Equinox & Dorset | 10/27/23
Several weeks ago on the Carter-Moriah trail, I spoke with an older gentleman about Southern Vermont’s lasting impression as his favorite of the AT. And though I did not grace the Trail this past Friday, I hiked in Southern Vermont for the first time- and wow do I understand. The drive to Manchester, VT is about 3 hours from my house in NH and 2.5 from my school in Vermont- I had long put off the drive in favor of more gas-friendly options but on the first sunny day in ages, I couldn’t resist. My drive lent me a sunrise and sunset from the road, as I drove through rural Vermont and upstate New York on long stretches of country road. Through the drive, I went in and out of lovely small towns, notably Dorset and Manchester, stunning me in their quaint beauty.
I arrived at Burr & Burton Academy, backdropped by Mt. Equinox, around 9:40, and promptly began up the blue trail. The first 2-or-so miles of trail looked like a skin track, except instead of snow there was a foot of leaves. The unrelenting gain, rocking a nice 1:1000, was not ignorable but I moved about 25 minutes miles the whole way up, without running. I feel as though the early sections of the trail, resembling a nice town forest, are best done this time of year and perhaps in the winter. To an extent, it was nice to not see all the loose rocks underfoot so long as I wasn’t twinging my ankles atop the leaves.
A good 2.5 in, there’s a turn towards the summit (next to a bench) where the leaves become less of a concern, and the gain becomes legitimate. I did prefer this section because I was rocking big steps as opposed to steep ordinary strides, but it was a bit tricky on the way back down. As the smell of spruce got stronger, I knew I was nearing the summit and was to my surprise greeted with an entire welcome center at the top. Having not done enough reading, I excitedly admired the building, its religious significance was clear but its stunning outlook grabbed my attention quickly. The Saint Bruno Scenic Viewing Center had two bathrooms, 4 different outlook points, and information about the Carthusians who practiced in the Taconic Range, of which Mt. Equinox is the tallest.
Checking the time and feeling inspired to get down in time for Dorset, I ran and walked as fast as I could without tripping over leaves and got back to my car in about an hour. The lower portions of the trail made for a lovely trail run, however, my feet were not having it with banging up against the toe of my Altra’s on such grades.
As soon as I got back, I cracked open my Charlie Brown lunch of pretzels and dried fruit and started driving to Dorset, which took me through the most peaceful Vermont towns and some of the most impressive country homes I’ve ever seen. The start of the hike even stems from an above-ordinary neighborhood, right at its dead end.
The Dorset Mountain “bushwhack” began at the end of Tower Road, on an old road that eventually turns into more of a snowmobile trail and goes through the notch formed by The Mettawee and Dorsets on the right, and a sharp but unnamed peak on the left. Though the topography appears mellow for much of this road, it gains just under 1500 feet in its entire run, before the “intersection” right turn towards the ridge. I had fully anticipated running this part, but that quickly lost appeal as my legs screamed for the second peak of the day. Despite feeling slow and heavy, I got to the intersection (2.75 miles) in an hour and then reminded myself that I felt slow because I was going too fast. You know how it is.
The right turn ran a nice low grade, with some muddy sections, before eventually making a sharp turn right (continued blue blazing) at a cairn. From here, I had about 0.7 to the summit and passed the C-loop up to the South Peak tower, several sections of deep mud, and a handful of interesting relics that made the last portion of the hike quite eclectic! Finally, after joining up with a couple of other herd paths that presumably came from the Dorset Ridge trail off of Grouse Lane, I arrived at the summit sign and canister with no issues! Despite being an unofficial trail in all regards, I found this to be even easier than Peak Above The Nubble in terms of “bushwhacks.” Even with no views, Dorset was super fun and interesting on account of its several attractions.
Coming down, I ran into a guy whose bake n' hike you could smell from a good tenth-a-mile away carting a bike up the mountain, but otherwise had my solitude just right. Though I was still an hour and a half ahead of the sunset at my finish, an impending storm and the sun behind the ridge made the night feel far closer.
When I locked eyes on my car, I skipped into the lot dancing to Duran Duran and said I’d done my 13-mile, 5000+-gain day in a perfect 6 hours, without feeling like I’d strained myself. Though the drive back was long, especially behind a truck driver who had never heard of second gear, it was well worth the effort for such a lovely day.
Equinox: 6.09 miles, 2790 gain
Dorset: 7.67 miles, 2278 gain