Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Chief, Squaw, and Square Top 2011-09-28

While on a business trip to Denver last year, I had a free afternoon and drove to the summit of Mount Evans (> 14 265 feet). The experience piqued my interest to return and hike to the summit of a Thirteener or Fourteener (> 13,000 and 14,000 feet, respectively). In September of 2011, the opportunity arose to return to Denver. This time I brought my hiking gear and extended my stay by two days.

On Mount Evans, I hiked the last 100', from the parking lot to the summit, and it didn't take much effort to elevate my heart-rate. Small wonder given that the lower pressure at 14,000 feet translates into substantially less oxygen in each breath. Lower air pressure also means that fluids can leak from one's tissues and pool where they shouldn't, like in one's lungs and brain. I had no idea if I was susceptible to Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) and its serious complications: pulmonary and/or cerebral edema (HAPE and HACE). I thought it'd be prudent, at least for my first hike, to stay below 12000 feet and close to a trailhead. 

Aside from reading a few trip reports, I didn't spend much time researching hikes prior to my departure. Upon my arrival in Denver, on a Sunday, I spent a few hours driving along route 119 and taking in the sights. Afterwards, I purchased a pocket-sized hiking guide ('The Best Denver Hikes' published by The Colorado Mountain Club) and selected two hikes, one rated easy (Chief and Squaw) and the other moderate-difficult (Square Top). If I fared well on the easy hike, and suffered no ill effects, then on the following day I'd try something more challenging.

On Wednesday morning I dropped off my colleague at Denver's airport and took the I-70 west towards Bergen Park. My destination was Chief and Squaw mountains (11,709 and 11,486 feet, respectively). The guidebook characterized it as an easy hike (1800' ascent; 4.8 miles; 3 hours) and where a Coloradan should bring visiting flatlanders. Being a neophyte Front Range hiker, it sounded perfect.

The trailhead is located along Squaw Pass Road (route 103) at an elevation of 10,600 feet, or about twice as high as Mount Marcy. The trail was unlike anything I've seen in the Adirondacks. A bed of dry pebbles and sandy soil led all the way to Chief's summit. However, whereas my eyes said 'Easy trail!' my heart said 'Slow down!'. I settled on a pace that seemed very leisurely, compared to hiking in the Adirondacks, yet my heart-rate chugged at 135 bpm.

Perfect path to Chief.
The forest of pines gave way to an open summit and unobstructed views of the surrounding mountains. Being early fall, the aspens had turned to brilliant gold and provided spectacular contrast to the sea of emerald green pines. On Chief's summit I met an elderly Coloradan couple. The woman had recently recovered from chemotherapy and her presence there put a sobering perspective on my lack of acclimatization. We spent a few minutes discussing Colorado's beauty and then they departed. I spent some time on the summit, taking photos and admiring the landscape on a picture-perfect day. 

Coloradan blue and gold.
After descending Chief, I headed to nearby Squaw. The route follows a broad dirt road that winds its way to the very top of Squaw. Squaw's summit bristles with communication antennae and related gear. The guidebook indicated its views were worthwhile and one should not discount it due to its less-than-attractive summit. Frankly, the views were great but not that much better than from nearby Chief. 

Squaw features a stone fire tower (closed), a stone outhouse (also closed), and a picnic table. I made use of the picnic table and stopped to eat lunch, watch smoke billow from a distant forest fire, and listen to nearby gunshots. A pika scurried by, froze, and then dove in between some rocks. I concluded the rapid gunfire was target practice and not hunting.

As I descended the road, I met the first group of ‘shootists’ practising with their handguns. We joked about needing a 'head on a swivel'. Around the next bend in the road, another group was firing rifles and something without a gunstock that sounded like a shotgun. They seemed less interested in small-talk so I simply waved and walked by. I hoped no one was bushwhacking through the woods and in the path of errant bullets.

As I walked along the road, about a half-dozen ravens were performing aerial acrobatics. A pair would swoop down, side-by-side, appear to touch wings and then break off. If I hadn't read 'Mind of the Raven' I probably wouldn't have paused to admire their stunts. I waited to see barrel-rolls and they didn't disappoint me. The theory is that play is a sign of higher intelligence and their swooping, soaring, pair-flying and rolling, serves no survival purpose so it must be that they are playing. 

After I returned to my car, I decided to add one more hike to my day and headed to Echo Lake State Park. The drive along route 103 is exceptionally scenic and I stopped frequently to admire the views. The trailhead to Chicago Lakes begins at the Echo Lake's south-western side and descends into a valley. Before the descent, the open trail offers spectacular views down the length of the valley.

Scenic route to the Chicago Creek valley.
I didn't want to wear myself out so I hiked only as far as the Idaho Springs reservoir. Upon my return, I chose to drive back to Denver via route 74 which passes through Bear Creek Canyon. Along the way I stopped to watch a herd of elk grazing in a meadow by a large pond. The male was calling out to stragglers who were feasting on the lawn of a nearby home. There are simply no boring roads in the Front Range.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The following day, Denver was clouded over. However, the weather map indicated the clouds did not extend as far west as my destination. Assured of clear skies, I drove west along route 285 to the town of Grant and then north along route 62 to Guanella Pass. As per the weather map, everything west of Grant was aglow in sunshine. I turned north onto route 62 and headed for the top of Guanella Pass.

For the first few miles, the road was a dirt washboard that forced me to drive below 15 mph otherwise I ran the risk of shaking the fillings out of my teeth. A few hummocks and potholes kept the drive interesting. Crawling along, I thought it might take nearly an hour to travel a mere 13 miles but, fortunately, the wavy dirt transformed into brand-new blacktop near Duck Lake. Nearing the top of the pass, I passed a Mini Cooper heading south and wondered how its passengers would fare on the unpaved section! I would learn that route 62 was recently rebuilt and was in perfect condition from Georgetown (northern terminus, near I-70) to shortly before Duck Lake in the south; the remainder of the road to Grant is plain old dirt. Good luck, Mini Cooper!

Guanella Pass is a destination in itself. Well above tree-line at 11,600 feet, it is carpeted in alpine grasses and offers a sweeping vista of nearby Fourteeners, Bierstadt and Evans. Aside from a few patches of willow bushes, there is a notable lack of natural protection from the elements. Although the sky was cloudless and the temperature was mild (low 60's), I brought cold-weather gear. At 10:50 AM, I headed out along a well-defined path leading to Square Top Lakes.

The route to Square Top mountain.
I was attracted to this hike because it offered a loop trip to a Thirteener, namely Square Top Mountain (13,794 feet). Square Top Lakes are nestled in a bowl, 1500 feet below the summit of Square Top mountain, created by an unnamed ridge and a shoulder of Square Top. Situated on the north side of the lakes, the 'northern ridge' is 12,700 feet tall and about a mile long. The guidebook suggested a 7 mile counter-clockwise loop that begins by ascending the ridge, following it to Square Top's summit, descending Square Top's southern shoulder to Square Top Lakes and then back to the trailhead (2100' ascent; 5-6 hours). Naturally, my assessment of a 'simple hike' was based upon preconceptions that would prove to be completely wrong.

Compared to major trailheads in the Adirondacks, the Guanella Pass trailhead has no register or significant signage. A small, simple sign marks the start of the trail to Square Top Lakes but it does not mention Square Top Mountain. The trail was well-defined and seemed more like a narrow dirt road. With virtually no vegetation higher than a yard tall, and a clear blue sky, you could see for miles. I headed out at a very reserved pace and consciously breathed deeply and regularly. 

I missed the intersecting trail that led to the top of the unnamed ridge. I did find a 'Trail Closed' sign but the guidebook had mentioned its presence and indicated the true intersection was nearby. I failed to find it so I simply proceeded to hike the loop in a clockwise direction.

Square Top comes into view.
As soon as the trail began to rise, I noticed the extra effort my body expended to 'stay oxygenated'. Compared to hiking in the Adirondacks, my heart-rate was unusually high given the gentle trail conditions and my conservative ascent rate. When I stopped to sip water, the moment after extracting the bite-valve from my mouth I needed to inhale deeply. It was like I had been holding my breath for too long and now needed a huge gulp of air. It felt like my fitness level had taken a quantum plunge! It was an odd sensation and I coped with it by simply moving at a steady pace and being watchful of any unusual symptoms.

Just past lower Square Top lake, all traces of the trail disappeared. I followed what seemed like a herd-path but it petered out quickly. Several hundred yards ahead of me were two figures that appeared to be ascending to Square Top. Given the open, treeless terrain, you could follow whatever route you desired. I wondered if this was part of a strategy to preserve visual aesthetics. When viewed from a distance, trails look like scars and Square Top was free of any evidence of human passage. Nevertheless, being steeped in Adirondack hiking etiquette, it felt wrong to be trampling alpine grasses.

Upon climbing out of the basin, and onto Square Top's south-eastern ridge, I passed a large patch of snow. I later learned that the area had received its first snowfall three weeks earlier. On the exposed ridge, the cooling breezes became a cold, constant wind. I stopped for a break and put on another layer of microfleece, a shell, hat, and mittens. I don't know if a lack of altitude acclimatization causes one to be less cold-tolerant but I was certainly wearing as much clothing on this ascent as on a winter hike in the Adirondacks.

Alpine flora.
I was gaining ground on the hikers ahead of me. They were two women from Colorado who decided to hike in the direction of Square Top but had no firm plans as to the exact destination. I mentioned to them that I was finding the altitude to be a challenge. They replied that, even as Coloradans, it took them at least a half-hour to get used to hiking at this elevation. I envied their ability to acclimatize so quickly!

I might have misunderstood them but they didn't seem to be familiar with the route to Square Top nor with the option of looping around the northern side of the lakes. I parroted the guidebook's description of the route and explained we'd soon reach an intersection where one could veer right, around the head of the cliffs plunging down to upper Square Top lake, and towards the unnamed ridge. Dark clouds were moving towards Square Top's summit and we received a brief snow shower. I hoped that was the last of it. If the clouds rolled in I'd lose the great views and the simplicity of visual navigation. 

Based on their progress, and the weather, the Coloradan ladies opted to forego the summit and head north at the intersection. As I should've expected, my idea of an intersection, namely a visible crossroads marked with a sign, never materialized. We reached a height of approximately 13,300 feet and, based on the lay of the land, they deemed it to be a safe point to skirt the cliffs and begin a northerly descent. Before departing, they indicated they would not hike to the northern ridge but would descend to the lakes and return via the trail. We said our goodbyes and I continued to Square Top.

As I neared the first false-summit, I could see another dark cloud over nearby Argentine peak (13,738 feet). It had a haze below it indicating some form of precipitation. I set a turnaround time for myself and pushed on. I noticed that my hands had become slightly swollen and numb. I flexed them repeatedly as I hiked and it helped to alleviate the numbness. Square Top's summit has a half-mile long ridge and once I was on it my energy was renewed. Twenty minutes later I was standing next to Square Top's summit cairn. My first Thirteener; it was exhilarating!

My first Thirteener!
The wind was brisk; a dropped hat or mitten would've been blown off the summit. I took several photos of nearby peaks (Decatur, Argentine, Wilcox) and lakes (Silver Dollar, Naylor). Except for a few patches of snow, Square Top's summit was wind-scoured and barren. I don't believe I've ever felt so exposed to the elements; I paid close attention to the oncoming clouds.

Descent route from Square Top.
I spent about 15 minutes atop Square Top and then, deciding I shouldn't push my luck any further, began my descent. From such a high vantage point, and no trees for miles, it was easy to trace a suitable route to the northern ridge. Within minutes of beginning my descent, I encountered, directly in my path, another Coloradan heading to the summit. This one was definitely a local because he was four-legged, horned, and wore a shaggy white coat. Although I had seen mountain goats up close on Mount Evans' auto road, this encounter was different.

He (she?) and I were solitary wanderers and both us seemed equally surprised to encounter one another. We stopped in our tracks, less than a hundred feet apart, and studied one another. I felt a combination of wonderment and trepidation. I hoped he felt similarly about me. If he saw me as a threat, I could not out-run or out-maneuver him. As I walked forward, so did he. I realized that it'd be best for me to yield the route and I veered to my right. Each time I stopped to take a photo, he would stop as well and look at me. We passed, he stopped to look back one last time, and then we lost sight of one another. 

Another lone hiker.
The rugged, eroded trails of the Adirondacks serve as an excellent training ground for rock-hopping. The experience served me well as I hopped from stone to stone in a rapid descent to the northern ridge. It would've been handy to have brought my hiking poles to Colorado but they were too bulky to stow in my suitcase. Fortunately, my knees were up to the task and I traversed the slope quickly. In the distance, about a mile away, I could make out the forms of the two hikers as they made their way to the lakes. My chosen descent route was uneventful and featured only one short cliff that I easily circumvented.

The northern ridge features broad and rolling terrain that makes for easy hiking. I reached the ridge, looked back, saw Square Top engulfed in a dark cloud, and decided to head down to the lakes. I dropped about 50 feet of elevation, looked back at the cloud, looked at the sunlit ridge, and paused to reconsider. It'd be a shame to miss out on the views offered by the ridge. The cloud might just stay pinned to Square Top's summit. I took a chance and headed back up to the sunlit ridge. It was a good choice because the views were exceptional, especially looking back at Square Top's eastern cirque that plummets a thousand feet to the lakes below.

Square Top from the northern ridge.
I could not find evidence of a marked trail and that baffled me. It seemed odd that a herd-path would fail to form in an area that I assumed would be very popular. Nevertheless, it made for a unique experience to head in any desired direction without bushwhacking. However, it still felt wrong to walk on the alpine grasses! The eastern end of the ridge has one final gentle rise and it reminded me that I was far from being fully acclimatized. I thought I saw a trail sign on the rise but it turned out to be a signless post. I gave up looking for trails and signs. Once atop the final rise, I had a clear view of Bierstadt, Evans, and the distant trailhead. It was now time to decide how to descend the ridge to the valley below.

Square Top; mountain and lake.

Having hiked the route opposite to the suggested direction, I didn't precisely know how to 'close the loop'. The eastern end of the ridge drops precipitously to the meadow, several hundred feet below, and features cliffs and other hazards. I suppose if I bothered to pull out the guidebook I would've noticed that the suggested route swung northwards before descending a long shoulder to the meadows. A light rain shower had begun and I now felt pressed to exit the ridge at the earliest opportunity.

I studied my options and selected a long broad gully about 200 yards wide. Looking down the slope I selected a distinct exit point, a featureless gray area among thickets of willows, and cautiously began my descent. The chute drops about 400 feet in a quarter mile and represents a 30 degree slope. However, in practice it felt a good deal steeper.

With a loose base of grass and rubble, and no vegetation for handholds, it presented an interesting challenge. Any stone I dislodged merrily rolled down the slope and served as an example of what could easily happen to me. It was not possible to face forward and I descended sideways, all the while tacking across the face of the chute. The experience reminded me of an event many years ago.

In the 80's, I spent a few weeks working in Mexico. My employer manufactured telecommunications equipment and I had the opportunity to inspect a 40 meter tower (~130 feet). It had an exterior-mounted ladder without a safety cage (i.e. if you fell off, nothing would stop your fall). I had begun rock-climbing a few years earlier so climbing a ladder didn't seem like much of a challenge. The higher I went, the more I realized that one misstep, due to sweaty palms, a sneeze, swatting a fly or an errant bird, could make you lose your cadence and fail to grab a rung properly. Without a safety cage, there's no second chance and you fall to your death.

One of the engineers I was with was reluctant to descend and required encouragement. In fact, the descent proved to be worse than the ascent because, being superficially easier, there's a natural desire to move quickly. You had to focus on being slow and methodical and resist the urge to move fast. You had to guard against being lulled into moving routinely and automatically, without thought of hand and foot placement. The experience taught me that, if the stakes are high, a seemingly routine task can become a serious challenge. Never underestimate the task when the consequences are dire. 

Screwing up during the descent of the chute did not have fatal consequences but you had to guard against moving too quickly or without thought. Rolling down tens of yards along a rock-strewn chute will not leave you in better shape. To stay focused, I selected a target about forty feet away, counted my steps and then paused for a quick breather. All the while, a light shower urged me not to dawdle because the slope would get much worse in a rainstorm. As I approached my chosen exit, I discovered it was a dry pond bed. I looked back at the slope and felt a great sense of accomplishment and relief. 

As I stood there, taking photos of my descent route, I was startled by the sound of a snarl. Naturally, I perceived it as a threat and turned to face its direction. Less than 400 feet away, I caught a glimpse of an animal leaping down a rocky slope. Its tail was about the length of its torso and its fur was medium brown with lighter patches. It moved too quickly, and the sighting was too brief, for me to get a clear view of its face or any distinctive markings. However, it had a spinal hump at its rear-end and moved with the supple and undulating gait common to members of the weasel family (mustelidae). However, this thing was large for a mustelid because it was easily spotted from over 300 feet away (i.e. medium-sized dog). Given its size, movement, general appearance, and loud snarl, I am convinced I saw a wolverine which is a rare beast in Colorado. I described the encounter on the 14ers web-site and several people concurred I had seen a wolverine (and not 'Wolverine' or 'Red Dawn' Wolverines). That sighting is my favourite memento of Colorado.

I covered the remaining trail back with little effort. I arrived at the trailhead at 4:15 PM, elated that I had just safely completed my first Thirteener. I chose to drive north, to Georgetown, rather than return south to Grant. The road north through Guanella Pass is in immaculate condition and passes by some of the finest scenery imaginable. Upon returning to my hotel, I wished I had extended my stay for a week! With 54 Fourteeners and over 600 Thirteeners, Colorado is rich with sky-scraping peaks and awe-inspiring scenery. I hope to return next year and discover more of its natural beauty. 


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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Dix from Round Pond - Trail Clearing 2011-09-10

In a nutshell, I had a great time hiking with kindred spirits while clearing the trail from the Round Pond trailhead to the summit of Dix. I made the acquaintance of several forum members and shared a picture-perfect day with them in the High Peaks.

The trail-clearing team met at "Malfunction Junction" (intersection of routes 73 and 9) at 7:30 AM. Metal gates barred traffic from entering route 73. We were escorted by Ranger Lapierre to the Round Pond trailhead where Pete Hickey distributed the trail-clearing tools and described the day's work. The group had received special dispensation from the DEC to use chainsaws.

The trail-clearing event treated its participants like VIP's: highway closed to the public, private escort to the trailhead, exclusive use of the trail, the first to explore the woods after the storm, snacks and beverages served afterwards. All of this royal treatment for the price of sawing wood. 

Pete asked for three volunteers who could "run up to the summit of Dix" and clear blowdown during the descent. Not having hiked in over a month, I initially declined but changed my mind when I saw that one of the volunteers was hauling a chainsaw. How hard could it be to keep up with someone loaded down with 12 pounds of motorized saw?

During the hike, I had a suspicion that the sprightly gentleman moving effortlessly up the trail with a chainsaw, was none other than the indefatigable "JoeCedar". I asked and he confirmed. The blindingly obvious answer to my question was 'depends on who's carrying the chainsaw'! 

Armed with chainsaw, axe, and bow saw, Joe, Chris (Crepuscular), and I left the trailhead at 7:45 AM and headed to Dix. Joe led us and directed our trail-clearing activities. We cleared minor blowdown with a bow saw, typically limbs less than 5" in diameter, and mentally noted the location of significant deadfall.

Joe pointed out that once the chainsaw was out of his pack and put to use, it would be too hot to stow and would need to be hand-carried. It would be better to hand-carry it during the descent than the ascent. Therefore the plan was to start with the highest deadfall, requiring a chainsaw, and work our way down until we met the crew working their way up. 

It had been thirty years since my last visit to Dix via the northern approach and all I recalled was that it was steep. Joe confirmed my recollection when he informed us that the final mile rose 1500 feet. Stopping to saw deadfall was a welcome break. I remarked that trail-clearing was like an odd biathalon: hike, stop to saw wood, repeat.

There was ample work for the bow saw and more so for the chainsaw. We arrived at the summit at noon, paused for a half-hour's lunch and then began our descent. The chainsaw was deployed shortly before the intersection with the Hunter's Pass trail. At the intersection, Joe sliced the deadfall into manageable sections. I propped up one section, bearing trail-markers, so that it would continue to be of use. Reduce, reuse, recycle!

Joe displayed a mastery of carving up deadfall. He explained that it was nothing like sawing logs for firewood. A tangle of fallen trees is a dynamic system involving trees tensioned by the fall or by the weight of other trees. There are stresses that, if improperly released, can inflict serious injuries. One needs to assess the physics of the situation before making the first cut. Even a single fallen tree requires some study in order to avoid making a cut that jams the chainsaw or worse.

I watched as he made V-notches to relieve pressure, cuts from above, below or both as required. Joe observed the log's movement as the cut progressed and listened to the chainsaw's drone, extracting it quickly when it sounded like it was being slowed by excessive pressure. Once done, Chris and I moved in to discard the remains.

After a tree was sliced up, its branches and sections of trunk were tossed off-trail. Heavy sections were stood upright and than toppled into the woods. Chris mused that some of the deadwood displayed a nasty sense of humour given the way it refused to go quietly. Bouncing back, rolling unexpectedly, or taking one last swipe with an errant branch, are 'little pranks' that kept you wary. One ornery log comes to mind because, despite repeated efforts, its five-foot long, foot-diameter, water-logged carcass, kept rolling back into the trail eager to flatten our toes. Eventually it succumbed to brute force and it now lies quietly off-trail. 

Joe summed up the conditions as being no worse than in the Spring. There were many instances of toppled trees but nothing that made the trail impassible. The run-off flushed the brooks clean of debris but did not overrun the banks. There was no devastation that required re-routing the trail but there was enough work to keep us busy for the day.

Being the first on the trail allowed us to walk a pristine path free of bootprints. It also let us easily spot animal tracks, most notably some impressive ones belonging to a bear. However, to my mind, the most unique find was the remains of a trail marker within a tree. Joe had sawn through a substantial snag and exposed a dark hollow containing fragments of rusted sheet metal and nails. It was a trail-marker that had been engulfed by its host tree. "BigNSlow" counted the rings from the hollow to the bark and estimated that forty years had passed since the marker was 'internalized' by the tree. Imagine the odds of sawing at the precise spot containing the marker! 

Comparing paw-prints.

Exposed remains of a trail-marker engulfed by a tree.
In addition to trail-clearing, I learned about the new privy design. I had asked if anyone remembered a 'wilderness-compliant' outhouse introduced (I believe) in the 80's. It was a simple wooden box surrounded by a low fence. When you sat on the box, your head remained visible and served as an indicator of occupancy. For those requiring total privacy, discovering the new design probably caused them consternation (and possibly constipation). I was informed that the latest design goes a step further and retains the box but discards the fence! At the lean-to, I saw a new privy and it looks like a sturdy lock-box to store bear canisters. Of course, that would be a mistake.

We met the second team shortly before the slide. We joined forces and Joe continued to saw deadfall until we reached the area cleared by the remaining team. Upon our arrival at Round Pond, we met Pete who was sawing through the last vestiges of a large fallen tree. All teams were back and, led by Pete, we hiked out to the trailhead where we arrived shortly before 5:30 PM.

Heading back to the trailhead.
We had been informed that route 73 would re-open at noon but it was still free of traffic. We later learned that the engineer responsible for approving the repair work was a no-show so the road remained closed. We eagerly ate the supplied snacks and refreshments and spent time socializing on the shoulder of a traffic-free highway. It was a great crowd whose company I thoroughly enjoyed and I hope we get to meet again soon. 


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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Whiteface (ADK 46er x 2) 2011-08-09

I intended to hike all 46 peaks thirty years ago but lost interest four years and 36 peaks later. As a young man, life's many unexplored opportunities drew me in other directions. I left hiking the remaining peaks for a later date. In a blink of an eye, three decades passed. It was not until a medical diagnosis reminded me I could not delay indefinitely. I finished on Allen last summer. The experience piqued my interest to explore the High Peaks in winter. I hiked sixteen peaks and, by season's end, decided to hike the balance before year's end. My second round would present an opportunity to rediscover trails I had hiked long ago as well as improve my fitness. I chose Whiteface to be my 46th peak in order to allow my family to greet me and share in the moment.

On Tuesday, August 9th, I achieved my goal and completed my second round atop Whiteface. On Allen I had raised a glass of Scotch in memory of departed family members. On Whiteface it was a joyous celebration with three generations of my family and a bottle of sparkling wine.

I had originally planned to complete my second round in September. However, my Toronto-based family members could only visit during the second week of August so I accelerated my hiking timetable by one month. The weather forecast for the week of August 8th did not offer the sunniest days of summer. Tuesday was chosen based on a high cloud-ceiling and little chance of rain until late in the afternoon.

I left Montreal a few hours earlier than my family in order to get a head start. The plan was to have everyone on the summit about a half-hour before my arrival. I budgeted a generous four hours to hike the 6.5 miles from Connery Pond to Whiteface's summit. Our cell phones proved very useful for coordinating the summit reunion. Three hours after my departure I was 100 feet from the summit whereas my family was still an hour away! 

I left the Connery Pond trailhead at 8:20 AM and followed the broad, smooth trail to Whiteface Landing. Whiteface Landing was busy with young campers preparing breakfast and a motorboat taking on passengers at the dock.

View from Whiteface Landing.
I continued towards Whiteface lean-to where there were clear signs that a large party of campers had settled in. The most curious sight was a set of three tripods, constructed from tree branches, bearing Sketcher's Pads inscribed with smiling faces. Totems for some sort of backwoods ritual?

Totem at Whiteface lean-to.
I have no idea how many people hike to Whiteface along this path but it is less eroded than the Wilmington trail. On many trails, rocks and tree roots are laid bare whereas here they barely break the surface. Rocks don't appear until the upper reaches where the trail steepens. I reached the first notable lookout at 11:10 AM, paused, and then moved to a higher vantage point about ten minutes up the trail. I heard voices and, thinking a group of hikers was ahead of me, looked up to discover people looking through scenic viewers; I was less than a hundred feet from the summit.

Trail to Whiteface,
I pulled out my cell phone and contacted my sister who informed me she had just passed the town of Ausable Forks. I realized I had at least an hour to while away. Fortunately, I couldn't have picked a nicer 'waiting area'. I stared off into the distance and began identifying the visible peaks.

The sky was filled with layers of gray clouds but, fortunately, they were all above 5000 feet. It was far from being the 'sunny day' they had predicted but at least it was not raining. After an hour, I changed out of my damp clothes and put on a jacket. I called again and learned that my sister and her family were now on the summit and were waiting for the others to catch up. I informed her to walk towards the scenic viewers and look down towards to the open rocks. She said she was already there and could see one person on a rock. I waved, she laughed, and it was time to finish the ascent.

Hugs and kisses from three generations, six years old to eighty-one, made it the best summit experience of all. Whiteface was busy with tourists and hikers but I felt like we had the place to ourselves. As I headed to Whiteface's official summit, I passed a hiker, a winter 46er, who inquired what was the nature of the celebration and then congratulated me on completing my second round. I thanked him but overlooked to get his name; thank you and I hope we meet again.

Summit souvenirs.
After a quick photo next to Whiteface's exceedingly popular and photogenic summit sign, we retreated to an open area of the summit. Folding chairs were set up for the elderly and my brother-in-law began setting up a tripod and camera for a group photo. My wife produced a bottle of sparking wine to toast the occasion. Armed with plastic glasses filled with bubbly, we posed together to commemorate "46 x 2". Afterwards, my wife gave me a souvenir T-shirt, listing all 46 peaks, and my mother-in-law presented me with a wonderful "Yay for you!" greeting card annotated with her well-wishes. I was especially happy to walk around the summit holding the hand of my energetic six year old niece. She fearlessly climbed onto, and jumped off, whatever lay in her path. 
Hugging the youngest member of our clan.
We spent an hour and a half on the summit before a cool wind and darkening sky signalled it was time to leave. The plan was to call my wife upon reaching the Connery Pond trailhead. I predicted I'd cover the 6.5 miles in two hours. Afterwards, we'd meet at the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery. I dashed off the summit at 2:15 PM and, in my haste, headed in the wrong direction. I could see the slide whereas I ought to see the ski lift. A quick course correction over the boulders among the cripplebrush and I was back on the trail.

By the time I reached the junction at Whiteface Landing it had begun to drizzle. Before long, it began to rain heavily. I saw no reason to stop and don a jacket because I was in dire need of a shower. The rain was peppered with sporadic downpours and they spurred me to pick up my pace. I arrived at the trailhead at 4:10 PM and signed out. I had planned to head to Tmax and Topo's for a shower but there was now little need for it. A few minutes to clean up and change clothes and I was ready for the pub.

After a hearty meal, washed down with plenty of Ubu beer, my wife presented me with a memorable dessert. A simple tray of brownies was adorned with blazing candles that read: 46 x 2. It was a tasty end to the meal and a wonderful finish to the day. 

Dessert fit for a 46er.


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Saturday, August 6, 2011

Esther 2011-08-06

The 46th peak of my second round will be Whiteface, where I'll meet my family, and I want to hike it from Whiteface Landing. Accordingly, a visit to Esther would need to be a separate hike and Saturday seemed like a good time to do it.

After a good night's rest, I left Tmax and Topo's shortly after 6:00 AM. I parked at the ASRC trailhead and departed for the Marble Mountain trail at 7:00 AM.

Largely unmarked, the trail descends a gravel road, past discarded equipment, and into a clearing containing a radio tower. At the far end of the clearing, a cairn (and a foil-wrapped stick) marks the beginning of the trail up Marble Mountain.

The trail follows directly up the fall-line and passes between five pairs of concrete blocks that are the remains of a ski lift. The trail-bed is loose rubble and challenges your footing while ascending and more so during the descent. Its upper reaches are home to at least one hermit thrush who serenaded me with its flute-like calls. 

The morning was warm and exceptionally humid and I was in no hurry to reach the summit. There was a chance of thundershowers developing but not until later in the day. I arrived at the junction at 8:45 AM and marvelled at the tall cairn. It stands below a clearly visible sign that indicates the herd-path to Esther. Nevertheless, increasing its height is an irresistible pleasure for passing hikers.

The route to Esther is a bit scratchy and seemed longer than its true length. I reached Esther's summit at around 9:20 AM. The woods were abuzz with the sound of flies and the air was filled with flitting dragonflies. It was magical.

Natty spats atop Esther.

For dessert, baby spruce cones laced with fresh sap
I paused briefly to admire the view of Whiteface. The silence was sporadically broken by the call of a raptor giving chase high above me (or was it the urgent cries of the prey?). A less natural sound was the snarling of a Harley ascending Whiteface's road. After a few minutes rest, I departed for the junction. I arrived at 10:00 AM and chose to descend as quickly as my old legs allowed.

I passed several ascending hikers and paused only to answer questions about distance, time, and presence of water. I found it difficult to maintain a brisk pace on the loose rocks of the Marble Mountain trail. I stopped to photograph a toad who obliged me by remaining motionless no matter how close I positioned my camera. An hour later, at 11:00 AM, I emerged at the ASRC parking lot. It was the end of a very enjoyable morning in the woods. 

Mr. Toad contemplating life, the universe, and everything.


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Friday, August 5, 2011

Santanoni Range 2011-08-05

Santanoni Range: Santanoni, Panther, Couchsachraga.

The Santanoni Range represented the last range to hike before completing my second round this year on Whiteface. My visit would foster a new and healthier attitude towards Couchsachraga, originally not one of my favourite destinations. I think Emmons now occupies that spot.

I left Montreal at 4:00 AM and arrived at the trailhead shortly before 7:00 AM. Only three cars were in the parking lot; I looked forward to a quiet day in the Santanoni Range. I was the first to sign in and was on the trail at 7:10 AM.

Just as I passed the locked gate, an oncoming SUV, with a US Forest Service logo, slowed to a stop and a fellow stepped out to unlock the gate. We exchanged brief pleasantries and I continued up the road. I wondered what they had finished doing so early in the morning.

The morning was sunny, cool and dry. Except for persistent deer flies, I wasn't bothered by mosquitoes or black flies. My plan was to hike the three peaks in a counter-clockwise loop, as I had done last August, by ascending the ridge via Panther Brook and descending via Santanoni Express. Panther Brook herd-path offers running water close to the ridge whereas the Express route is dry for most of its length.

The start of the Panther Brook herd-path is no longer dry. It now crosses the outflow of a beaver pond on spongy logs. I plumbed the murky water with my hiking pole and it sunk about a yard deep. 

I stopped at the last crossing of Panther Brook and sterilized a liter of water. I cached the bottle at Times Square and downed it upon my return from Couchsachraga. It was a welcome addition to the three liters in my hydration bag. By the end of the hike, my clothing recuperated at least one of those four liters. 

The writing on Panther's summit disk has been refreshed. Other than that, all else seems unchanged including the muddy patch just short of the true summit.

I've developed a greater appreciation for Couchsachraga's sense of humour. It lures you with a herd-path that is in better shape than many others. The descent is spiced with a few steep rocky pitches and ends at a filthy 'welcome mat'. I hear Couchie greeting me with 'Hey there! Kick off your shoes and stick around!" After crossing 'The Bog of Lost Soles', you get punked by a few false summits. Finally, a steep trough of rock signals the true summit is nearby and you pop up onto an inauspicious knob. The final gag is that the best view is the direction from which you came so you can best appreciate the elevation loss. Ba-da-bing! Good one, Couchie!

It was my first opportunity to view the replacement for Couchsachraga's stolen summit sign and I think 'ersatz' sums it up. It attempts to capture the original sign's rustic charm but fails. The original's sun-greyed wood with decorative end-caps, loose rope-binding, and engraved serif lettering have been replaced by a painted board. The replacement sign is attached, with a wood-screw, directly to the tree that bore the summit disk. The disk is gone and the tree's trunk has snapped above where the wood-screw was inserted. It's a sad sight.

Couchie's bog continues to be a broth of muck and compost but it seemed easier to cross due to more downed wood. It can now make the following claim, "New and improved! Contains more fiber!" 

En route to Santanoni, my legs collected two more souvenirs. I looked up to view Santanoni and, right on cue, tripped over a fallen sapling. A scraped knee was the price for a moment's innattention. The sapling is now resting off the trail. Later, I stepped over a long-dead tree trunk and down a short drop. I failed to notice a protruding branch-stub and levered my right shin directly into it. The intense pain signalled it wasn't just a scrape and I had probably bruised my tibia. With a swift kick, accompanied by Ukrainian swear words ('sookhin sin' ... there, now you're on the road to learning a new language), I snapped the @!*# spike off the log and it won't be troubling anyone else.

Santanoni's summit marker has been refreshed and moved to a larger tree a few inches away. The view of the High Peaks is wonderful but better from the lookout on Santanoni's closest sub-summit.

Towards Algonquin
The upper terminus of the Express path, located at the second of three sub-summits, seems a bit more defined than last year and that's probably due to increased usage. Within 50 yards of the summit, the Express trail drops steeply through a short eroded channel that is now littered with deadfall. Beyond that, it becomes a smooth path that eventually leads to a slab of rock. I distrust weather-beaten ropes and down-climbed the slab. The Express route's detour around the beaver pond is no longer marked with unsightly flagging tape.

I met (more like startled) one hiker while descending Couchsachraga (Salut Philippe!) and another hardy-looking fellow upon my return to Times Square. The bulk of the hikers I met (five) were encountered along the Bradley Pond trail while I was exiting. It was grand day for peace, solitude, and reflection.

Along the gravel road I paused to photograph several beautiful butterflies, Great Spangled Fritillary, feeding on the nectar of, what I believe to be, Sweet Joe-Pye Weed. It was one of those rare and magical moments that put the finishing touch on a very fine day.

Great Spangled Fritillary butterflies on Sweet Joe-Pye Weed.
I arrived at the trailhead at 3:30 PM, eight hours and twenty minutes after my departure. I cleaned up and headed to Tmax and Topo's for a good night's sleep (and to ice the lump on my shin, thanks David!) in preparation for the following day's hike to Esther. 


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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Dix Range 2011-07-24

Dix Range: Macomb, South Dix, East Dix, Hough, Dix


  • Two and a half hours of sleep (I hate campgrounds)
  • No hiking poles (trying to toughen up my knees)
  • One dinged ankle (hitting a tendon hurts like sin)
  • Four liters of water (to replenish the cascade flowing down my back)
  • Ran the flats (attempting to become a trail-runner ... ha-ha)
  • Dix Range in 10 hours (9 hours hiking + 1 hour rest)


Mr. Peabody's WABAC machine

Tuesday, August 25, 1981 was the first time I explored the Dix Range. I still have my hand-written notes (in a pocket-sized spiral-bound notepad) and here are a few excerpts:
  • "The bushwhack up Macomb is splendid."
  • "The slide is breathtaking."
  • "I rock climbed the cliff rather than skirt it ... exhilarating!"
  • "I sunbathed in the nude on an open ledge."
  • "Met an elderly gentleman and his son, 46R, was here 55 years ago, spoke of mining operations, lumber camps, log drives, fascinating! His son was hauling a broken crockpot he discovered in the valley."
  • "I decided to bivouac on South Dix."
  • "The setting sun throws long shadows in the valley."
  • "I am a spectator in the theater of life. The lights dim ever so slowly. A red veil of light is cast upon the audience, I and the mountains, and then the stars emerge. I am overcome with a sense of cosmic awareness."
  • "The fresh mountain breezes sing a lullaby as I gently drift into a deep sleep."

My recent hike to the Dix Range shared many positive aspects with my 30-year-old 'magical mystery tour' but a few stood in sharp contrast:
  • A bad night's sleep.
  • It's not the same slide.
  • I'm no longer a sun-worshipping hedonist.
  • Bivvying atop a 4000 footer is a no-no.

Of Mice and Men

My usual routine is to wake up in the middle of the night, drive 2.5 hours to the 'Dacks, and get on the trail around 7:00 AM. For this trip, I wanted an earlier start so I left the previous evening to camp near Elk Lake. Things didn't go according to plan and I found myself in Plattsburgh about 45 minutes prior to sunset. I wanted to camp at Blue Ridge Falls Campground, on Boreas road and 20 minutes from the Elk Lake trailhead, but it was not going to happen before sunset. I turned off at exit 34 and headed, along route 9, to the Poke-O'Moonshine state campground only to discover it was closed. Frustrated, I recalled that Magic Pines Campground was nearby so I sped towards Lewis. Gordon welcomed me and indicated I could pitch my tent in several spots. I chose site 95, under a canopy of mature white pines and on a level bed of pine needles. I visited two nearby campers and forewarned them that I'd be waking up very early but would try to be as quiet as possible. Both parties indicated they also planned to rise early (albeit not at 4:00 AM). No one was at the third tent and that would prove to be fateful.

Why I hate campgrounds

Two young men appeared at the third tent around 9:30 PM, built a roaring fire and began a rousing conversation. Prepared for unwanted 'sound and light' shows, I donned ear-plugs and an eye-mask. Even earplugs couldn't muffle their snickering, giggling, and chatter. I knew I was in trouble when one fellow commented that he could sit by the fire until 3:00 AM. They were accompanied by the usual campground irritants including the passing traffic on the nearby highway, yapping dogs, the slamming of car doors, and the one that exemplifies people's obliviousness, the piercing honk of a car's horn when its alarm has been activated. Maybe I was the only one who simply wanted to hear the wind in the pines, the patter of raindrops on my tent, a distant bird-call, and all other natural sounds. Stupidly, I expected to find peace and quiet in a campground.

Passing showers didn't dampen their conversation. I hoped they would respect curfew but 11:00 PM came and went. Jokes about 'sharpening your stick' grated on my nerves. At midnight I stormed out of my tent and, within their view, marched towards the office. I pressed the buzzer but no one appeared. I headed back to my tent and noticed the two inconsiderate chatterboxes were gone. I assumed they 'got the message' and turned in. At 12:30 AM the conversation started anew. At 1:00 AM, now robbed of three hours of sleep, I stood outside my tent and addressed them as calmly as my displeasure allowed: "Gentlemen! It's well past curfew and we're into quiet time. I have a long-planned hike tomorrow that requires me to get up at 4:00 AM. Could you please respect the quiet hours?". They apologized and the woods fell silent. Within a few minutes they retired to their tent and, assuming nylon tent walls were soundproof, continued their conversation. I fell asleep some time after 1:00 AM.

I awoke at 3:45 AM, before my alarm sounded. I felt like I had sand in my eyes. I contemplated the sanity of hiking on less than three hours of sleep. I decided to go through the motions and see how I felt as time went by. A mean streak in me wanted to give the chatterboxes a 4:00 AM wake-up call but I didn't want to be banned from the campground. I quietly packed my belongings, ate breakfast, and drove away at 4:45 AM. The Elk Lake trailhead was still an hour away.

A new day dawns

The Elk Lake trailhead contained about a dozen cars and at least one person sleeping in a Hennessy Hammock. I suspect he had a far better night's sleep than I did. The only sound I heard was the distinctive cry of a loon from nearby Elk Lake. I was the first to sign in and left the trailhead at 6:05 AM.

The most remarkable aspect of the trail to Slide Brook is its lack of erosion. I didn't know it at the time, but it was a forebearer of the conditions I'd experience throughout the day. I can't stress enough how beautiful the herd-paths are in the Dix Range. With the exception of a few steep sections, the trail-bed is mostly forest duff and, probably owing to the lack of rain this month, remarkably free of mud. If some trails are 'work', these are a 'vacation'.

New slide ain't the old slide

I arrived at the Slide Brook cairn at 6:45 AM. The herd-path passes through the designated campsite and follows a clear route. I arrived at the base of the slide at 7:30 AM. Not all memories survive the passage of thirty years. Nevertheless, I suspected this was not the 'breathtaking slide' I had climbed thirty years ago. Upon my return home, I checked the ADK guidebook and confirmed the existence of a new and an old slide. I was not impressed with the new one. It is an inclined field of rubble; a slope covered in aggregate ranging in size from bread crumbs to breadboxes. At 7:55 AM, I reached a large boulder at the head of the slope. There was no evidence of the rocky cliff I had climbed nor the ledge where I had sunbathed decades ago. It was a good hike with lots of views but, looking through my rose-coloured glasses, not the memorable slide of my youth.

Elk Lake from the top of Macomb's western slide.

A painful anatomy lesson

Somewhere between the top of the slide and the summit of Macomb, there's a three foot earthen rise with a protruding log. With much consideration given to planting my right foot, and none for my left, I smacked the tendon of my flexor digitorum longus muscle. I was unaware of the medical term at the time and simply knew I struck a tendon on my inner left leg, just above the ankle, with such force that I cringed in pain. My first thought was "Nice move, dum-dum!". The impact site was extremely tender and had a minor laceration. I was concerned it would swell and impede the tendon's movement. I rotated my foot and confirmed its range of motion was normal and relatively pain-free. The laceration was under the gaiter so I chose to tend to it at the next rest stop (i.e. after completing South and East Dix).

I stood atop Macomb at 8:15 AM. Here is where I had met the 'elderly gentleman and his son' and had been intrigued by his recollections and the 'broken crockpot'. The view from Macomb is excellent but nothing that hasn't already been seen during the slide's ascent. Nevertheless, you get an expansive view of the Elk Lake basin and its western bulwhark, the Colvin Range. The morning fog, suspended above the lake, provided an extra touch of drama.

Farther west, and northwest, lie Allen, Haystack, Marcy and the Great Range. Nearby is Nippletop and, by peeking around the trees to the north, one can see Dix, the day's objective. When appreciating the architecture of skyscrapers, one criterion is the roof's design. Does it have a 'nice hat'? Yes, viewed from Macomb, the Beckhorn provides Dix with a very nice hat. It is the kind of mountain you draw as a kid, a steep-sided pointed cone, and I had a few more summits to visit before I'd stand atop it. One more photo of 'boots posing with USGS marker' and I was off.


Do the Monkey

The herd-path into the Macomb/South Dix col is in excellent shape and allows for a speedy descent. Although I brought my trekking poles, I found myself hiking without them. The herd-paths in the Dix Range tend to be narrow and there were many spots where the poles would be awkward to use. I found myself descending 'ape-style', like I did years ago, where I simply grabbed whatever was within reach to moderate my descent and assist my ascent. Given that the herd-path is narrow, there was never a shortage of handholds.

In the col, I passed the cairn marking the southern arm of the Lillian brook herd-path. I began ascending the first bit of exposed rock at 8:45 AM. I re-entered the woods and, just a few yards west of South Dix's summit, passed a prominent cairn marking the herd-path to Hough. At about 8:50 AM I was taking a self-portrait atop South Dix's wooded summit. I don't recall the precise location of my 'hors la loi' bivouac but, to minimize my footprint, I had chosen bare rock. It might have been at the lookout with its grand view of Macomb and numerous lesser peaks lying to the south, including Camels Hump and Niagara.

I left South Dix at 9:00 AM and headed towards East Dix. The descent into the South Dix/East Dix col is unremarkable except for the quality of the herd-path. South Dix has a long eastern shoulder with a gentle slope and the path is park-like. Being only a third of South Dix's length, East Dix's western slope is comparatively short and steep. About ten minutes prior to the summit, I passed a well-defined side-trail. There is no cairn but the trail's mouth is partially obstructed by a pile of branches. I guessed it led to East Dix's northern slides and the herd-path from route 73. Upon my return from South Dix's summit I explored the side-trail briefly, confirmed it was not a deadend, added another branch to the wood-pile, and continued on my way.

Toys that go boom!

I arrived on East Dix's rocky summit at 9:30 AM. The summit disc is unique because it is attached to a boulder. Being a gearhead, I was fascinated by the fact someone had employed a power-actuated nail gun, basically a zip gun that, when struck, explodes a .22 cartridge that fires a nail, to attach the plastic summit marker. I had used one extensively, when finishing the basement of my first home, and experiencing it drive a nail through a two-by-four into concrete is a guilty pleasure for boys of all ages. Now I was staring at the marker and wondering if whoever attached it had the same thought I did: "Hmmm, to fire a nail into igneous rock. Will it go or will the rock shatter into anti-personnel fragments? Did I remember to bring goggles? Nope. Nuts, here's goes nothing. BANG! Awesome, it worked! One more nail to be sure!".

View of Macomb from atop East Dix.
At 10:10 AM I stopped at South Dix's lookout for a break. I cleaned and bandaged my souvenir from Macomb, downed two Advils, greased my feet, changed my socks, and munched on a Builder bar. I had left my hydration bag in an ice-chest overnight so the water was still refreshingly cold. Despite a bad night's sleep, and accompanied by my usual entourage of foot and knee complaints, I felt I had made good progress. The day was young, the weather was perfect, the herd-paths in top shape, and I was looking forward to the hike over Hough to Dix. Refreshed, I left South Dix at 10:30 AM.

About fifteen minutes later I was standing atop so-called 'Pough' and admiring the view of Elk Lake. Within another five minutes I was at the designated campsite in the col between Pough and Hough. The area contains a rock fire-ring and several spots to pitch a tent. I noticed some orange flagging and didn't think much of it at the time but I now suspect it indicated the northern arm of the Lillian brook herd-path.
Looking skywards from the Pough/Hough col.
I reached Hough's southern rock outcropping at 11:10 AM where it offered an excellent view of my route. As good as the views were, it wasn't the summit, so I pressed on. Less than ten minutes later I stood atop Hough. Exposed to the elements, its summit marker is virtually blank but there's no question that you're on its pointy summit. Although it has the same western view as seen from Macomb, it seemed somehow fresher and more dramatic from Hough. I'm happy to report that the hornets, mentioned in Joelenhard's TR of June 20th, were absent.

My regular camera, an ultracompact Casio, had developed a focus problem and was in the shop for repairs. I was using a compact Canon SX210 with a 14-power zoom lens that, unlike my Casio, could be employed while shooting video. I put it to good use taking a sweeping panorama from Elk Lake to the Beckhorn. The view to the north was a little intimidating because there appeared to be an enormous drop from Hough equivalent to the incredible rise to the Beckhorn. In fact, the descent is only half of the eight hundred foot ascent. I left Hough at 11:20 AM.


No better place to be

My right knee had been voicing its displeasure throughout the hike. Somewhere along the way, precisely where I don't recall, I remembered one of Neil's comments about managing pain: "When I think I'm in pain, I hit my head against a tree to reset my pain meter". When I first read it I thought it was pithy, albeit somewhat glib; it's easier said than done. However, it resonated during this hike because it beat the hell out of what I had been doing the past few days. I had been overhauling our home's irrigation system and that chore involved a lot of digging in the sweltering heat. By day's end I was exhausted and thought I'd rather feel this tired after a hike instead of digging ditches. When you think it's bad, recall a time when it was worse and you'll feel comparatively better. Of course, there will be a time when you've never felt worse! When that moment arrives, consider the following example of stoicism: Two mountaineers were forced to bivouac at high altitude with no protective gear. The situation was desperate and one asked the other "What do we do now?". The other paused for a moment and then replied "Now we suffer."

The herd-path leading into the Hough/Dix col is narrow and scratchy. Once again, trekking poles seemed like they'd be more of a hindrance than an aid. The opposite side was steep but well worth the effort when, at 11:50 AM, I popped out at the first lookout. Now I had a commanding view of the curving ridge leading to the Beckhorn. I knew this section, the last ascent of the hike, would be a gas because it follows the ridgeline, provides many views to the east and west, and includes several spectacular lookouts. This is a 'must-hike' section of the 'Dacks.

Tie a yellow ribbon ...

I made sure to pause at each one of the lookouts and observe the scenery from a slightly different angle. Somewhere along the way I discovered a yellow bandanna. I attached it to my pack and, upon my return to the trailhead, tied it to a nearby fir tree. It seems I find something on every hike!

I arrived at the last lookout at around 12:10 PM. It provided a clear view of Hough's western slide. It was also where I was passed by a young man, and his dog, rapidly descending from the Beckhorn. Focused on his speedy descent, I don't think he saw me although I was only about ten feet off the herd-path. The Beckhorn was now very near and I was infused with new energy to reach Dix's summit before the half-hour.

Ten minutes later, after an interesting scramble up a short but steep trough of rock, I caught sight of yellow paint-blazes and realized I had reached the Beckhorn. To paraphrase Bill Cosby, "The view ... was tremendous!". The peak-bagger in me hissed that it was the same view from Dix and, if we hustled, we could still make it before the half-hour. I passed a gaggle of young hikers headed for the Beckhorn and, at 12:26 AM, spotted Colvin's survey bolt hammered into Dix's summit. Top o'the world, Ma!

Cadaverous feet enjoying the view from atop Dix.

R & R

With the day's major ascents completed, and five more summits added to this year's 46er round, it seemed like a good time to take an extended break. I hung my dripping wet T-shirt on a tree, doffed my boots and bandanna, stripped off my socks, and stretched out to catch some rays. Not being the sunworshipper of my youth, it wasn't long before I got bored and turned to my camera to capture images of East Dix's slides, Elk Lake, distant Noonmark, and the route up Dix from Round Pond. Before long I was joined by another hiker, Dave, who arrived by way of the Beckhorn trail. He intended to do an out-and-back to Hough. I mentioned the possibility of exiting via the Lillian Brook trail but he preferred to 'hump back up Dix'. We chatted about hikes past and present. Forty-five minutes later, we shook hands and left in opposite directions. I couldn't recall if I had ever hiked the Hunter's Pass trail and, with the whole afternoon available, it seemed like a good time to explore it. I left Dix's summit at 1:20 PM.

The top end of the Hunter's Pass trail is in surprisingly good shape. Although steep, its earthen bed is mostly intact and allowed me reach the junction with the Round Pond trail at 1:30 PM. Ten minutes later, I paused at a lookout and witnessed the grandeur of Hunter's Pass framing distant Elk Lake. The remaining descent became steeper, and more serious, and finished by passing over large boulders in the pass. My knees developed new pains and seemed to say "Hey! Where are the trekking poles?". I arrived in the pass at 2:00 PM and looked up to fully appreciate its rugged beauty. Nippletop forms its steep western side and Dix stands on its eastern side with an imposing and precipitous cliff. The pass itself is a thick tangle of trees that does not invite off-trail exploration.

A spring in my step

The trail out of the pass is a pristine footpath that descends gradually and closely follows East Inlet brook. I suspect most people, bound for Dix, opt for the Beckhorn trail and skip the slightly longer Hunter's Pass trail. I found myself reinvigorated and began to run the long downhill slope. At 2:20 PM, I paused at an intersecting brook and downed a half-liter of cold, clear, water. Naturally, I filtered it with my bandanna and zapped it with my Steripen before pouring it down my eager gullet. Safety first.

I decided that if I ever wanted to trail-run, now would be a good time because I was still feeling good and I'd be hard-pressed to find a level trail in better shape. I arrived at the Beckhorn trail junction at 2:40 PM. The trail sign indicated 3.8 miles to the trailhead. I committed to complete it by 4:00 PM. What I failed to consider was that the trail is not totally level. It rises just before Dix Pond and once again before the Lillian brook lean-to. Undaunted, I simply dropped back to a fast walk and thought about how much better this was than digging holes.

At 2:47 PM, I paused at Dix Pond to admire the passing clouds reflected in its still waters. It beckoned me to stay awhile and enjoy its serenity but that pleasure would be best enjoyed as part of an overnight stay. I had already made a blood pact with my inner trail-runner and had a few more miles to cover. I crossed Lillian brook at 3:00 PM and couldn't pass up a quick visit to the lean-to. I found two fellows, who I had seen earlier in the day, relaxing on the lean-to's floor. A quick hello, photo, goodbye, and I was off. It's a lovely spot, especially Lillian brook as it courses over a smooth slab of rock and forms an inviting shallow pool.

The quiet beauty of Dix Pond.
At 3:27 PM, I passed Slide Brook lean-to. I had closed the loop and was now in the home stretch. I ran past two groups of hikers; one remarked "Did your wife ask you to be home by a certain hour?". Not being much a runner, I had to drop back to a walk several times. Every time I slowed down, I glanced at my watch and gave myself a kick in the butt "You know if you don't get there before four, all this effort will be wasted!". My silly little competition with myself would start anew and I picked up my pace. A big grin plastered my face when I saw cars through the trees and arrived at the register at one minute to four. The horned trail-runner, perched on my left shoulder, was grinning as well.

Frazzled but pleased to have reached my goal.
I spent about 45 minutes in the parking lot, bagging my sodden clothing, washing up, changing into clean clothes, arranging my gear, guzzling water and eating fresh peaches. The two parties I had passed arrived but I was in no hurry to leave. The clean-up and cooldown period is an important part of my hike and prepares me for the drive home. It was an exceptional day and I hoped to see more of the same in the Santanonis and Sewards before finishing this year's round on Whiteface.


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