Saturday, September 19, 2015

Dix Range Loop 2015-09-19

On Saturday I joined three other hikers, Gabriel, Luis, and Sébastien, for a tour of the Dix Range. The trip was organized by Gabriel and, given that he had already hiked Dix, his goal was to hike four of the five peaks of the Dix Range. On the summit of Hough, Luis and Sébastien desired to continue and I joined them for their first ascent of Dix.

Our day began at 5:00 AM in front of Gabriel's home. We piled into his car and headed south. Somewhere past Westport, our host became sleepy so I volunteered to drive. We arrived at Clear Pond shortly after 7:30 PM and noticed cars parked in the lot. I knew this did not bode well for securing a spot at Elk Lake.  A sign confirmed my suspicion; the main lot was full. I chose to drive to the trail-head anyway on the chance a spot had opened up.

As advertised, the Elk Lake parking lot was indeed full. Two cars were parked on the shoulder and risked being ticketed (a sign makes that outcome abundantly clear). I offered to drop off everyone, return to Clear Pond to park the car, and then walk back to rejoin them at Elk Lake. My offer was unanimously accepted. I watched everyone quickly prepare for the hike especially Luis who inhaled his pasta-breakfast with inhuman speed! I left my pack with Gabriel and drove back to Clear Pond.

My 1.8 mile jog/walk back to Elk Lake was made all the more enjoyable by the cool, sunny morning plus being unencumbered by a pack. It took me 20 minutes to rejoin my awaiting hiking partners. We left the trail-head at 8:30 AM and headed north to Slide Brook lean-to.

Along the way I met the first of several people who recognized me. "Are you Taras?" and "Aren't you Trail Boss?" made Luis ask why strangers seemed to know me. I explained my participation in the forum and, to a lesser extent, a personal hiking blog, had everything to with it. To all the folks I met on the trail, it was a pleasure to meet you and I hope you had a great hike in the Dix Range.

We passed the cairn marking the start of the unmarked trail to Macomb and headed directly to the nearby lean-to. The last time I had hiked the Dix Range from Elk Lake was in 2011. Since then, the lean-to has been relocated from a clearing, directly on the trail, to a few yards off-trail and in the woods. However, this was not the first thing I noticed. What stood out above all was the concentration of tents in the vicinity of the lean-to.

The place looked like a backcountry slum. I don't understand the attraction of walking two miles into the woods to camp two yards from the trail and two feet from your neighbors. The majority of tents were within spitting distance of the trail. Perhaps I didn't see the designated campsite markers but the majority of tents appeared to be in violation of the 150-foot rule. The owner of the tent parked directly in front of the lean-to must have thought it was the 150-inch rule.

Whereas the woods were full of tents, the lean-to was empty. We paused there for a moment and then made a beeline to Macomb's trail. My companions were young and fit so we made good time ascending the dry, smooth path. We emerged at the base of the slide at 9:45 AM.

Luis and Sébastien ascend Macomb's slide.
The slide was it's usual self, a mish-mash of sand and loose rubble down low and some clean solid rock up high. There's no shortage of cairns marking what is an extremely obvious route. We split up and took whatever path piqued our interest. I chose the cleaner rock found on climber's left whereas my companions hugged the slide's right edge. We met at the erratic perched at the top of the slide where I volunteered to take photos of a young couple.

We made short work of the remaining section of trail and arrived on Macomb's summit at 10:30 AM. It was a popular destination on Saturday. It was my eighth time on Macomb and I'd never seen it so busy. The views were good albeit a bit hazy.

I apologize for forgetting her name but a delightful woman offered homemade honey cake and I was first in line. Thank you again, it was delicious! I overheard someone say Macomb's ascent was the steepest of all 46 peaks. I explained Dix from Round Pond held that honor but they pointed to pack with a 46er patch and claimed its owner would disagree. I never got to meet the pack's owner but I invite her/him to inspect this comparative study compiled by ADK 46er Trail Master, Joe Bogardus. It lists the steepest ascents to a summit over a minimum one-mile distance (there may be steeper but shorter sections to be found). Macomb is no slouch and comes in at fifth overall.
Gabriel chose to descend first, knowing we'd catch up to him. I continued to chat with other hikers while my two companions took their fill of views and photos. We spent no more than ten minutes on the summit and then proceeded to rejoin Gabriel. Luis and I proceeded at a spirited pace, passed Gabriel, and didn't stop until we reached the col. I indicated we should wait for the other half of our team to arrive because we were at a junction (southern arm of the Lillian Brook trail).

Ascending South Dix.
I looked forward to ascending the open rock of South Dix's western face. I much prefer it to the viewless "green tunnel" between South Dix and Grace. I paused to chat with an ex-Marine while my partners continued to the summit. The fellow said his training was tough but there's something about hiking that can take the wind out of your sails.

I rejoined the gang waiting for me on South Dix and we proceeded to Grace. Luis set the pace and his feet left a trail of fire! It was a challenge to keep up with him. We paused at the junction (trail to Boquet valley) to await our companions and ensure they did not make a wrong turn.

We had Grace's summit to ourselves for a few minutes before being joined by the VP of the ADK 46ers, her husband, and their 14 month-old daughter. The little one has been to over 30 peaks but, as her mom conceded, none of them count. Nevertheless, she was well on her way to "46er-by-proxy" status (riding in a child-carrier on her father's back).

Aspiring 46er!
The hikers we had passed earlier started to arrive and the summit developed a party atmosphere. Seeking a quieter, and more scenic, spot for our lunch, we continued past the summit to the top of the Great Slide. There we found a quiet spot to snack and enjoy the spectacular view of Hough and Dix. We spent 45 minutes lounging in the sun and then packed up to return to South Dix.

Hough and Dix from the top of the Great Slide.
I set a steady pace with Luis and we cleared the green tunnel in 30 minutes. We waited at the junction for our team mates to catch up. I pointed to a ledge on Hough and explained it offered excellent views and we would be there before long. Luis and Sébastien took the lead, eager to set a faster pace.

We quickly traversed Pough and then paused at the base of Hough to allow everyone to catch up. Sébastien took the lead with Luis at his heels and maintained a brisk pace up Hough. I caught up with them at the ledge where Sébastien had taken the bypass route (left past the ledge) and Luis and Gabriel scaled the rock. Other hikers paused here as well to look back at the route they had taken from Macomb and Grace.

Wind-pruned tree.
Forty-five minutes after departing South Dix, we stood on the summit of Hough. The brisk wind was very welcome if not a little bracing. After a few photos, we moved out of the wind and discussed our next step. The two aspiring 46ers looked longingly at the Beckhorn. Gabriel declared, as per his original plan, Hough was his final peak of the day. He had been to Dix on a previous trip and felt today's hike was sufficient exercise for him. I explained the next leg to Dix would take add at least two hours to our trip; one hour to Dix plus another hour to descend the Beckhorn trail. Gabriel still needed to return to Clear Pond to retrieve his car so, time-wise, it could balance out nicely.

After considering our options, Gabriel encouraged Sébastien and Luis to continue to Dix and I agreed to join them. We wished Gabriel well and assured him we would do our best to avoid having him wait too long. I took the lead down to the col where Sébastien took over and charged up the slope.

Passing a lookout along the route to Dix.
I had explained that this route to Dix was my favorite. It follows a narrow shoulder to the Beckhorn and features at least three lookouts offering views of one's progress along the ridge. Sébastien's pace didn't leave much time for sightseeing. Luis and I fell back slightly and didn't see him until the base of the trough where he was scouting a bypass route. I pointed to the trough and said it was the usual way up. We scrambled up and, a few moments later, emerged on the windy summit of the Beckhorn.

After briefly pointing out our eventual descent route, down the Beckhorn trail, we pressed on to Dix. Fifty minutes after leaving Hough's summit, we stood astride Dix's summit bolt. I congratulated them for their accomplishment. We had the summit to ourselves and settled in for a fifteen minute break. Dark clouds had rolled in and reminded me of the chance of late-afternoon showers. A wet Beckhorn trail would slow us down so we didn't overstay our welcome.

The A-Team strikes a pose.
We returned to the Beckhorn and began the steep descent along its open rock. We paused at the ledge because it's such a cool feature! The last time I had been on the Beckhorn trail was over 30 years ago so I didn't remember much about it aside from it being steep.

Beckhorn's ledge.
I took the lead scrambling down the trail. I think the north side of Seward is a good deal rougher than the Beckhorn. Nevertheless, there's plenty to keep one's hands and feet busy during the initial descent. Eventually it moderates and becomes a seemingly endlessly loss of elevation (2750 feet).

The dull pain in my knees was occasionally punctuated by a sharper sting along the outside of the right one. I paused twice to massage the area and shake my leg to work it out. I checked my watch and knew I shouldn't expect to see the junction until one hour had passed. I had lost sight of my companions who were somewhere behind me. Undoubtedly they too were coping with grumbling legs.

Steep section of the Beckhorn trail.

Fifty-five minutes after departing the Beckhorn, the junction appeared. A few minutes later Luis arrived and then Sébastien. Everyone agreed the descent had taken a toll on their legs. However, we succeeded in covering it in an hour and could now look forward to four comparatively easy miles. Although not without a bit more elevation gain of course!

Somewhere past Dix Pond, Luis reported he had run out of water. I assured him we weren't far from Lillian Brook where we'd take a short break. I pressed ahead, arrived at the brook first and setup my water filter just in time for Luis's arrival. After we topped up our supplies, I took a few minutes to soak my feet in the cold brook and put on dry socks. Sorry Coca-Cola but this was the real "pause that refreshes"! We consumed whatever snacks we had left and then hurried south to the trail-head. We closed the loop at Slide Brook and now had only two miles of easy trail to cover.

We arrived at Elk Lake at 6:00 PM and met Gabriel resting in his car. He said he had only waited 25 minutes so we felt good that our peak-bagging excursion had not been an excessive inconvenience. After cleaning up, we stuffed the trunk with our gear, which seemed to have expanded since the morning, and then talked all the way back to Montreal. We all had a fantastic day in the mountains and look forward to our next trip.


See all photos.


08:30 AM Elk Lake
10:30 AM Macomb
10:40 AM Macomb - Depart
11:15 AM South Dix
11:46 AM Grace
12:30 AM Grace - Depart
01:00 PM South Dix
01:46 PM Hough
01:55 PM Hough - Depart
02:45 PM Dix
03:00 PM Dix - Depart
03:55 PM Beckhorn Trail Junction
04:15 PM Lillian Brook
04:30 PM Lillian Brook - Depart
06:00 PM Elk Lake

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