Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Dix Range 3/1/14

Denise, her friend Joe and I met at the Clear Pond trail head at 5AM in negative temps. We quickly got moving to warm up a bit. The road walk went quick, with conversation passing the time well. At the summer trailhead, the snowshoes went on and we signed in. The sky was starting to get light as we began to move down the hard-packed trail. Through the trees, white domed summits glowed in pink light and the array of slides on Macomb were illuminated.

At the herd path start (well broken out and obvious), we met up with Mark, who was climbing Dix and Hough. At the end of the conversation, we realized we'd met at the end of our respective Seward range hikes (he had climbed Seymour, me the other 3). I think we were both tired then and actually hadn't taken a good look at each others faces.

We followed the herd path, which was interlaced with ski tracks which often disappeared into the woods. Looks like they were having fun. Before long, we were at the base of the slide. With all the avalanche danger warnings, I had some nerves about it, but from studying trip reports from the past and making some key consultations, I got the impression it'd more likely be windblown, with some of the rocks exposed than slabby and slidey (mad scientific right?).

The Macomb Slide

At the base of the slide, it shone like glass in the early morning sun. I was queasy, queasy, queasy. So was Denise who has no love for heights or exposure. Joe, who was soft-spoken and sweet, was the only one of us who appeared un-phased. We began making our way up, keeping a safe distance from each other, in case we dislodged anything or began to slide. The ice that covered it proved to be a thin sheet from the rain last week and easily punched through to grippy snow underneath. I followed the cairns and a vague trail left from the previous climbers. I had koda on leash so I'd worry less, and he let me know (by loudly whining) he'd handle it better on his own. he punch-stepped through the ice like the rest of us and I'm glad, in the end, to have had him close to me.
The beginning of the slide climb

Denise and Joe following our tracks

As we got further up, the familiar view of Elk Lake and the peaks to the north-west opened up in all it's dramatic splendor. When we climbed this for our regular round, I didn't know the peaks as well, and it was really cool to appreciate this unique perspective for me, of haystack especially). We made it to the steep headwall and the left cut-around without incident and celebrated with a deep breath. The trickiest part of the day was over! It was just walking from here on out.....or so we thought.

Frozen Elk Lake

The Eastern High Peapks
The slide head wall. Glad we didn't have to climb this!

After enjoying the cold, windy summit of Macomb, we began making our way towards Carson...sort of. We kept following paths that petered out. Like really obviously came to an unambiguous end. We did this for half an hour, taking compass bearings, checking and re-checking the map, going down each "path" again and again. We had finally given up and were going to bushwack a compass line to the visible and obvious rocky southwest end of Carson when we heard someone reach the summit. It felt great! I figured it was Tom and Laurie, who I knew were climbing Macomb that day, and had a lot experience in the mountains, might be able to help us.

Turns out it was this really nice guy Brad, who had stayed at Slide Brook lean to the night before and was going to spend the night at the Bivy site in the Pough/ Hough col . He immediately agreed to join or whack party but as he was enjoying the summit, shouted over to us: "I think it's right here!" Turns out the trail started really close to the summit, had blown in, and immediately dropped down and around a corner, making it sort of hard to see. We were elated to be back on track and quickly made our way down,  Several times on the way down, the trail was a bit ambiguous or blown in. After easy strolls (well lets not ever call them easy) through the Santa's and the Seward's, I finally got a bit of a taste as to how the trail-less ranges can really be.

We found our way up on the rocks and picked our way up, amazed at how little I remembered from my first time out. Some cairns and ocasional tracks marked the way. Not too long after the rocky climb, I thought I heard someone shout "Hey Chris!" I dismissed it as it didn't seem to make sense as another hiker emerged from the trees and asked to join the party. As he got closer, I realized it was Pete, who we had met coming off Wright several weekends before. Our party had now grown from 3 to 4 to 5! So cool!

Open rock on Carson

This range has amazing views!

Hough, Dix and beyond

We found our way back into the tree-line, noticing the trail over to Pough and Hough breaking left. One more navigational challenge knocked off the list. At this point any easy find was greatly appreciated after our early stumbling. A quick break on Carson and several pictures snapped, including Denise and I's poster shot. Off to Grace and the trail was at times blown in and hard to follow. it would come and go, but with some care, we could find it. We followed some snowshoe hare prints for much of the way. About 3/4 of the way over, we ran into Ben W and his buddy, who were re-tracing the project 46 traverse the other way around. Nice to meet you guys!

Peak #1 for the Gathering, Carson!

South Dix isn't much of a name. No wonder they're changing it!
snowshoe hare tracks along the herd path

Hough, our final peak, from Grace.

Now the trail was broken out and we eased into a nice steady pace full of gratitude. From this point on, navigation was no longer an issue...for the most part. We all refueled short of the ascent, Ben telling us it was super cold and windy on Grace. Up we went, noticing the herd path up from The Rte 73 approach was broken higher up from the usual spot, creating a short cut courtesy of Rik, Inge and company. The summit was windy as promised.
The re-climb of Carson was quieter (at least for me) as the accumulating miles took their toll. Another snack and Carson and a quick right not far past the summit. Up and over the bumps made for some needed variety in the hike. The overlooks are so cool from Pough. Down in the col, I was glad to see a very clearly broken out Lillian Brook herd path, which also appear to be broken out in a slightly different place than where it is in the summer, coming up a bit earlier from the Pough side. Brad was home for the night! He started to set up and we once again snacked. Koda got his main meal of the day, a 3 serving tuna packet, to fuel the final push. He wasn't thirsty much on this hike but finally had a big drink which made me happy.

Time for the last peak of the day and probably the steepest climb. Up and up, over a false summit and the tricky rock spot. It was tricky and very windy. We helped Koda up, and talked Denise up the spot, her fear of steep exposure reminding me of Jeanette's troubles too. This is real and scary stuff! Especially in the winter. I came down at one point to help and I slipped on the ice, my snow shoes flying towards Joe and Denise's face. Thankfully I didn't give anyone any puncture wounds.

Getting closer to Hough

Pete! Adopting folks along the way.  

The final summit of the day had more blue skies and more moderate temps to reward us for a long hard day. man the views are great! Someday, I'll just climb Hough, or climb Dix and Hough, to savor this unique peak.

Denise and I on summit #2 for the gathering, Hough.

Dix has three very distinct faces. From this view, the Beckhorn dominates.

He finally sat down after about 13 miles.

There's not much to say about the down. Lillian Brook is probably my favorite herd path in the peaks and it was lovely as ever in the winter. It dragged, as we were tired, but we did eventually hit the red trail. There was a jug handle breaking left at one point that was as well broken out was the main path. It got tight and scrubby, but eventually brought up back on track. The miles went and the sun sank in the sky, more pretty colors to bookend the morning approach. Some talking and some quiet time as we reached the cars close to dark. It was a great hike, and so awesome to pick up people along the way. Thanks so much for joining us Pete and Brad! It really added to the day.

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