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

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