Friday, November 13, 2015

The Hammond B3 and the West Kill 10/22/15

It's easy to go longer periods of time without finding a "wow" show now that I'm over 300 shows deep into my Grateful Dead internship. I've been following a few veins though lately and yielding really good results. A thread about great versions of Feel Like a Stranger on phantasy phish (here's the link) had me wading around with delight in the 80's, checking out SPAC 6/27/85 for the first time as well as 3/9/81 MSG and 10/29/85 at the Fox in Atlanta. Lots of hotness in these shows, especially 3/9/81. I'll get back to that show a little bit more as we meander towards the Hammond B3.

Another era I was checking out was 1979. Since I had recently seen mention of a fire version of 'Jack Straw' at Brent's first show (4/22/79 Spartan Stadium, San Jose) in David Dodd's always interesting Greatest Stories Ever Told blog on (the story of Jack Straw), I wanted to check out this historic show and some others after it in 1979. I wanted to get a feel for Brent's early days with the band. What his first instincts were and how the band would react to this new energy and voice in the music. The Jack Straw WAS fire. There was a nice Stagger Lee in the first set as well. There was a great raw and primal energy of new connections being formed. The Scarlet>fire was very solid in all its hay day glory and the Set 2b segment twisted and turned nicely. The kid could jam. All wrapped up with an exploratory Shakedown encore. Pretty good start buddy!

An iconic shot of Brent Mydland in 1979 taken by Jay Blakesburg
The next show I listened to on this trail proved to be the gold we pour our hearts into sifting for. That "wow" show.  The Grateful Dead Played at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Saint Louis, MO on 12/10/79 . I started the show on the way to hike with my homegirl Randy and Koda on the north end of Thacher Park on 10/17/15. As I got out of the car Albany's first snow started to fall. I shuffled through the 5-7 shows on my phone at noticed 12/10/79 started with a Cold Rain and Snow. Perfect! Peggy-O sound good as always and an uptempo version of Merl Haggard's Mama Tried had us singing along. By Dancing in the Streets>Franklin's Tower I was all set to declare "best show ever" as live music fans are known to do at least 20-30 times a year. The sequence really was awesome with virtuoso soloing by Brent Mydland on the Hammond B3 Organ . I LOVE the sound of this organ and in the hands of Brent, beautiful things happened. He played the organ on almost every single track of this show and held out long, warm and full sustained chords as well as ripping solo lines. Scarlet'>Fire,  Let it Grow, He's Gone and Wharf Rat All got the treatment to dramatic effect.

We had an awesome hike soaking in the local color. My studies continued driving to work in Lexington, NY the next week. Still hot to soak in more of that Hammond B3 sound that had made 12/10/79 so amazing, I chose the next closest date loaded up which was MSG 3/9/81 I mentioned at the beginning. Well an interesting thing happened. Brent certainly played the Hammond but lots of electric piano as well as several of the other keyboards and voices in his arsenal. Stranger of course has that classic 80's analog synth sound that makes this song so accessible for Disco Biscuits and Phish fans. Althea was welcome as usual and CC Rider was accepted begrudgingly. I used to skip rider and little red rooster until I fell a bit deeper down the Brent hole. Now I take it as an opportunity to hear him rip up that B3 again. Bobby is forgiven for all his Bobby-ness on the tracks.China Cat Sunflower was especially interesting with a unique electro intro. I've never heard it played this way before. So in chasing down one particular sound or era, I stumbled onto a different one. More gold.

On the scenic drive along Greene County Routes 20, 10 and 21 I was inspired to check out some hiking near to where I've been working in Lexington.  a quick cruise through and showed me I was 15 minutes from a trail head which could take me up West Kill Mountain. I took stock of what I had in the car and found my set up less than ideal but do-able. I had light hiking sneakers and enough food and water but I was wearing cotton work clothes, didn't have a map or headlamp. I figured with a good charge on my phone I could take screen shots of the maps and use the flashlight feature in case darkness crept in. I was apprehensive about heading out so unprepared but knew that countless folks go into these woods with that level of equipment and way less experience every single day and don't die. If I protected myself with extra caution, I could mitigate some of the risk. You just spend so much time building up your equipment and learning from unprepared days in the woods, it's hard to go out like a noob. Relying on a smart phone rather than a map and compass was an especially hard move for me to make. I felt a bit naked.

The drive out of Lexington to the Spruceton road trail heads was as lovely as the stretches of road I've been using to approach Prattsville and Lexington from Albany. Before long I was crossing and re-crossing the West Kill on smaller and smaller bridges. I got out of the car and did a quick time check, calculating 3 and a half hours until the iPhone weather app said sunset would be. I knew the first stretch of trail was on a former road so if I could get back to that point before dark, I'd be in the clear. The old road was quite lovely, decked out in warm yellow autumn foliage with the scenic West Kill babbling to the right. I decided I'd push my pace as hard as I could for the way up in order to hit my mark for turn around. 

I made good time up the road and was still able to enjoy my surroundings. It felt odd wearing light hikers as I'm much more used to a rigid, sturdy boot. It was nice to be lighter but I still prefer a more supportive situation. Diamond Notch falls was very pretty and worth visiting all on it's own. I didn't stay too long, planning to spend more time on the return. Once you cross the stream and start up the peak, the pitch greets you pretty early. The trail though was so so so nice. After my last big hike in the heavily eroded and seriously wet Santanoni Range, this dry, lightly traveled trail felt like a gift. I chugged away as the pitch got more serious, keeping my breath catch breaks under a minute and infrequent. 

About half the leaves were down so I got nice partial views to fuel the climb as I got closer to the ridge. The scrambles to gain the ridge were fun and I was soon sniffing the heady aroma of summit pine. Some fun up and overs later I found myself panting at the overlook. The view was surprisingly complex, thanks in part to the light and weather. The afternoon/ evening glow lit up the autumn trees while the cloud cover brought the light conditions to dusk-like and foreboding. I stopped and marveled but saved the extended visit for after visiting the true summit. I saw on sign on the Catskill hiking websites but didn't find one on the high point. After some poking around, I did find an old gnarled tree with about 78 nails sticking out of it I assume once held the sign. I headed back to the overlooks making sure to check out the north view as well. I sat for a long time on the south facing ledge looking out into the deep valley and snacking contentedly. 

I was able to hit my daylight turn around time so enjoyed the pleasure of not rushing out of the woods. I was really impressed with the quality and beauty of the trail both coming and going. At a light, knee-saving trot I made my way down until I heard the brook babbling. I still had over an hour until it got dark so I decided to spend some time at Diamond Notch Falls. It was a very peaceful and scenic place to zone out to the babble of the West Kill's upper reaches. It was a very pretty stream to follow, first by car and then by foot. I've been working on two separate projects on the banks of the Schoharie Creek so it was nice to spend some time with one of it's tributaries. The walk out along the old road may well have been the most beautiful part of the hike for me. The late fall colors of the leaves, along with the sunset slowly creeping my way made for a very warm visual, almost nostalgic feel. As if I had wandered this road in a past life or something.

Far too quickly I saw the glint of metal of my car in the parking lot. I drove into the darkness finishing out the second set of 3/9/81 with an absolutely gorgeous the Other One>Stella Blue>Good lovin'. The Stella blue was especially stunning. Stella blue peaks with a big major chord bridge toward the end with some of my favorite Garcia/ Hunter lyircs belted out with gusto by Jerry:

I've stayed in every blue-light cheap hotel,
Can't win for tryin'.
Dust off those rusty strings just one more time,
Gonna Make 'em shine.

To me, the song is about a long hard life lived that wears you down, yet the music, the beauty of life brings you back. This is one of these haunting images you can tell is so much about the soul of Jerry Garcia. A really biographical/ auto-biographical line. Despite the pain of addiction and weight of celebrity, on any given night the light would shine through his voice and his guitar and set the band, crowd and room on fire. It's easy to fit this metaphor over a hike or a pursuit of hiking. You're tired but if you dig deep, you can find that fire too. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Climbing the Grace Peak Ridge 9/12/15

Our life is changing so dramatically! We've been working to get our house set up for the little one and have been busy with a bunch of weddings. When a free Saturday for Koda and I reared it's delightful head I jumped at the chance to visit with the mountains. I decided to check off another dangler from the long term bucket list (Marshall from Cold Brook Pass also got checked off the long term list this year) and try climbing Grace Peak over Elizabethtown #4 and Spotted Mountains. When I first got into hiking the 46 I read several trip reports about this hike and along with the description in Barbara McMartin's excellent high peaks guide,  knew I'd have to go for it one day.

What originally looked like a great weather day got less promising with afternoon rain and possible showers in the morning predicted. I try not to get too discouraged with iffy forecasts knowing how many times we've tossed the dice and won by going even when things didn't look perfect. The thought of pushing through wet brush for hours didn't sound too exciting so I did entertain thoughts of back up hikes. At 4:00 AM though, I found myself leaving my original itinerary in a note on the kitchen table. Koda got a quick walk around the block and loaded into the back of the Element. He'd been all atwitter since I packed my bag the night before. With us so busy he hasn't gotten out as much on big days and while he's a really good boy, he starts bursting at the seams with energy after a month or so without a serious outing. I was glad to oblige.

As we drove into the Adirondacks on the Northway thick ground fog had me doubting my choices. Was I going to be struggling all day only to have my head in the fog? Should I pick another hike that wasn't as dependent on far reaching views for nice times? I knew it was very important I stick to my plan for safety and still had hope in my heart that it would be a good day. As the sun rose somewhere between Schroon Lake and North Hudson, intermittent patches of blue sky gave way to a full on jaw dropper of a sun rise. The gamble had paid off again. The fog lifted and the day promised greatness.

I pulled off at the unmarked trail head where the South Fork of the Boquet River crosses under Rte 73 and got my gear together while Koda excitedly slammed around in the trunk. I noticed a good amount of garbage and made an internal note to pick it up when I returned. We took the easy to miss trail out of the southwest corner of the parking area and found ourselves enjoying an unseasonably warm Adirondack morning on a narrow, faint herd path. After Koda got himself together enough to settle down, I let him off leash for a few quick jaunts while we were away from the river. It's always such a pleasure to watch him run free, full tilt down a trail. Once we were within range of the river, back on the leash he went. He can't contain himself around moving water and will sometimes not respond to recall. Not Ok. A reward was coming though... I was gonna let him swim once we got to the river crossing.

I let him off much to his delight and got out my map to take a bearing and trace my route: I'd cross the river and immediately cross it again where it makes a big 90 degree turn. Everything looked good and I thought I had taken a bearing that would take me up E-town #4, this first mountain on the ridge. We made the cross, crossed again, and crossed one more time. I knew the river had a few braids and meanders there so didn't give it too much thought. We began the climb through decently open woods and settled into a rhythm. Once out of river range, Koda was off leash and choosing his own way through the forest, sometimes with a stick in his mouth. After about 30 minutes of huffing and puffing I began to see breaks in the trees and blue skies. We were getting close to the top! Damn am I making good time!

Partial views gave way to full gorgeous views of Noonmark, Round, Giant, Rocky.....and E-town #4. I had taken a bearing (no idea how I messed this up) which took me way to the southwest rather than the more or less due west trajectory I should've been on to reach the Grace Peak Ridge. I had ended up on Peak #2 of Glenn's Gem's. Luckily I had climbed them last year and so had a good idea of where I was. That didn't make it any less frustrating our discouraging though. I was pissed off at myself for the mistake and my confidence in my off trail navigation ability was shaken pretty deeply. I considered alternate plans but in the end decided to simply hike slightly west of north and make a bee line for E-town #4. I hadn't lost more than a half an hour and if worse came to worse I could leave off Grace if time was running low (I set a noon turn around time).

A lovely view. From the wrong mountain
We picked our way down to the Boquet River tributary. At first Koda tried leading me towards the third Gem. I'm at a loss to understand how his memory works. He'd climbed that one next the last time we were out there so that's what he was going to do again until I convinced him otherwise. It was pretty thick on the other side of the brook and we gained a bunch of elevation quickly. Before long we found ourselves at the bottom of a sizable cliff. We continued upwards and looked for weaknesses. Koda found a route up and I hesitantly followed. It only looked ok and I didn't want to get stuck in a position where we'd have to down climb. We found a dead end or two but Koda kept finding a good way up. I was nervous with some occasional exposure but we kept zig zagging upwards. The last step onto the slab was a big step up which Koda required a boost for. It was much harder for me but man was I grateful to be on moderately pitched and safe rock. I took a break to gather myself and gaze back at the peak we had come from.  I gave Koda water and took some big sips myself. We had been going hard.

We had come from the middle peak

Tongue out all day. Koda helped me find my way up and I was grateful for him

After the fact I determined we were south of the main overlook from E-town #4 but had good views nonetheless as we continued up the ridge. From this point on the hike had a very specific rhythm: push through woods for a while then come out on some stunning rocky promontory. I especially loved the view up the valley to the Beckhorn Slide on Dix. A unique perspective of this feature for me.

The good life

Looking back towards E-town #4

The Beckhorn Slide

Another trend developed for this hike: each time I reached one of these glorious open rocky areas, I whimpered internally at the thought of heading back into the woods to climb again. It got harder each time. I didn't feel like a tough guy or epic hiker at all. I felt schooled. It was a hike I was learning on. Becoming a better hiker and understanding my limits and abilities as well. The climb up Spotted was hard but not as hard as it looked from E-town #4 which was nice. We started picking up scraps of herd path and even saw some recently disturbed moss and soil. Someone had been up there in the past few weeks. Thirsty Koda found occasional summit puddles to supplement the water I packed for him.

Further and further from the Gems

Closer and closer to the Beckhorn Slide

Always making it happen

The sub peak of Spotted had terrific views and was worth the work. We popped back into the woods for a quick jaunt before stumbling out onto a startlingly amazing view. This was the spot that made everything worth it. All the hard work, the frustration, the energy. I found a new favorite place in the Adirondacks. It was the top of Spotted Mountain. I took a long rest here and ate my lunch.


The Dix Range on display.

Epic. As usual

Nice view of the ridgeline from Hough to Dix
I try and do a little sidebar on music in each of my trip reports. Rather than talk about what I listened to on the way up (any guesses? ;)) I'll feature what was playing in my head on the hike.

The first: "Highwire" by The Disco Biscuits: driving, up beat, happy.

I had this dream since I was five,
On a highwire,
Where I stood to touch the sky.

The second: "New Speedway Boogie" by the Grateful Dead. A marching song. More overtones of darkness. But you're still fighting.

One way or another, this darkness got to give.

The third: "Hurt" by Nine Inch Nails and covered famously and devastatingly by Johny Cash shortly before his death. Yes I was struggling.

I hurt myself today,
To see if I still feel.
I focus on the pain,
The only thing that's real.

I found a water bottle coming off Spotted which was about half full. Without really thinking about it I drank half and gave the other to Koda. I had sweated out a ton of water and so had he. into the pack it went. It'll be fun if I can return it to the owner and discuss their experience with this hike. It looked from Spotted like I could follow the rock quite a ways towards the final push up Grace. It was much spottier than it looked from afar though and we had to keep diving back into the increasingly deep and thick forest. "I will make you hurt". It was truly daunting to keep moving forward and it gave me so much more respect for those who spend long days off trail. It's a labor of love.

Happy buddy.

Looking back towards Spotted on the way up Grace


The hiking gods threw us a much-needed bone: we were able to follow intermitent herd path all the way up Grace Peak. While still thick it was a welcome break to have at least something to follow. We eventually got there but each plunge back into the forest after the reprieve of open rock took more out of me. To have reached the top of the Great Slide will go down in history for me as one of my happiest moments in the mountains. I could now rest. We were well ahead of the 12 turn around time. I took another long rest here, not intending to linger too long on the true summit. I was a little short on food but gave Koda a hunk of my last Cliff bar anyway. He's my bro.

From the Dix Mountain Wilderness across to the Giant Mountain Wilderness.

Ever onward with the occasional look back

A quick look down the Great Slide

I put Koda on leash as we approached the true summit though it turned out no one was there. I laid down for a minute, staying a bit longer than I had planned. I absorbed silence and got Koda to be still with me for a few minutes which is always a feat. We started hearing voices which was my cue to leave and let the next group enjoy the summit to themselves. I met about 30 people on the stretch of herd path from the summit of Grace to the intersection where I broke off and made my way into the Boquet River valley. It was jarring after such serious alone time. I met some really nice guys at the intersection and chatted for a while. They told me the Elk Lake trail head was full at a quarter to 5 and they had to walk from Clear Pond! Tough and frustrating but they had a good attitude about it.
I trotted with the pure pleasure of being able to move through the landscape unimpeded. I had a trail to follow! Now we were going to make some time! I was getting hungry and dreaming of the possibilities. I stopped for a quick picture on the slide but hurried down to the river so Koda could get a drink. We were both out of water.

And back up the Great Slide

Doesn't get much better than this.
Off the slide base and down, twisting into the river valley. Koda found water and I let him play free. Every once and a while I'd blow my whistle (a new technique to break his water fixation) and was very pleased he stopped barking at the water and came. A funny moment in the hike: after about 30 minutes of creek play I decided it was enough (his brain eventually glitches and he just barks and splashes mindlessly) and called him to go on leash. Every thing about his body language spoke of deep relief. He couldn't stop himself from fixating on water and was so relieved for me to take away the option. We reached the amazing swimming hole and I decided to take a quick dip. It was beyond refreshing and of course Koda got in on the action.

As I was leaving, I did a quick scan to see if I had all my stuff and noticed a plastic bag. I decided to go clean up the garbage and found much to my delight a bag of chocolate coins! Not gelt, silver wrappers and better chocolate. Before common sense kicked in I had eaten 3-4. I was pretty damn hungry. They were wonderful, bug and poison free. Between the water bottle on the ridge when I was thirsty and the chocolates when I was hungry, it felt a but like the Hunger Games when the contestants had gifts dropped down to them from their sponsors. I hope at least one other person gets this reference because no one did that I explained it to that night.

If there's a place I don't mind being while putting one foot in front of the other to get out of the woods, it's this trail. Just gorgeous and easy on the feet. We flew by all the known landmarks and after a couple more loops through the songs in my head and some replays of the hike, closed in on the road. When I planned the hike, I thought I'd either bushwhack back to the trail I came in on or do the road walk. I was done whacking for the day so opted for the road. Another 20 minutes and I was at the car picking up garbage and enjoying the pure pleasure of removing my hiking boots. We were in the woods from 6:30 until 3:00 on a hike I won't soon forget.

"One way or another"
We'd find a way  'to touch the sky"
But not before the mountains"will make you hurt".
At least a little.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Wright Peak Family Hike 7/11/15

Jeanette has been feeling a lot better since entering her second trimester and was missing the mountains sorely. It was time to head up to the peaks! I was super excited to have my favorite hiking partner back. As a change of pace for me, we listened to not the Grateful Dead on the way up hahaha. Jeanette and I's favorite band is without a doubt Cloud Cult. Their brand of indy rock infuses symphonic and electronic elements while lead singer and song writer Craig Minowa sings some of the most beautiful and spiritual lyrics I've ever heard with a starkly honest tenor. Craig's wife Connie and another artist paint while the band plays live and the paintings are auctioned off at the end of the show. The gorgeous art she creates while not on stage is for sale in her Etsy store. I gave Jeanette one of the pendants and she recently purchased Love Series #5: wolves. Their albums move us deeply, as do their live performances. I've been reduced to tears twice by the raw emotional power of their live show. So we listened to their Albums "Love" (from which we used 'Meet me where You're Going' for the first dance at our wedding) and "light Chasers" on the drive and pulled on to the Loj road inspired.

Jeanette is almost 6 months pregnant and is definitely starting to show. She (and when I'm lucky, I) get to feel our growing baby kicking and punching up a storm every day. We feel in awe of this life, this miracle. Jeanette is very fit and healthy so we knew that if we took it slow and steady, we could climb that mountain. We got on the trail at 7 in order to hike in the coolest part of the day and to miss some of the swarms of summer hikers heading up this popular trail.

I always forget how much I like this trail. You get a nice warm up on the 0.9 mile hike to the intersection with the Marcy Dam trail and then make your way over some rolling terrain before beginning your climb in earnest. It was decently cool for July and it took a while before we took our long sleeves off. Koda took many drinks from all the streams we passed early on. I had a liter just for him once we got out of the running water zone. We leap frogged with more and more groups as we got higher and clumped up with a bunch at the scramble with the weather warning sign. We met Wright Peaks summit steward for the day, Jen, on her way up. When we got to the intersection with the Algonquin trail, we discovered that all of the groups were heading that way. Our hopes rose at the prospect of a reasonably quiet summit. Jeanette was doing really well keeping her heart rate down and was climbing very strong.

Once on the spur trail up Wright Peak, we were in great spirits as views opened up behind us. Another view soon opened up: I split my pants. Super dramatically from the top of my fly to the base of the crotch of the pants. Jeanette took one look at the panic on my face and began hysterically laughing. Which lasted for quite some time. She offered me some medical tape to see if I could patch them at all and we were soon both laughing at the futility of that. She eventually came up with the bright idea of tying my long sleeve shirt around my wast with the trunk of the shirt across my lap. It sort of looked like a Kilt or as CoryD pointed out, a maitre D's apron. Oh boy. the long sleeve was the exact same color as the short sleeve so it kind of worked. Or at least I telly myself. Soon the views were too amazing to care as we climbed up the rocky summit, following the cairns and yellow paint.

On the way to the top we passed two guys coming down but other than the summit steward we had the top to ourselves!!! Jeanette and I were both elated but she was super super super elated. She'd been missing the mountains so bad since her pregnancy slowed her down and to be able to climb like this while carrying a life inside her was very special. It was quiet, still morning cool and sunny with some lovely wispy clouds. Jen the summit steward was super nice and very knowledgable. We talked about the pursuit of the 46 and she told me about some of the flowers. She also told us about the twice stabbed lady beetle which landed on Jeanette. Awesome name!!!! I explored a bit and Jeanette laid down. Though we knew this was a reasonably safe activity, she really wanted to feel the baby move for reassurance and after she rested for a few, got a few good kicks in. I got a bit obsessed with a little patch of rocked off summit vegetation that looked like a Japanese Garden and took a bunch of photos of the peaceful scene. Not wanted to sop up all the magic we got our lives together and made our way down the mountain.

On the way down we passed roughly 100 people in varying states of preparedness. Full backpacking set ups, Vans style sneakers with no back pack at all, big dogs, little dogs and another dog named Koda. It was a hilarious 3 ring circus. There were some Rangers at the trail register and I recognized Scott Van Laer's name on his ranger shirt and introduced myself. He's written a bunch of awesome articles (often about his pet project, Adirondack plane crashes) and is very helpful on the high peaks forum. It was really nice to meet him. We packed the dog into the car and drank some Gatorade we had saved which tasted like heaven. We stopped at Cedar Run Bakery in Keene for some yummy grab and go sandwiches for the ride home. Always a great stop! Jeanette and Koda both feel asleep by exit 29 and I enjoyed some peaceful music and reflected on a truly unforgettable day in the woods with my amazing wife, ridiculous dog and our soon to be baby!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A tour of the Dix Range: Macomb's 1947 Slide>Hunter's Pass 6/27/15

My buddy Ryan wanted to get a big hike before his wife Heather's due date July 31st. I've known Heather since college and worked with both of them at the museum. They're good friends who've shared their love of the wilderness, music, friendship, food and drink with us for many years. We also live in the same neighborhood so it's very exciting both couples are starting a family around the same time. Ryan expressed interest in the Dix Range and I jumped all over it. It's one of my favorite areas in the Adirondacks and provides many options for amazing hikes. Ryan was looking for a challenging day and so we ended up combining two hikes I had proposed: climbing the 1947 slide on Macomb and doing a loop of Hough and Dix via Hunter's Pass.

The 1947 slide leads directly to the base of the imposing subsummit

We left Albany at 5 and got started on the Grateful Dead's performance at Nassau Coliseum on 11/1/79 (listen here) as the soundtrack to one of the best sunrises I've had the pleasure of witnessing in quite some time. A pretty stellar show from a transitional period at the start of Brent Mydland's tenure with the band culminated in a gigantic and triumphant Scarlet Begonias>Fire on the Mountain as we pulled into the trail head. Nothing like hearing 'Fire' to get you stoked to climb a high peak! Not surprisingly for a summer Saturday, the lot was pretty full. We managed to grab a spot and after gearing up, Koda, Ryan and I were moving down the pine-scented trail inhaling deliciously refreshing crisp morning air. Chatting and walking teleported us to the Slide Brook bridge just before the base camp there. When I climbed the '47 slide with Suvrat and Brian (read about that trip here) we hiked along the herd path for 10-15 minutes before dropping down to Slide Brook. We missed the tributary that branches off due east and leads to the '47 slide on that trip. It was a quick fix to cross over the height of land into the right drainage after Brian checked his GPS. On this trip we'd be sticking to map and compass navigation so I decided not to chance it and had us stay on the south side of Slide Brook so we'd see the tributary we needed to take.


Brent Mydland front and center with his new bandmates

It seemed like there was faint traces of the original herd path (the route up this slide was the preferred ascent of Macomb for many years) but soon lost any traces in dense growth and blow down. The going was pretty rough. Several times we crossed over to the north side of the brook to get the lay of the land only to pop out onto the standard herd path. It was tempting to make faster and easier time taking it but we headed back into the thickness. After some sweat, scratches and stumbles we reached the drainage we were looking for. Another tributary branches off on a more southeast course than the due east course we were following. With the compass out for confirmation, we committed to our branch. Before long the creek looked more and more familiar. We were on the right track. It was a bit easier going on the banks here and we often rock hopped in the creek which was easier still. Through the years Koda's love for water in all it's forms has grown to a bit of an obsession. He loves to splash in moving water and bite waterfalls, all while scream-barking. He's fine swimming in lakes but loses his mind near streams. He has to be on leash around them now. His fixation overrules his recall and he doesn't come when I call him. Not ok. Sometimes an outside perspective can help in a big way with a problem. Ryan suggested a whistle might work to snap him out of it. My Osprey pack has one built right in to the chest clip so I gave it a go to great success! With a bit more work I think some whistle training will go a long way with Koda.

A break in the trees on our right indicated that we had reached a memorable landmark from my first climb of the slide: a series of high, sandy, eroded banks on the south shore of the creek. We climbed up and Ryan got his first look at our destination: the rocky crag on the southern summit of the Macomb ridge with a virtual highway of a slide track for an approach. It was just as impressive a view as the first time. We headed back down to the stream and continued rock hopping as the first evidence of the slide came in the form of larger and larger sections of slab. As we got higher, the view back towards Elk Lake opened up. Once you are on solid rock for a while you can see the rubble track of the '47 slide on your left while the slab course continues straight with a sheet of water pouring down it. After slab climbing had made our climb a bit easier for a while, climbing out on the sandy rubble brought things back to challenge town.

Kodak leads the way

the slide track starts opening up

The view from the start of the rubble section. Worth the effort.

Koda, Ryan and I all struggled up the rubble. It's hard to make progress as you slide back with each step. We paused and rested quite a bit and took in the view. At this point a white throated sparrow started to sing it's haunting song (listen here and here) which many identify as the quintessential bird call of the Adirondacks. It's certainly a sound that makes me feel like I'm in the right place to find peace. With some soul nourishment we pushed on. Despite the backsliding and need for breaks, the subsummit crag kept getting closer. Our efforts were paying off. We approached the section where the rocky rubble is covered in red.....I don't know? Lichen? Oxidized iron? Not sure, but it's striking.

For once Koda sat still and looked at me for a picture

Closing in on the top
We reached the headwall and the point where Suvrat, Brian and I headed right up a steep pitch. While I knew Koda probably could make it up, it would probably give me a heart attack so we headed left along the base. Koda did attempt to climb it but was reigned in. It was challenging moving along the base and I wondered what it was like when there was a herd path here. Is this where it went? Was it in the forest below? We found a section that wasn't so steep and offered some protection in the form of dense krummholz. Finding a way up the final push that was safe for Koda was my main concern/ worry on this hike. The trees were tall enough that he was able to find spaces underneath and as usual led the charge. After pushing through the dense pines for a few minutes we came to a spot that I recognized from the first climb and knew we were on the right track. We took a more protected route than my first climb and it paid off: we actually stumbled on to a snippet of the former herd path! We had a minute or two of easy going before getting back into the thick of it. Closing in on the summit, the views opened up even more. We could see the great range now, clear pond and our first view of our final peak: Dix.

Not too shabby

Clear Pond

See you soon Dix!!!

A little bit of herd path!
For a mountain climber (especially ones who finds themselves off trail), one of the best feelings in the world is cresting the summit ridge. We were elated to be on firm safe ground and to no longer be climbing. We made our way south and found the overlook. On the first climb fog had rolled in by the final ascent and no views were to be had. I knew I'd have to come back some day and enjoy this spot. It just had to be epic. It was. Since the rock pokes out a bit from the ridge there's an 180 degree view from south to north uninterrupted by signs of man other than a few boats on Elk Lake and the miniature buildings of the resort. We took lots of pictures and enjoyed a snack. Koda got a summit pigs ear which he scarfed joyfully down. He was very calm on this hike and laid down for a little while on every summit we stopped on which is a rarity for him.

summit hanging

team future dads!

Our ascent route

Worth the wait and return trip

cool vegetation all along the summit ridges

After taking a nice long time appreciating our gorgeous and unique vantage point, it was time to bushwhack back along the ridge and rejoin civilization on the herd paths of the Dix Range. There are still faint traces of the path along the summit ridge which Brian, Suvrat and I were able to follow decently well the first time. This time Ryan and I saw it every now and then but not nearly as much. Lots of pushing through and climbing over stuff but never anything soul crushing. Close to the herd path, we heard folks chatting and I busted out a loud crow caw which was returned to me. Fun times. And just like that we popped out on the trail not far off from the summit. We re-entered society. Met some nice guys on the summit and a larger group of some younger folks. Since we had spent so much time with our own personal Macomb summit, we chatted for a few minutes and headed down the trail. It was utter joy to not have to plan every single step, slide in rubble or push through the woods. We just glided down the lovely, dry trail. The whole range was much drier than I expected considering the time of year.

The rock scramble up Carson was as fun as usual and it's always a pleasure to bask in those views in every direction. After a quick visit to the summit, we headed back to some open rock for another snack and rest. It was perfect weather for sitting around and taking in the views. Unseasonably cool in a very good way and bug free. The ups and downs along the ridge to the Hough col went quickly though Ryan and I both noticed we were started to feel it a bit. While Koda drank most of Slide Brook, he was exerting and panting quite a bit so he got a liter out of my pack in the col and another 3/4 of a liter on Dix. On the start of our Hough climb we started clumping up with several groups of hikers. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood and enjoying their hikes. By the summit of Hough, I was definitely feeling it in my legs. We spent a good long time up there and dug into our secret weapons: sour gummy worms! Delicious and nutritious! As we were relaxing on Hough, Koda got an unexpected surprise: Greta, a young female German Shepherd came bounding out onto the summit excited to meet everyone. She was sweet as hell and teased Koda a little bit which he definitely deserves. It was nice to chat with a fellow GSD owner about their similarities and quirks. Nice guy! Nice people was definitely the theme of social interaction on the hike. Some days you're out there it it doesn't seem like anyone wants to talk. Or even smile hahaha.

The gummy's got us pretty far along the ridge up to Dix even though our pace was slowing a bit. What a great place to slow down though! There are so many awesome views along the stretch of trail. Seriously, there are so many great views all along the Dix Range. It's a great place to hike. The final push involves a few interesting scrambles, including one or two Koda needed a bit of a boost for. The views from the Beckhorn made the sore legs well worth it.

Nippletop in the foreground with the Great Range stretching out beyond

Giant and Rocky now in the mix

Grace Peak and all it has to offer
I was filled with joy as we made the final push to the Summit of Dix Mountain. We had quite the climb and soon we'd be standing on our fourth peak of the day with no more climbing to do. No more climbing! Great feeling. Folks were sprawled all over the various outcrops on the summit Ryan, Koda and I found our own little piece of heaven and settled in. More snacking resting and basking in the glory of one of the truly great summits of the Adirondack 46. Koda got some kibble as well as his second pigs ear. Oh the luxury! Ryan brought a cucumber and we both enjoyed the cooling crunch. We all (Koda included) sprawled out for a bit. It was quiet and peaceful. The white throated sparrows which seemed to have followed us all day flitted about and sang for us some more.

Summit Herk

All dem peaks

Elk Lake and our car seem a long way away
You have to leave sometime right? Usually stepping off a mountain is a bit bittersweet. Time to go home. This time it was a little on the sweeter side. We were going to descend into Hunter's Pass. I've heard great things for years and have been chomping at the bit to see it. If we have a boy we're naming it Hunter so visiting this place took on added significance. The views keep coming as you descend down the trail into the pass. It was exciting to go straight where the trail breaks right for Rte 73. All new from here on out! The descent was very steep like all the other trails off this mountain. It had a lot of character though and anytime you weren't on rock, there was very little erosion. Some early views at the top of the pass were quite impressive.

The slides on the west face of Dix

Lots of funky interesting stuff on Nippletop
We seemed to descend forever before leveling out. Deeper and deeper into the pass. Soon we were zig zagging down cliff bands until we were at the base of some might crumbling cliffs on Dix. There was some similarity to Indian Pass but plenty of character all it's own. In one spot a very recent rock fall had taken out a big swath of trees and deposited a dump trucks worth of crumbled rock on the trail. The trees pinned down underneath were still green! We pulled away from the cliffs on Dix and found ourselves at the base of some cliffs on Nippletop. Very different rock. Smooth and polished looking. We could also see the slides on the west face of Dix.

monster ferns

Tall cliffs

so much rock
Trees pouring off the cliff and into the pass
The trail leveled out and the woods closed in. The locale was no less beautiful for it. Soft trail underfoot with the passes drainage now roaring audibly over our left shoulder. I knew the temptation for Koda to run down the bank and play would be too much so he went on leash. When we reached the water, Ryan and I both filled our camelback bladders and drank heartily from the cold creek. I had given Koda the last of my water on the ridge knowing just how quick a dog can dehydrate. Ryan had been out since Dix too so we felt quite rich.

Typical trail conditions in the lower pass

Cold, clear and delicious

Pretty Iris
We hiked out. You know how it goes. Tired legs, dreams of taking your boots off, plotting what to eat. Hot dogs. Stewart's hot dogs became the dream. In just a little bit more time that dream became a reality. First a few more miles. We signed out and peeled off all the wet and sweaty stuff. I dried Koda as best I could and put him in the back. After a few minutes I heard a loud groan as he laid down content. It was a gorgeous, special, and I won't lie....very challenging day that brought us out of the woods with our souls invigorated.

Tired and content