By Valerie Wilkins
Dot welcomed me into her home on a chilly Sunday afternoon in January 2009. As we were settling in for the interview, I was immediately drawn to the collages of pictures on the living room walls. The pictures gave a glimpse into Dot’s many travels over the years – from hikes with Green Mountain Club friends in the Northeast to safaris with wild animals in Africa!
Dot has called Vermont home since her college years in the 1950s at the University of Vermont. Soon after arriving at UVM, she signed up to go on a hike with the UVM Outing Club. With the club, she hiked extensively throughout Vermont – with Camels Hump and Mount Mansfield being two of her favorite playgrounds. Before Bolton Valley was officially a ski area, Dot and members of the UVM Outing Club helped maintain some of the backcountry trails that Mr. Bryant had previously cleared. In the winter, they would ski several miles into the backcountry and stay overnight at Bryant’s Upper Cabin (now known as Bryant Camp), frolicking in the powder during the day and firing up the woodstove at night to cook their meals and to stay warm.
When Dot graduated from UVM, she was looking for some new hiking and skiing companions. She saw an ad in the local paper for a GMC hike and signed up to go. This was the beginning of a wonderful association with the club that has lasted a lifetime. Dot’s engaging stories are peppered with the names of the many mountains, trails, shelters, and people whose company she has enjoyed over the years. Dot quickly became a leader of many GMC outings. Close to home, Dot once led a series of hikes around Camels Hump with the goal of getting to the summit from all of the trailheads and possible routes. She has also led trips to Mount Katahdin in Maine and the High Peaks in the Adirondacks. For many years, Dot has led an annual hike in the Adirondacks which takes folks past several spectacular waterfalls.
Many of Dot’s hikes were part of her efforts to become a member of the Northeast 111ers, an informal group of climbers who have climbed to the summit of the 111 (now counted as 115) highest peaks of the Northeastern USA (those above 4000 feet). Though very modest about her hiking accomplishments, Dot can proudly count herself among an elite group of 36 hikers that have hiked all of the peaks in winter – and, what’s more, she is the first woman ever to have accomplished this feat!
Winter hiking trips come with many risks and adventures, some of which are chronicled in a chapter written by Dot in Women with Altitude, Challenging the Adirondack High Peaks in Winter. In our interview, Dot recalled getting lost in a whiteout on Algonquin Mountain with her friend Ralph Gibbs. They were fortunate to find a small shelter that previous hikers had made from tree branches, so they took refuge and waited out the storm until the next day. Another time, Dot was on a weekend hike with Ralph near Seward, Donaldson, and Emmons Mountains. When they hadn’t returned after 5 days, friends in Burlington began to get concerned and notified the local ranger. When the ranger met them on their way out of the woods and asked them where they had become lost, Dot politely insisted that they never were lost and that “the hike just took longer than we had thought”.
The mountain that proved to be most elusive in Dot’s pursuit of the Northeast 111ers was Nye Mountain, a modest, trail-less peak just west of Adirondak Loj. (See The Highest May Not Be the Hardest, on page 5 of the spring 2009 issue of Ridge Lines.)
Dot has hiked all sections of the Long Trail and the Appalachian Trail (completed in 1965 and 2003, respectively) and the Northville Lake Placid Trail. She’s also an accomplished biker; in fact, biking and the local bus are her primary means of transportation. She has biked from her home in South Burlington to all of the towns in Vermont and, on several occasions, to her childhood home in Connecticut (a 3-4 day trip with stops at youth hostels along the way). A few years ago, Dot reconnected with a UVM classmate, Lindy Millington, on a GMC outing and learned of their shared love of biking. Together they go on a bike tour every summer. Their bikes have taken them to Lake Placid and Saranac Lake, the Champlain Islands and the VINS Nature Center near Quechee George.
In addition to leading trips, Dot has served the Burlington Section of the GMC in several other capacities. She served as section President for 2 years and chaired the Outings Committee for several years. For the past 10 years, Dot has chaired the Membership Committee, maintaining the roster of section members and proudly introducing the club to new members. She’s also the section historian, taking great care of a growing library of photos and articles – including a photo album of GMC outings that was found at a local garage sale and donated to the club. Dot always welcomes new contributions to the section archives. In the archives, take time to download and review the document Dot created, “GMC Burlington Section History 1910-1999 (2 MB PDF file).”
In her early 80s now, Dot’s hiking pace has slowed a bit. She categorizes most of her hikes as on the easier side of moderate – with moderate covering quite a broad range, she is quick to note! Along with GMC hikes, Dot is also a regular participant of the weekly Women of UVM outings. She has hiked in Alaska, Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, Patagonia, and New Zealand, to name just a few of her destinations. In March, she’ll head to Mexico to explore the wintering grounds of the Monarch butterfly.
Before her retirement, Dot worked in the Medical Biostatistics Department at UVM, coordinating interviews for smoking and breast cancer research. She keeps her administrative skills sharp by volunteering at the Community Health Center in Burlington. She has also volunteered at the American Red Cross, United Way, Girl Scouts, ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center, and the middle school in South Burlington.
Dot’s wonderful story speaks of the joys and rewards of spending time in the wilderness with others and of the satisfaction in giving back to one’s community. She is truly an inspiration for us all on how to live life to the fullest. We’re so fortunate that her life journey brought her to Vermont and to the GMC!
Join Dot for an upcoming hike. Dot will be leading several hikes in the coming months – on April 5, May10, and June 20, 2009. See the outing schedule for more details.