Let’s spend a beautiful weekend in the Dix Mountain Wilderness region! The drive would be 30-45 minutes shorter than driving to our usual ADK Loj, and it would be less crowded! (Approaching from the NYC area)
At least… this was what we thought this weekend would be… We had no idea what would actually transpire!
Hike 5 of the ADK 46ers, we were using lessons from previous hikes and going to day hike from a base camp we set the first day!
Day 1: Drive up early in the morning. Park on Elk Lake Road at the Clear Pond Parking Area 2 miles from the trail head (The road closes during the winter/spring). Hike to the Slide Brook camp area and set up camp. Hike Macomb Mountain, South Dix, East Dix (Now known as Grace Peak) coming back to camp at Slide Brook.
Day 2: Wake up, hike Hough Peak, an Dix Mountain and then break down camp and hike out to the car.
*SPOILER ALERT – As per our usual, this was NOT what happened. We accomplished no where near this!!! Again, I personally really struggle with giving up on our original plans, which can be potentially dangerous not only for myself, but for my group.*
We had been having beautiful 70-80 degree weather in the NYC area and were excited to get up there and hike! Before leaving for our trip we check the NY DEC website for the trail conditions for the Dix wilderness area. The trail conditions stated something along the lines of: “Snowshoes are recommended for higher summits”. We read this as we were preparing for the weekend, waited until their usual mid-week update and it still suggested bringing snowshoes. Zack and I couldn’t fathom that we would actually need snowshoes, it had been in the 80’s all week near NYC and in the 60’s up in this region. We decided to put them in the car anyway thinking the worst that happens is we decided to leave them in the car….
The map below goes to the Dix Trail-head parking area. (Remember… If you are going in the winter/spring you will see a parking lot to your left, about 2 miles before you arrive at this parking area, the clear pond parking area that you can park at.)
Around 8:30AM we finally get up to the Clear Pond Parking Area, which is 2 miles from the trail head at the end of Elk Lake Road. Upon arrival we were in the same issue we had at home. We didn’t see a lick of snow our whole drive… we didn’t seen any snow on ANY of the mountains around us… do we bother to lug our snowshoes with us?!
The two miles in on Elk Lake Road was a smooth flat hike! (This is private land, so as always please be respectful).
As you can see in the picture above, we DID decided to carry our snowshoes with us. I was pro carrying the snowshoes, Zack was not. First of all, neither of us really knew how to strap them to our packs properly, and second we couldn’t see ANY snow! My argument, and the reason we carried them was because the NYDEC recommended it on a page they update weekly. I felt that they would not have put the suggestion in to carry your snowshoes unless it was necessary!
Continuing into the Dix Wilderness area we hiked a VERY muddy and wet 2.3 miles towards the campsite we wanted to stay at, the slide brook lean-to area, just at the junction of the trail to head up Macomb Mountain.
Once we arrived at the slide brook campsite, which is just along a beautiful creak/stream, we set up our tent. We decided to not carry all of our gear with us after the previous challenges in the other high peaks! After setting up our tent we continued to unpack our backpacks and started to debate about what we should carry with us for the day. We had both packed day packs as we knew our plan was to have a base camp to hike from. We AGAIN had this decision to make, do we carry our snowshoes? We still didn’t see any snow anywhere, why should we bother carrying them?
Heading up Macomb!
Using the same logic that we had used at home and at the car, we decided it was better safe then sorry to carry them. Zack decided it would be easiest for him to load up both sets of snowshoes into his large backpack and I would carry my daypack with the snacks, my water, and mine and Nova’s jacket. We knew that if we didn’t see any snow on this day hike we wouldn’t have to carry them the next day!
We set off around 11:30AM to summit the three 46-ers we had planned for that day, Macomb, South Dix and East Dix (now know as Grace Peak). The hike up Macomb started out easy and beautiful with a few switch-back trails tucked into the trees with beautiful views. We did however start seeing this MASSIVE slide in the tress, and stared at it in awe. A few more steps in and we discovered that the trail would lead us UP this huge slide!
The hike up the slide was SLOW (my fault, I am more of a turtle than a hare). We sat and enjoyed it for a few minutes as I caught my breath and took some pictures of this slide! While ascending the slide we did have to assist Nova in getting up and over a few of the sections. (Something to consider if your going to be hiking with a large dog).
At 1:50PM we finally reached the summit of Macomb Mountain. The summit is tree covered but there is a lovely overlook out towards the High Peaks! We sat down had a small snack, enjoyed the beautiful sunshine for a few minutes!
Heading to South Dix – When the problems started…
The three of us next started hiking down towards the, South Dix. The hike between Macomb and South Dix is maybe a 1/2 mile. This little hike is on the North Eastern side of the Macomb peak. Here is where things started to get interesting…
We found the snow!!! This was our first time encountering spring snow melt snow… The sun rises in the east and sets in the west, which makes the north eastern side of the peaks only get early morning, weak sun. (The more western sides of the mountains get that hot mid-day sun). We encountered snow ranging from 2′ to 4′ deep in places.
The spring melt snow was interesting for a few reasons: 1 – The snow was melting, this melting snow causes little streams to be created under the snow further melting and eroding away the snow pack. 2 – The upper layers of the snow were icy, the melted snow that doesn’t make it to the stream sits and re-freezes on the cold nights. 3 – The snow melt streams and icy upper layer mix mean that the snow was misleadingly solid. When walking we had about 8 solid steps to one step where you would have a foot fall into the snow. This is called post-holing.
At this point we were VERY happy that we had carried our snow shoes all this way, and put them on, making us finally be able to walk normally again! We assumed Nova, with her webbed paws, had her own built in snow shoes. We discovered as the little hike went on that this was not the case. Nova has a lot of her weight in her big barrel chest, so her front paws would post-hole, which meant her head would sometimes fall into the icy-snow. She did NOT seem to be loving that, but persevered!
Being stubborn initially and not immediately putting on our snowshoes meant that our feet had started to get wet (we also didn’t have gaiters, another lesson we learned from this hike)!
Windy and strong gusts greated us at the summit of South Dix around 3:20PM. While reaching the summit of South Dix we passed the path we had planned to take down. We planned on going down the path that follows the Lillian Brook because we didn’t want to try to get Nova back down that slide.
I am extremely stubborn…
… so knowing East Dix (AKA Grace Peak) was only 1 relatively flat mile away was a massive pull for me! I WANTED TO SUMMIT IT, and accomplish our goal for the day.
Zack is my logic and reasoning, so we made a deal. We could attempt to summit East Dix, under a strict 4PM turn around time. That meant that no matter how close we were to the summit, at 4PM we would turn around and start heading back to camp…. I agreed and we continued to hike… The path between South Dix and East Dix is on the south west side of the mountain, so all the snow was melted and the trail was SUPER muddy. We hiked quickly but when 4PM rolled around we had not summited East Dix. Again, I am very stubborn, and started to argue with Zack, but once he pointed out how long we had left of daylight, how we didn’t know our exact route back, and that both of our boots and socks were completely soaked I conceded. The three of us turned around and headed back towards South Dix and camp.
We started down the path toward the Lillian Brook around 4:20PM. The path was on the North East side of the mountain, so we almost immediately hit snow melt snow, but it was patchy and we thought we could get by without the snowshoes for a little bit.. We had kept the snow shoes off because we were between snow piles, many trees, and quite a few streams, so we thought it was easier to navigate with out the snow shoes on…
As we hiked Nova had continued to post-hole and boop her nose into the snow. After about 30 minutes of getting further down the mountain we noticed Nova started to hesitate as she walked. We assumed it was that she didn’t like post-holing and that she was getting tired. We all sat for a few minutes to let her catch her breath and give her a little break… As we took a break Nova ripped a sapling out, fluffed up some dry pine needles and dirt making her self a little bed and plopped herself down! FYI, we did feel awful about that, but there was not a lot we could do (Who the hell thought she would do that!!)
Once we felt the rest was over we started to take a few steps, which Nova would typically just bounce up and follow us from. Well… as you can imagine that was not what happened.
Fortunately, Zack and I both stay calm in high stress situations. We started to discuss what our options were…
The biggest problem of the day was just getting started…
Nova refused to move from her self-made bed. We tried talking very nice to her, bribery with all sorts of treats including our jerky, nothing worked. I put my day pack in Zack’s backpacking bag, put it on my back while he tried to carry her. She edged away and didn’t even want to be pet or carried! We felt AWFUL. How could we have put Nova in this position to be so uncomfortable and happy that she wouldn’t even let us carry her!?
- About 1/4 down a mountain on a snow melted unmarked rail we were not familiar with.
- It was about 5PM and we had maybe 2 more hours of sunlight.
- The temperatures were starting to drop and expected to drop to below freezing.
- All of our feet were soaked.
- Our tent, sleeping bags etc were at our campsite about 2-3 miles down the mountain.
- A 100+lb dog that refused to be carried or even consoled.
- No Cell Service.
- ALL IN ALL A BAD SITUATION TO BE IN!
- Luckly… We did have out matches and spare jackets with us., but would that have been enough?
We felt that we were not yet at the point to split up and have one person go for help/our tent & sleeping bag, so we continued to try and coax and beg Nova to hike!
Another 20 minutes of trying to work with Nova and talking through a plan I had an idea… What if we put on our snowshoes, and stomped out a path, a solid little runway for Nova to hike in… Since my snowshoes are smaller, and therefore compress the snow a bit more I took the lead and started hiking (marching like a marching band)… After a few times to convince her it was solid Nova started to follow!!!!!
I continued to hike taking little hard steps creating the most solid path I could as Nova trailed behind me. (I think she is SUCH a smart dog!) We hiked out like that. I fell through the snow over a stream and fell into the stream at one point, completely soaking my pants -_-.
We did loose the trail quite a few times. The snow covers many of the typical ways you would follow an unmarked trail … looking for broken/cut tress and branches, looking for a solid foot path etc… After a SUPER frustrating hike down, losing and re-finding the trail about 5 or 6 times, we made it out of the snow and found the trail.
Once we made it to a non-snow covered trail we made good time. I did fall into another (very gross and muddy) pond as we hiked back… We heard a VERY loud noise on the hike back to camp and did stop, get Nova in-between us and pulled out our bear spray to see what it was, but we didn’t hear another noise after.
Finally back to camp, safe and sound…
As the sun was setting we made it back to our camp site, I jumped downstream into the brook, boots and all to get the mud off of me from my second fall. We ate a super quick dinner and finally slept after a stressful day.
The next day we awoke happy that we survived the stressful and potentially life threatening day the day before. We had decided the night before that there was NO WAY we would be attempting our pre-planned Sunday of hiking Hough Peak, an Dix Mountain. Our biggest priority is making sure Nova is okay, it isn’t fair she can’t tell us how she is feeling and if she is up for more or not. Our goal for the day was to hike our and make sure she was able to recover and rest.
We packed up our sleeping bags, pads and other interior tent things, to stick our heads outside of the tent and discover our boots and socks had frozen stiff. Since my brilliant self had jumped into the stream my boots and socks were in much worse shape than Zacks. We packed up the rest of our gear and I avoided thinking about my boots…
I am stubborn and lazy… because I had already packed away my dry socks, I stupidly put my frozen socks on. If you have never been blessed enough to have put frozen socks on let me tell you that it PAILS in comparison to how awful it is to put frozen solid boots on! WOW WAS THAT COLD! (I now keep my boots inside my tent, not just under the rain fly, when they are wet or it is cold out…) I eventually go over JUST how cold my feet were after the first 1/2 mile of our hike out.
After a short, warm hike, where everyone, including Nova seemed excited to be headed to the car, we made it and cranked up the heat as we headed home.
Nova was even happier to get home to her couch!
TRIP RATING: 3/10 – 2 days ~ 16 miles, 2,500 ft of elevation gain
Day 1 – 11.7mi, Day 2 4.3mi (Day 2)
Based on this experience, I would recommend ALWAYS check and trust the trail condition reports. They are there for a reason and are tools to help you not only succeed and enjoy your weekend, but for you to be safe and have the tools you need with you. This experience also taught me to bring a few extra things (and has possibly made me over prepared in many cases). Being potentially stranded in the woods with almost nothing was pretty terrifying… This experience made add SOL bivys to each of our bags every time we hike. Lastly, this hike taught me that having a sane hiking partner/a voice of reason can make a huge difference, and that accomplishing your goal shouldn’t take priority to your groups safety.
TECHNICAL: Attempted 4/29-4/30/2017
- 8:30AM – Arrive at Elk Lake Road Parking Lot
- 8:45AM – Hike from Clear Pond Parking Area to Elk Lake Road Parking Lot/Trail Head (~2mi down the road from the mapped parking area/trail head which is closed until the snowmelt is over/summer starts to keep the road from being destroyed)
- 9:45AM – Arrive at trail head and hike (2.3mi) towards Slide Brook camp area
- 11AM – Arrive at Slide Brook Camp area & Set Up Camp
- 11:30AM – Set off up Macomb Mountain
- 1:50PM – Summit Macomb Mountain
- 2:30PM – Start off hiking towards South Dix
- 3:20PM – Summit South Dix
- Start Hiking Towards East Dix with a decided turn around time of 4PM…
- 4:10PM – Turn around and head back towards camp WITH OUT Summiting East Dix (Jess was not happy)
- Nova quitting, uncertainty about how to continue, Jess Falling in 2 different streams and the fear of a bear or moose!
- 9:15PM – Nova sound asleep, safely tucked into the tent!
- 7:30AM – Wake up as the sun rises.
- 8:15AM – Start hiking out towards the car!
- Hike ~ 4.3 miles to Clear Pond parking area.
- 11AM – Get in the car, blast the heat and rip of soaked boots!
FINAL RECOMMENDATIONS & SUGGESTIONS:
- Always read and trust the trail reports!
- Always Pack Warm Clothes/Gear!
- Know how fast your hiking, and what it might take to get back to camp/safety!
- Carry your first aid kit and include a SOL (aluminium) blanket of bivy sack. You NEVER know just what kind of situation you will find yourself in!