Friday, July 26, 2013

Dix Range Traverse 2013-07-26

North Fork Boquet River to Round Pond

Over the course of several days, Bib and I had discussed a hiking route that would include several new mountains to add to his 46er list. The Dix Range featured four peaks he had never visited so it became our objective.

The "trade route" typically begins and ends at Elk Lake and involves a counter-clockwise, or clockwise, circuit of the Dix Range. Seeking something different, I suggested approaching the Dix Range from the east, namely where highway 73 crosses the North Fork Boquet River, which lies 650' lower than the Elk Lake trail-head.

The Plan's Design

  1. Start from highway 73 at the North Fork Boquet bridge.
  2. Head to Grace (East Dix) via the herd-path.
  3. Continue over Carson (South Dix).
  4. Out-and-back to Macomb.
  5. Over Hough.
  6. Out-and-back to Dix.
  7. Bushwhack from Hough/Dix col to South Fork Bouquet.
  8. Return to North Fork Boquet bridge.

The only unknown in the plan was the bushwhack descent from the Hough/Dix col so I consulted three knowledgeable bushwhackers. Although none had followed the planned route, at least two had been in its vicinity and confirmed the woods were not difficult. In the end, flexibility was key and our plan was altered to suit our mood: we ascended Grace via the Great Slide and continued over Dix to exit at the Round Pond trail-head. Admittedly, the 1.7 mile road-walk, in the dark along highway 73, wasn't the highlight of the trip.

The Plan's Execution

  1. Start from highway 73 at the North Fork Boquet bridge.
  2. Head to Grace (East Dix) via the Great Slide.
  3. Continue over Carson (South Dix).
  4. Out-and-back to Macomb.
  5. Over Hough.
  6. Over Dix to Round Pond trail-head.
  7. Walk/run back to car after dark.

Bib and I started along the North Fork Boquet at 8:15 AM. We followed the excellent herd-path that winds its way westward initially along the North Fork and then the South Fork. We passed a few hikers heading out, notably a father and his two children, and met a large troop of boys at the undesignated camp-site located between the South Fork and a tributary ("two brooks").

Prior to the "two brooks" camp-site, the herd-path tends follow high above the course of the North and South Forks and retains a smooth trail-bed. Beyond "two brooks", the path hugs the South Fork and, as a result, becomes rocky and eroded. We crossed the "two brooks" camp-site to a cairn, passed a superb dipping-pool, and continued along, and through, the South Fork Boquet. When we arrived at the intersection of three brooks ("four corners"), I knew we very close to the Great Slide.

Eventually the herd path swung left and we began our ascent to East Dix (Grace). The path follows the eastern side of the brook (draining the slide) and we stopped for water at the point where the path crosses the brook. I drank my fill and then, knowing there'd be no other reliable sources, took on 3.5 liters of water.

On a previous occasion this was the point where Neil and I began our ascent of the slide. Today we continued along the herd-path which follows the course of the lower, slippery, and overgrown portion of the Great Slide. The path began to diverge from the slide at a point where the slide emerges from the woods and offers clean, open rock. We ventured out onto the slide and were rewarded with spectacular views.

Bib inquired if the balance of the slide's surface was of similar grade and quality. I confirmed it was except for a bit of scrambling through a band of cripplebrush and a cliff that is easily bypassed. Bib's initial reluctance to explore the slide disappeared and we abandoned the herd-path for the openness of the Great Slide.

The scenic route to Grace (East Dix).

Once past the band of cripplebrush, we reached steep rock. I suggested he continue towards the right whereas I would head left. His route would eventually follow along the edge of the cripplebrush and provided a worry-free path to the summit. I wanted to hone my scrambling skills and proceeded up a ramp leading to a chest-high wall. Surmounting the wall required a little more finesse than I had anticipated and definitely gave me my "money's worth". Eventually I arrived at the "rock chute" I had climbed on a previous trip and eagerly clambered up to the summit.

Ascending the "chute".

A priceless moment.
After a few minutes to soak up the scenery, we ambled over to tag Grace's summit. Within minutes we were joined by a couple of which one half was a summit steward. Although I didn't get her name, she and her partner were assessing the state of alpine vegetation. She reported what I had recently witnessed, namely the vegetation on Haystack, a peak without a steward, is losing the battle with misplaced footsteps. Meanwhile, summits such as Marcy and Algonquin, with stewards and rock-bordered vegetation zones, are doing well.

We passed a few more hikers along the way to South Dix (Carson) including a young couple bearing a "red flag" in the form of, what appeared to be, a red shirt attached to a pole high above his pack.  Upon reaching Carson's eastern lookout, we skirted an ocean of young boys beached on its shore. After a brief pause to photograph Bib on his 16th High Peak, we were on our way to Macomb.

For some reason I had forgotten the junction to Hough lies near Carson's summit. Our out-and-back to Macomb would require re-ascending Carson but, fortunately, it's only 200 feet. I didn't need poles and a hydration bladder to get to Macomb so I concealed them behind a rock.

The 500' ascent to Macomb taught me something about perspective. I've never ascended Macomb from the west and the route seemed more eroded than when I've descended it in the past. I guess one's perception of a trail can change depending upon whether one experiences it as an ascent or as a descent.

We passed a cheerful group descending Macomb. Bib greeted one its members with a "Have a great day!" and he replied "How could you not have a great day out here! Especially if you enjoy subjecting yourself to a beating!"

We reached Macomb's shortly after 1:00 PM and paused for a break. I hadn't eaten anything but Skittles and a Clif bar so it was time to break out the 'dog kibble'. The summit was all ours and perhaps it was due to our departure from highway 73 ensuring our schedule would not coincide with folks starting from Elk Lake.

Elk Lake from Macomb.
We returned to Carson at 1:50 PM, where I retrieved my gear, and began the short drop into the Carson/Pough col. We met the "red flag" team near Pough and passed the summit steward and friend who were descending Hough. We reached Hough's southern lookout at around 2:20 PM and paused to view the Great Slide. Fifteen minutes later, we were atop Hough and I congratulated Bib for ascending his 18th High Peak!

We stopped for another snack and to enjoy the great view of Elk Lake, Pinnacle Ridge, and beyond. Just as we were preparing to leave, the "red flag" couple joined us. We learned it was only the young woman's third hike ever! We congratulated her and, with a smile, I added that Dix was a mere hour away. She laughed and said it was scheduled for another day.

I was looking forward to the next stretch of our route. In my opinion, the herd-path from the Hough/Dix col to the Beckhorn is one of the most scenic of the "trail-less" routes. It follows a rising arc to the Beckhorn among dense woods punctuated by rocky lookouts with spectacular views to the southwest.

The grand arc to the Beckhorn.
Within the col, while Bib was off somewhere digging a cat-hole, I reconnoitered the woods to the east to gauge the difficulty of the proposed bushwhack. Naturally, the clearest stretches of woods were a result of blowdown. A few minutes of poking around convinced me progress would be slow and especially unpleasant if we lost daylight. Upon Bib's return we discussed our options. We ruled out an out-and-back to Dix, and the bushwhack descent, and opted for the "full meal deal" of hiking over Dix and exiting at Round Pond. If we couldn't get a lift, we'd just walk the "2.5" miles back to our car. The distance is actually 1.7 miles but, at the time, I thought it was 2.5.

The ascent to the Beckhorn was as good as I remembered it from a previous hike in 2011. The path follows the narrow wooded ridge and emerges at rocky ledges where one can pause to admire the incredible view. Shortly before the Beckhorn, we arrived at a "rock trough" that I have dubbed the "Route of Six" owing to nearby lichen growth in the shape of a six!

The "Route of Six".
Just a few minutes past the Route of Six, we scaled a man-high wall and popped out on the Beckhorn. Ten minutes later we were atop Dix and settled in for a long break. It was 4:30 PM and the late afternoon sun cast a soft light on the mountains. The summit was deserted, the air was warm and still and free of bugs, so we stretched out to catch a few rays. We still had 6.8 miles of trail, and 1.7 miles of road, to cover but, no worries, it was all downhill.

Well-deserved rest.
Shortly after 5:00 PM we collected our things and began the steep descent off the summit. Along the way I noticed a curious collection of bird feathers stuck on a log.

Evidence of an avian landing?
Emerging from the base of the steep and rocky trail onto the slide, one is greeted by a view of Noonmark and Giant and the slide's much appreciated smooth surface. The trail between the slide and the lean-to seemed a little on the long side but I attribute that to anticipation.

Bib emerges from the steepest descent in the High Peaks.
We arrived at the lean-to shortly before seven and discovered its occupants had just finished supper. Sadly there wee no leftovers for the hungry passerby! When asked what were there plans, the two young men indicated they would hike the Dix Range and return to the lean-to. I indicated they should get a "Expletive-deleted early start" because it was an ambitious itinerary involving doubling-back over Pough, Hough, and Dix. We bid them good luck and continued along the North Fork Boquet.

Anticipation can cloud one's perception of time and distance. It's only 1.9 miles from the lean-to to the Noonmark junction, shorter than the Loj to Marcy Dam, yet it seemed a good deal longer. Perhaps its because the scenery, lovely as it may be, doesn't change very much. Combined with a desire to return to one's car, the route begins to "drag" a little. Glen (mastergrasshopper) told me he runs this route and I now wonder if it is for the exercise or just to make it go by faster! Fifty minutes after leaving the lean-to we arrived at the Noonmark junction, crossed a tributary of the North Fork, then pressed on to Round Pond.

Once we passed the height-of-land, I stopped at a small brook to take on water while Bib continued down the trail. Shortly after passing the lean-to, I had finished the 3.5 liters I had collected, near the base of East Dix, earlier in the day. I was now thirsty and the cold clear water never tasted sweeter. I increased my pace and caught up with Bib a few minutes later.

As we approached the shores of Round Pond, the voices of campers could be heard clear across the pond. I paused on Round Pond's eastern shore for one last look. The sun had already set behind the mountains and the sky was cloud-free. The campers would enjoy a beautiful starry night.  We turned to ascend the last rise of the hike and began the sort descent to the trail-head.

Bib emerges as dusk begins.
I arrived at the highway shortly before 8:30 PM. Dusk was upon us and the chance of getting a lift in the gathering darkness was poor. I suggested we try getting a lift until the last of the available light, basically about ten minutes. After a few cars passed us, Bib handed me his car-key and said he would start walking back to the car. If I got a lift, I'd pick him up, and if I didn't I could catch up to him. Seven minutes of profitless hitch-hiking later, I was walking briskly in Bib's direction. I put my headlamp on backwards so the cars rushing by could see me strolling along the shoulder.

When I caught up to Bib I offered to run the balance of the road and return with the car. He took my pack and I ran down the road. This time I held my headlamp so the beam would pendulum along the ground and make me even more visible to passing cars. Now using a different set of muscles, running felt good if not a litle odd being in the dark on the side of a fairly busy highway! It was a Friday night, plus the weekend of the Lake Placid Ironman competition, so there was a constant stream of northbound traffic.

I was convinced the distance to the car was 2.5 miles and only later discovered it was only 1.7 miles. Had I known the true distance at the time I would have been less surprised when I caught sight of the car and wondered why it hadn't taken me longer! I knew I wasn't running fast so I already had a sneaky suspicion the distance was less then imagined. I spread my towel on the car seat, plopped my sweaty self onto the comfy car seat, and zipped up the road to collect Bib.

Bib didn't have his headlamp on and it's disturbing to learn how close you can get to a pedestrian before he finally becomes visible. There was no good place to stop so I overshot my target, slowed to a stop along the shoulder, and enabled the hazard lights. I looked back and Bib was already running towards the car along with Friday night's traffic making a broad detour around me. Moments later he hopped in and we sped off in search of a roadside pull-out. We stopped at the first one and, with that, the sketchiest portion of the hike was over. We stepped out, changed into clean clothes and sped off in search of dinner.

Sadly it was now too late for a sit-down meal (restaurants close early in Keene Valley) so it was off to Stewart's for chocolate milk. We also made use of their pay-phone to call our wives since our Canadian cellphones work exclusively with AT&T and there's no coverage in Keene Valley!

It was a great route with a wonderful hiking partner and I look forward to accompanying him in the future in his quest to become an Adirondack 46er.


See all photos.


Start 8:15 AM
Top of Great Slide 11:40 AM
Grace 11:49 AM
Macomb 1:08 PM
Carson 1:50 PM
Hough 2:37 PM
Leave Hough/Dix col 3:35 PM
Dix 4:30 PM
Leave Dix 5:08 PM
Hunter's Pass Junction 5:26 PM
Slide 5:58 PM
Lean-to 6:41 PM
Noonmark Junction 7:30 PM
Trail-head 8:24 PM
Car 8:55 PM

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Aye, Eye, Tooth, and Pass! 2013-07-07

Algonquin, Iroquois, Shepherd's Tooth, and Cold Brook Pass.

Sunday, I joined other members of MOAC (Montreal Outdoors Adventure Club; a Meetup group) for a hike to Algonquin and Iroquois. The trip was well run by its genial organizer, Géraldine. The group was composed of eleven hikers and it was a pleasure to make their acquaintance. My thanks go to: Géraldine, Werner, Kat, Gilbert, Fritz, Renaud, Donny, Robert, Richard, and Marianne. 

For a Sunday morning, the border-crossing was surprisingly busy and we lost a half-hour waiting in the queue. Thereafter things moved along smoothly. The car-trip gave us (Werner, Kat, Gilbert, and I) plenty of time to break the ice. At the Loj, Géraldine gathered the group and explained the ground rules to ensure everyone's safety and comfort. We departed at around 9:30 AM.

Géraldine instructs the group.
Despite the recent rainy weather, the trail was in remarkably good condition. The two-plus hours to the summit gave ample opportunity to chat with others and learn more about them. We paused at trail-intersections, and MacIntyre Falls, to re-group and to ensure no one was struggling. The steep stretch of rock-slab, beyond the Wright junction, took its toll and the group spread out with everyone proceeding at their own comfortable pace. 

Atop Algonquin, we paused for lunch and I chatted with the summit steward, Kevin, who I had seen a few weeks earlier en route to Colden. Despite a 60% chance of showers and thunderstorms, including the possibility of heavy rain, the cloudy skies held back and we had fairly good views of the surrounding mountains. There was also a surprising, and very welcome, lack of bugs! 

Enjoying lunch atop Algonquin.
Richard (a MOAC co-organizer), Marianne, and Gilbert decided that Algonquin's views were sufficient and chose to descend the way they came. The balance of the group continued to Iroquois. At the herd-path junction, Werner, who had already announced his intentions, chose to skip Iroquois and descended directly to Lake Colden (the group would return along the same route and could 'sweep the trail' behind him).  The weather was still good so we continued to Iroquois. 

Off to Iroquois.
The new bog-bridges were a welcome addition and allowed us to make good time through the muddiest sections. Up and over Boundary, it wasn't long before we were scrambling up the northern slope of Iroquois. Atop its summit, capped with an impressive cairn, we saw a wall of rain-showers moving from Wallface to Marshall. The wind increased and we felt a few sprinkles. Unlike Algonquin, there'd be no lingering and Géraldine informed the group that it'd be best to begin their return immediately.

It was at this point that I asked Géraldine if I could continue on alone and catch up with the group somewhere along the planned return-route. I explained I would no longer be her responsibility but let her know that if she was uncomfortable with my request that I would happily continue with the group. She paused, considered it, then agreed saying her decision was based upon my experience. Her valid concern was that I would emerge behind the group and so there'd be no way of knowing my condition until, worst case, they were at the Loj.

With the weather deteriorating, the group did not dawdle on the summit and, after saying our good-byes, left Iroquois to return via the trail to Lake Colden. I donned pants and my hardshell in preparation for a windy and rainy descent to Shepherd's Tooth and Cold Brook Pass. Before departing the summit, a young couple arrived and I was intrigued by a sound I had not heard in years. The young man had a film camera and was manually advancing the film to the next frame. He explained they could still be acquired on eBay and knew where to process the film. The young woman had a DSLR in her pack but said the small film camera was, at times, more convenient. I used their DSLR to immortalize their moment on Iroquois then began my descent to the "Tooth".

As soon as I left the summit, I was sheltered from the wind. The herd-path was easy to follow (although it could be tricky if obscured by fog) and it quickly led me to the treeline where I had to pay more attention. Unlike the well-defined herd-paths found on the so-called "trail-less peaks", the path to "Shepherd's Tooth" requires you to look beneath the branches to follow its course. I had visited Shepherd's Tooth on a previous hike so I did not expect any surprises. Maybe a little over-confidence is what led me 'off-route' and I soon found myself pushing through thick trees. I kept the Tooth in view and, within a few yards, found the herd-path again. After a tiny bit of scrambling, I was on the Tooth's rocky summit and admiring its views.

Southern face of Iroquois from Shepherd's Tooth.
The rainshowers never amounted to much so I replaced my hardshell with a long-sleeved shirt. After donning gloves, and taking one last look around, I descended into the tiny col, between Shepherd's Tooth and Iroquois, and headed a few yards west where I easily found the herd-path leading into the western drainage. Once in the drainage, it was only a matter of keeping one's eyes glued to the ground to see evidence of previous foot-traffic.

Herd-path? Keep your eyes on the ground!
Based on information from Neil, I knew the drainage would end at a cliff and I'd need to traverse eastwards, several yards, to a "ramp". The mental image I had of this area was unlike what I discovered. Nearing the cliff, the herd-path descends steeply; I had the sense I was getting close to the end of the drainage. I emerged at the top of the cliff, carefully peered through the trees, and saw the flowing water disappear over the edge. Cold Brook Pass was tantalizingly close, about 40 feet below me.

Definitely not the way down!
I moved eastward and followed a gnarly route in search of a beautiful slope of smooth rock bordered by steep walls. Well, that's what I imagined it would look like but the reality was more of a "dirty gully" or "messy cleft in the cliff". Although I knew the ramp was "no more than 50 yards to the east", anticipation made it feel longer and at one point it seemed like the path began to rise slightly. Maybe it led upwards to join the ramp but I refused to gain even a yard of elevation and chose to continue directly eastward. Besides, I could see something through the trees that suggested a break in the cliff. It wasn't the magical ramp of my imagination but a real-world cleft in the cliff with trees and an easily negotiable slope. Within moments I was at the base of the cliff and within minutes I was standing on the Cold Brook Pass trail (thirty-five minutes from Shepherd's Tooth). I had finally experienced a section of the Adirondacks I had dreamt of for years and I was quite pleased with I had found.

Post-bushwhack smile.
The Cold Brook Pass trail was an interesting mix of rock-hopping through standing water, bog-bridges, garden-path, and a tiny bit of blowdown. It was in much better shape than what I had anticipated. The stretches of mud I encountered were easily avoided. During the descent I found a navy-blue jacket that, from its clean appearance, must have been lost earlier in the day. I stashed it and, upon my return to the Loj, turned it in at the HPIC.
Trail through Cold Brook Pass.
The descent from the top of Cold Brook Pass to the Lake Colden trail took about fifty minutes. It included a brief pause at the final brook crossing where I stopped for water and to remove my sweat-soaked pants and shirt. What a relief it was to be back in a T-shirt and shorts! While walking towards the Caretaker's cabin it dawned on me that it might have been useful if Géraldine and I arranged to leave a signal at the trail-junction. Whoever arrived at the junction first would leave a signal, perhaps a triangle of three stones, to let the other party know they were already on their way back to the Loj. I thought I would eventually catch up to them but had failed to consider the possibility that I might get ahead of them.

I decided to take a short side-trip past the Caretaker's cabin to get a view of Lake Colden. The heavy clouds didn't make for interesting photography of the lake but the flowers, notably Indian Paintbush, were in full bloom. I returned to the main trail, continued northwards, and thanks to an amazing stroke of luck, arrived mere seconds after Géraldine and the others emerged at the junction! Reunited, we continued to Avalanche Lake.

Indian Paintbrush in bloom near the Caretaker's cabin.
A few showers began at the lake and raindrops danced on its mirror-smooth surface. The group was in good spirits and the cooling shower was welcome. We paused at 'Hitchup Matilda' for a group photo and then proceeded along the obstacle course that forms the western side of Avalanche Lake.

Donny and Renaud approaching 'Hitchup Matilda'.
Within Avalanche pass, Donny pointed out an impressively large mushroom and I've yet to identify its type. My best guess is that it's some kind of Amanita.

Fascinating fungus.
At Marcy Dam, the group proceeded to the bridge-crossing whereas I descended to the base of the dam. I hoped to get a good photo of the group passing along the opposite shore but the tree-cover was too dense. Seeing an opportunity to cool my feet, I waded through Marcy Brook and rejoined the group on the opposite side. Nearing the parking area, we were refreshed by a "sun-shower". The combination of sunshine and cooling raindrops was a perfect end to the hike. The 'cherry on top' was a pit-stop at the Stewart's in Ausable Forks where we indulged our appetites. Ice cream was the winning pick!

Géraldine and Renaud enjoying a sun-shower.
It was an enjoyable day with kindred spirits and I hope we get the opportunity to share another day together in the Adirondacks.


See all photos.