Friday, March 25, 2016

Ekwanok on the equinox

     Thoughtful of them. To place a mountain such that the sun rises perfectly over the summit on the first day of spring. To call it Mt. Equinox.
     Now it's important to know that I have a very difficult life. Hardships befall on a daily basis, forcing me to whine and complain to my long-suffering wife. But rather than getting the sympathy I need and deserve, she usually responds with "We're so lucky" and a long litany of all our blessings - good food we grew ourselves, a roof over our head, dogs and cat, a kid that's not on probation or in rehab - things like that. Of course, I have to reluctantly agree. What choice do I have? So once I come over to the sunny side I count the views from our farm as one of the many things I'm grateful for.
     From my fields I look across the Hudson Valley to hills that sweep from above Argyle past the double humps of Bald Mountain to ski-sloped Willard. Beyond this facade are more and higher hills, like a rumpled, unmade bed culminating in the big pillow mountains of the far horizon - Mt. Antone and Bear to the north, Red and Grass to the south and due east, overseeing all others, Mt. Equinox, like a queen reigning over her court.

Bald Mountain

Willard Mountain

     At 3816 feet, Equinox is the highest point in the Taconic Range. It's a familiar presence thru out central and southern Washington County. For eye catching open vistas try Christie, Shields or Stanton Roads. Irish Lane and up by the firetower on Mt. Colfax also have good views. Its profile changes depending on your vantage point but from our farm there are north and south shoulders rising to a cone shaped summit. Symmetrical and pleasing, just the way a mountain should look.

Mt. Equinox from Irish Lane

     I first climbed it many years ago, going up from Manchester on the Burr and Burton trail. Young and fit, used to doing Adirondack peaks, even then I remember thinking "This is a steep sucker." The trail received little maintenance and in places seemed like a bushwhack. When I finally popped out of the firs and spruces to a huge parking lot and hotel, to cars and tourists, it was all a little surreal.

Tourists at Lookout Rock - from Mt. Equinox website

     Years later I convinced Gwenne to "go for a little hike" up Equinox. This would have been fine if she hadn't been eight months pregnant at the time. A month later I talked her into canoeing on the Battenkill and the next day she brought Holly into the world. Did I mention my long-suffering wife?

     I've skied to the summit going up from Three Maple Drive to the Beartown Wind Gap and then following an old carriage road along the north ridge. I'm no extreme skier and this route was surprisingly easy in a good snow year. Not so easy was a footrace they used to stage on the 5.2 mile Skyline Drive. I remember it taking just under an hour. A searingly memorable hour. Limping across the finish line I was handed a loaf of bread by the guy who had won the race - I believe his name might have been Matthew Cull. A thin, bearded guy who seemed to float up mountains to offer bread to those who followed him. Hmmm...

     Now days I'm more likely to do a little botanizing  on the Equinox Preservation Trust trails. These are a network of paths adjacent to Manchester. The mountains unique geology with a base of marbles and limestones capped by more resistant phyllites and graywacks creates lush growth and a profusion of wildflowers. This is also fertile ground for conservation projects. While the Carthusians own much of Equinox, groups such as the Nature Conservancy, the Vermont Land Trust, the Equinox Preservation Trust and others have protected large tracts and there are dreams of a continuous green belt from here north to Merck Forest.

Deer Knoll

Equinox Pond - Photos from Equinox Preservation Trust site

     Now back to my tough life. I was feeding the cows around seven Sunday morning, snatched from a warm bed by the demands of farming. It was clear and cold as I made several circuits with the skid-steer from bunker silo to feed bunk. With each trip I watched the approaching dawn brighten the horizon. Finally, on the last lap the sun popped up directly over the top of Mt. Equinox on the vernal equinox. I felt like jumping out of the machine and cheering (but refrained... the neighbors already think I'm crazy).

     Serendipity. How else can you describe it? The mountain wasn't named for the equinox but rather from the Native word "Ekwanok" which translates as "the top". Besides, only a few people along a narrow line of sight would experience the sunrise phenomenon. But there are other lines of sight, other phenomenon. Every place has the potential to surprise and delight if we're open to it. As someone once said to me, "We're so lucky."

All things being Equinox

     I haven't been on the mountain in a few years so this post relies on memories. For up to date information check out these sites:
     - A fellow blogger describes her recent hike up Equinox at Nooks and Vales.
     - To learn more about the Equinox Preservation Trust and their trails click here.
     - The Nature Conservancy's Equinox Highland preserve's website has good information.
     - Find out more about the Carthusians and their monastery on Equinox.
     - History of the mountains development and Skyline Drive information here.
     - If you need an outlet for your frustrations Manchester's certainly got enough of them. It's a little over commercialized but most people are going to do something in town during a visit to Equinox. Up for Breakfast, Mother Myricks, the Northshire and the Mountain Goat are all popular stops. The Chamber of Commerce site has lots more suggestions. 

     - Here's a few photos from the Carthusians' website. The monastery is located on the west side of the mountain near Sandgate. It is not open to the public. Please honor their desire for solitude.
Aerial view of the mountain looking north

Lake Madeleine and the monastery 

The monastery

The monastery in summer

The Monastery with Equinox in background

Monastery gardens

Carthusians' Visitors Center on summit of Mt. Equinox

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