link

No comments:

Post a Comment