The Dix Range August 21, 2013

My trip report reposted from the wonderful ADK High Peaks forum.

Too long? Yeah, I know. Skip down to the part where I actually hike.

Part 1: Escape from Raquette Lake

My company rents space from a real estate company which offers small offices for growing companies (1-6 people) private offices who’d otherwise have trouble signing a lease for such a small space in Manhattan. It’s a great model and in order to create a community feel they’ve thrown together this once a year “retreat” (read 3 day drinking and music festival aspiring to one day be SXSW) to Raquette Lake Summer Camp.

It is a great deal considering all that is included and my normal life in Brooklyn doesn’t really offer me lake access with lasers, sunfishes, 16’ hobie cats, canoes, kayaks, wakeboarding, waterskiing, etc, etc. So while others were recovering from the excesses which came with free and freely flowing booze all night long I was waking up early, kayaking across the lake and really taking advantage of my surroundings and activities as best I could. I did get my drinking on on Friday though :)

All throughout the weekend I’d been asking the counselors and camp staff if they were departing on Sunday (when our busses were leaving for the return trip to NYC) and if so were they going east or north and those conditions being true, did they have room in their car?

No, not on sunday. No, no space. No, heading south. And every combination of those answers possible.

So Sunday morning rolled around and I repacked my backpacking bag which I’d brought up with all my equipment and food I’d thought I’d need for 4-5 days out and headed back across the lake via the ferry to the “girls camp” side from which the busses were due to leave.

After a last ditch effort of trying to find a ride, I gave my bag of summer camp clothing and extras I wouldn’t want to carry for the hike to a friend who like the other 800 attendees was heading back down on the bus - and I began to exit the camp and stick my thumb out, way out. My destination was the Elk Lake trailhead. 10:15 AM

Part 2: Outside the General Store

Maybe a bit after 10:30 AM with Raquette Lake to my left and a “General Store” which appeared to cater to the boaters to my right, a car stopped for me. A young woman rolled down her window, I greeted her and her passenger. I told her my destination and that I was planning on getting onto 28. Which direction? East, left. Hop in! Great!

Sage and Jack are brother and sister from Derry, Connecticut. Sage is entering her final year of high school and Jack, her younger brother, is about to become a sophomore. Despite this young age Sage isn’t checking her halloween candy for poison nor wary of axe-wielding hitch hikin’ maniacs. She’s made the world a better place as far as I’m concerned but jeez I can tell you 17 year old me wouldn’t be picking 29 year old me up.

Anyway, they were returning to CT for school having spent the summer manning ferry boats on Raquette Lake. We chatted and discusses the mountains. They climb Blue Mountain every year which incidentally would be my drop off spot as they were continuing south east on 30/28 and I’d be picking up 28N/30 from there.

I waved goodbye at the gas station and thanked them profusely and began a long climb up a hill where I was passed by many many cars and trucks, understandably - it’s not a great place to hitchhike. Also, in retrospect I would have just stayed at my drop off spot and waited for someone to speak with on my plight.

This did however afford me the opportunity to see and fill up on water at the Adirondack museum. What an interesting place. If I hadn’t been so set on my mission and without a plan I would have taken the time to properly enjoy the place. It was filled with families and children and certainly no one I was planning on asking for a lift. I exited and continue up the hill.

Part 3: Divine Intervention

Now over the crest of the hill I continued past Minnow Pond on my left. Thumbs way out and cars appearing to drive faster as they saw my largest of digits.

Finally the last in a train of 3 cars pulls abruptly to the side and I see the man open his glove compartment and take something out. A gun?! No.. stop being a paranoid suburban kid. It’s an Adirondack 46er hat. Yes!

Hello, my name’s Kunal. I’m trying to get over to the Elk Lake trailhead or as far as you can take. Throw your stuff in the backseat!

At the wheel is an older gentlemen whose still hiking into what I believe are his 80’s, Philip Allen. We speak on the Dix Range and he corrects my pronunciation of Macomb Mountain (mah-kuhm, not may-kuhm). He looks at me intensely when I say I’m planning on doing all five tomorrow if I can get there.

We pull on to the side of the road as we enter Newcomb by the Stewarts at the junction with 30. He’s heading north on 30 and I’m of course continuing east on 28N.

As we’re parting I ask for his name again which is when I see the collar, “Father Philip Allen”.

Part 4: Make a Sign!

I enter the Stewarts and grab a few sandwiches and gatoraid for lunch. I’m still recovering from the weekend. I chat up a few people but most are heading north on the 30 as well or are motorcyclists who clearly can’t accomodate me. One suggests I made a sign, I ask him “what do you think about ‘non-axe wielding hitch hiker - elk lake bound’” and he chuckles.

I wait closer to the curb for cars exiting in my direction. Someone offers me a ride but since they are only going a little bit up the road they suggest I stay put for someone who is going further and I do.

Finally a group of three guys, Mike at the wheel and his friends Joel in the passenger seat and Jon have completed a beer run for their guys’ trip at a nearby state campground east on 28N. They offer me a ride and as we continue to talk, a beer.

Jon from Syracuse and in the back seat had previously hitch hiked and was sympathetic to my cause.

Mike whose worked previously nearby me in SoHo and continues to work in NYC did me a huge favor by passing their campsite (I believe at Lake Harris) and dropping me off directly at the junction with Tawahus road.

Part 5: The Long and Winding Road

I walked up Tawahus road to the junction with 84 (Boreas Road / Blue Ridge Road) and yet another Mike (this one from Albany) let me jump in the back of his truck bed and dropped me off closer to my destination. Now I was at the junction with the Lower Works, which of course was not my final destination.

I continue walking down Blue Ridge thinking that my best chance if anyone was going to stop was getting dropped off at the junction with Elk Lake Road and hoofing if the rest of the way to the trailhead. I was hiking after all, right? Pavement kinda counts.

But no.. Howard and Jean wouldn’t have that. An older couple driving a Subaru stopped for me. Howard, a grandfather and local of the area opens the back door for me and lifts the gate and gets back in. A man of very few words, not great hearing, and clearly a huge heart.

They not only drove me to the junction but all the way to the trailhead. Jean commented on my Brooklynese which I’m glad I’ve developed :) She also said to me, ‘you must be a very determined individual’ a comment that floored me because I tend to think I give up too easily. I said, “I’m trying to become one”.

We said goodbye at the Trailhead and reminded me to sign the register, of course, of course.

It was 2:15PM and I was eager to get in. Only 4 hours to cross the 70 miles from Raquette Lake to the Trailhead. I was really just amazed by all the people who made sure I was going to get to where I wanted to go. It felt like they were doing more than just a favor, like they wanted to make sure I succeeded. It was quite inspiring and I wanted to remember everyone’s name to the best of my ability.

Part 6: Elk Lake Trail (imho Elk Lake Avenue) to Slide Brook Lean-to

At the trailhead I met a group who’d exited through Elk Lake after starting their journey from 73. I’m not sure if they’d gotten a bit lost, but they were a bit tired and waiting for the ride to show up. They were in reasonable spirits all told and offered me some encouraging words upon hearing my story which I was all too eager to tell (and clearly still am reader, amiright?).

A pre-college orientation group from Hamilton college was there and they were eating before heading into the woods.

I knew I should get a move on and entered the woods walking the easy 2.3 miles to Slide Brook Lean-to.

I set up, cleaned myself up, ate, did dishes, filtered water for the night, stowed my food, and met my neighbours. Two couples, one older than the next. The younger couple in the yellow tent (can’t remember your names!) are board members. Of course they recogonized me from my big ol’ mug to the upper left (upper upper left at this point, damn this is long, brevity is the soul of wit) just as WannabeAlJr (hey!) did earlier this year at BAM in Brooklyn. What a wonderful and small world.

The lean-to had some current occupants who were not yet returned from the day’s activity and so I started collecting tinder for the fire pit. It would be the first time I was allowed to have a fire in the Adirondacks and I really wanted to partake.

Really wishing I was an axe-wielding hitch hiker at that point because the campgrounds are picked pretty clean of small dead wood to burn and the larger dead logs definitely need splitting.

Anyway, the group returned, a group of guys who’d all seemed to have recently graduated college. They’d been coming up for a while and in pro-form they’d stuffed their pockets with dead twigs and fallen birch bark on the walk down.

They were determined to get a fire going and keep it alive. Fantastic.

They had done 2 that day and 3 the day before and were giving me some great details on view points to check out, things to watch for, etc. Later, they shared some whiskey and excellent humor with me. Great times.

I was enjoying their company so I ended up packing it in a bit later than I’d originally planned and crawled into my sleeping bag at 10:30.

I have to say, it was a bit of a restless night, I woke up a few times but I managed to get a good enough sleep that when 6:30 rolled around it wasn’t a struggle to force myself out of bed, make final preparations and get onto the trail leading up Macomb 7:00 AM.

Part 7: The Hike

A very clear, mushroom laden, and decayed-debris filled path leads up to where the trail joins Macomb slide. I don’t think this slide needs much introduction to most readers here. It’s nasty, gravely, steep and you can’t help but contribute to it’s erosion here. The cairns are, in my opinion, slightly oddly placed as I think a route over the larger stable rocks can be planned. That might have just been my early morning lizard brain.

At the top of the slide I knew I wasn’t to get nearly the same view so I spun around, dug my airplane moded phone out, snapped a photo, and continued up.

Reaching the summit at around 8:45 I encountered the aforementioned board members in the yellow tent (hey again!). We exchanged photo snaps and continued onwards to South Dix (Carson). They let me pass and I did reaching South Dix at ~9:50AM. I snapped a photo and continued towards East Dix (Grace).

A few trails along the way may have confused me but I was walking straight east both according to the sun and map and compass so I held true to the surprisingly long route and reached Grace at 10:45AM.

What a remarkable view, definitely the gem of the day in my opinion. Dix was phenomenal as well but I had more energy to appreciate the view on Grace than I did when I reached Dix later on.

I snacked on some food and the yellow tent couple (hey hey hey!) appeared as well as an upbeat English-Canadian named Rich and his two French-Canadian sons Nick and Jo (Jonathon). We chatted briefly on what we were planning for the day and I could clearly tell they were very very strong hikers. I took their pictures and in came another hiker, Dan, from Long Island. Quiet guy, he’s been coming up since the 70s and was in the area dropping his son off at a Ranger School associated with Syracuse. Very cool.

Now, as a solo hiker and knowing the biggest part of the day was ahead of me, I decided to get a move on right then and there. I wanted these guys behind me in case any bad stuff occured (I was prepared with first aid and other essentials, but still) along the route.

The Canadians were hot on my tail the entire way back to South Dix and then I went ahead of them on way to Hough. In reality, they were pushing me from the rear.

I decided to wait for them at the illegal? camp? bivy? some site at the hogback (that’s what the guidebook calls it) between South Dix and Hough.

Rich was teaching these kids right. I have to say, they absolutely *flew* on the trail. I was so impressed and slightly humiliated at points.

Anyway, I rested a bit too much at that spot and they moved ahead of to take Hough.

This portion of the trail is *brutal*. What a mean old mountain. Dead branches stabbing you, narrow paths around scabby rock.

I should mention at this point I’d been conserving water, I started the day with 2.75L - not nearly enough at all. A guy my size should have had 4L with them *at the least*. In hotter weather this would have ended up my trip prematurely and I’d have needed to split the trip over two days into a 3 and 2 or 4 and 1.

Rich, Nick and Jo were in a similar situation. I finished my last reserves of water after snapping a photo of them when I finally reached Hough’s summit. We both ate a little and departed for Dix, but not before they offered me a ride to Keene Valley at the end of the day (I may have been fishing for it). Score.

The hike to Dix, despite the elevation was pretty relaxed. I knew I had no water and so I just moved very deliberately and kept my focus. The views that you see of Dix all day make it seem like the final push to the summit will be ungodly steep, but I never felt it. By far I was most wasted from South to Hough.

Anyway, on top of Dix I caught up with the Canadians and lo and behold, Dan, the quiet hiker reached us as well. He started opening up a bit which was great. I had been thinking he was a bit of recluse all day but it was in reality quiet resolve. I’m also on the opposite end - very talkative / wordy (oh.. reader! are you still there?).

We take photos, talk a bit more, enjoy the perfect weather and view. Dan tosses me a baby-bel cheese, one of my favorite trail foods which I down in two gulps.

Everyone’s plan had been to take the Hunter’s Pass back down, and as we head towards the direction another group on what we think was a false summit intercepts us.

"This is the actual summit". "But there was a marker over there". "It’s an older marker, here’s the marker right here". He points to the marker. He’s leading a group of some younger guys. Definitely wanted to impress and a bit cheeky, "You Adirondack hussies".

"What’s that", says Rich. "It’s kind of a joke. You sat on five Dix in a day, you’re Adirondack hussies". RDRR.

He goes on to suggest that we take the Beckhorn trail back down to the Elk Lake Trailhead. It’s shorter, yes it’s steeper, but it’s shorter.

Now, without further information, I’m the type of person to say “stick with the plan”. But Rich and Dan contemplate it for a minute, look at me, I shrug my shoulders.

He makes the critical mistake of saying “Well, it’s a good bailout”. That single word makes Rich perk up and his eyes light on fire.

We take the Hunter’s Pass. The second we’re out of earshot, “he shouldn’t have used that word”, he says to me and his sons.

The dehydration headache starts to set in and the walk down is long and not exactly enjoyable.

We finally cross water, filter, drink 2L’s straight up with electrolyte tablets and I instantly feel better.

Onwards to the lean-to it’s a bit dissapointing that there is so much elevation gain on the way out. Maybe the Beckhorn trail would have avoided that? Anyway, it wasn’t what we did and no regrets.

We get to the lean-to, Dan catches up as I’m packing away my day pack into my full pack and collecting my gear from the lean-to. Had I not met these fellows I was planning on staying another day there and then hiking out the following morning.

Dan offers me a ride instead, which frees up Rich and his kids to continue their rapid journey out.

Dan even goes ahead since he knows I’ll catch up with him, which I do exactly the moment he’s signing out at the register. Perfect timing.

Part 8: Keene Valley

I change before I hop in, ride into Keene Valley with Dan, he drops me off at the hostel. As I’m getting out we see Rich and his kids who had just finished packing up, they had stayed there the night prior. Final reunion.

Rich even puts a good word in for me with the two cute French Canadian girls at the hostel. What a class act, eh?

I say bye to Dan, clean myself up, get food at Noonmark and pass out so hard I don’t even think I dreamed. When you had your head in the clouds all day, who needs to?


Thank you so much to everyone who made sure I’d get to where I’d need to be and everyone who looked out for me on the trail.