Conquering Mount Equinox
Region's highest peak offers views worth the challenge
MANCHESTER — In the 25-plus years since I moved back to the Berkshire County-Bennington County area, I have wanted to hike up Mount Equinox.
On June 23, I finally did it. I got a late start, leaving my car at the trailhead at 2:20 p.m. but it was a perfect, clear day with low humidity. There was no rain in the forecast, and sunset wasn't until 8:36 p.m.
I had been to the top of Equinox by car by way of the toll road in 1994. However, my first attempt to hike up the mountain was only five years ago. That day, too, I got a late start, but then it was late fall and starting to get very cold and dark when I turned around about halfway up.
Two more attempts in recent years were abandoned. A couple of years ago, I picked a very hot, humid day and overloaded my pack with water bottles. I made it about one-quarter of the way up and plopped down next to the trail exhausted, feeling foolish there while people hiked by me on the way up and down the Blue Summit Trail to the top.
Mount Equinox may be in the Green Mountain State, but it is part of the Taconic Mountain Range. This range runs down along the border of Vermont and New York into western Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Equinox is the highest peak in the Taconic Range at 3,855 feet. Mount Greylock, the highest mountain in Massachusetts, is also part of the Taconic Range, standing at 3,491 feet.
Like Equinox, there's a road up Greylock, with no toll but a fee to park at the top. Judging by the rocks you can see, the geology of the two mountains is very similar — very rocky paths with numerous large boulders spread about.
I have hiked up Greylock several times by several routes, and most of them are shorter and a good deal less steep than the Blue Summit Trail that leads up Equinox.
Hiking the beast
According to the Mount Equinox Preservation Trust map and guide, the Blue Summit Trail is 3.10 miles long and rises 2,840 feet. What this translates to is that with a few exceptions it is steep all the way up.
This time I carried only one bottle of water, with a few basic survival type things such a windbreaker, winter hat, flash light, compass, and fire-making implements in my pack, and the walking stick I've been taking with me on hikes since 1993.
Even though I was traveling light, I wasn't moving very fast. Younger hikers briskly passed me on the way up. One cheerful young man — maybe 20 — passed me early on on the way up and then again on his way down. "You're almost there," he said.
The steepness was a struggle for me. Most of the way up, I would count out a number of steps, usually about 25, and then stop. Then do it again. Other times I would see a rise seem to level off above me. I'd head steadily for that, hoping that once there I would find level ground. No dice.
About halfway up, around an hour and forty minutes into the hike, I came to a slight stretch of level ground with, of all things, a nice wooden bench. This is where I turned around on my very first attempt. A couple hundred feet away through the woods is a spring, a pipe shooting water out of the side of the mountain.
For fear I would my legs would stiffen up and I would lose my drive to climb, I did not sit on the bench. I took a few photos on drove on. The path gets much more narrow and rocky here. It seemed much like a dried stream bed but with enough moisture that the bugs were out in force. They had my forearms for lunch.
About 15 minutes later, a father with his young son came down the path. The father — no doubt seeing that I was laboring — said it was about a half hour to the top. Or 45 minutes depending on how fast you're going.
I thanked him and said I wasn't going very fast at all. In fact, it took me an hour and 40 minutes to get to the clearing at the top. It was 5:41 p.m. and had taken me 3:21 to hike to the top.
Before me was the back of the St. Bruno Scenic Viewing Center, constructed in 2012. St. Bruno founded the Carthusian monastic order in France in 1084. They are a strict order and basically hermits. Their only monastery in North America can be seen in the forest west of Equinox from the toll road. They do not accept visitors there.
I had heard you could get water at the viewing center. Unfortunately, the sign at the entrance said the building closes at 4:15 p.m. There was absolutely no one around. The parking lot was completely empty, as all cars must be off the toll road by 5 p.m. I was out of water, with no outdoor faucets in sight. I took pictures and enjoyed the view for a few minutes. I started back down the mountain at 5:50 p.m.
I was thirsty and probably a little dehydrated. The sun was still out, but it was behind the mountain now and the woods grew gloomier in the shade. My feet, constantly stepping on and banging into rocks, ached.
When I reached the bench and nearby spring at 7:14 p.m., I had a decision to make. To drink from the spring shooting out the mountain or not? Would there be bears down there enjoying a leisurely Sunday night? My thirst won out. The cool water felt wonderful on my face. I drank and filled my water bottle and felt no ill effects.
Refreshed, I resumed my journey downward. I ran into no one. Apparently, I was the last hiker left on the mountain. It was getting darker but I still could see just fine.
I was very happy when I reached my car at 8:23 p.m. There were no other cars around. The entire hike had taken six hours and three minutes.
After 25 years, I had finally hiked up Equinox and returned under my own power to tell the tale. I need a new mountain to climb — preferably another one under 4,000 feet.
Mark Rondeau is the Bennington Banner's night editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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