Trip Report: MLK Day Adventure in the Adirondacks: Dix Wilderness

Posted by Michael Martin on

Let me preface this by saying: I love the Adirondacks! Especially in winter!

All right, so this was the first DC UL trip where we were wearing *crampons* the entire time--definitely a new experience. OK, there were the few miles on Friday night we bare-booted in, and five of us were wearing Hillsounds instead of full crampons, but by Saturday night, you really could hardly visit the privy without your spikes!

Stryder (Matt), Blizzard (Vince), Dave, Peter, Upasana (UPS), Heavy D, and I set out from Grosvenor on Friday morning with some trepidation in our hearts. Winter is all well and good, but winter in the Adirondacks is an entirely different matter. After consulting the forecast, I had decided to leave behind my really warm bag and just bring my 10* bag. Imagine my chagrin when, upon arrival at the trailhead, people were saying that the forecast for Sunday night was for -7*! Oh well, I thought, I've slept chilled before! (And I did have plenty of warm clothing.)

Geared up (with a ton of fuel for the white gas stoves), we marched in from Clear Pond to the real trailhead at Elk Lake, then rounded the lake to the east. There was snow and ice underfoot, but the trail was gentle and we made good time. About 4.3 miles later, we reached the Slide Brook Lean To, where we set up base camp. There was a small AMC group camped nearby and I chatted with them. They had climbed the Macomb Slide last year and were going after Hough in the morning. I pondered that.

Saturday morning, we sat off at 8am to climb Dix via the Beckhorn. We all decided to wear crampons from the get-go, as even the relatively flat trail was plenty icy. Some adjustments followed. Though the Hillsounds did work well (I left my mountaineering boots behind in favor of more supple winter boots), they tended to slip some and need to be re-adjusted. Thank goodness Heavy D and Vince brought along the tools. We passed Lilian Brook and soon started the steep climb to the Beckhorn and the summit ridge of Dix. I would be lying if I told you it went fast. The weather was perfect: a bluebird day with temps in the 20s. Ice lower down gave way to snow-over-ice higher up. Dave and Peter taught us to use a rolling lead, which we used to good effect to keep the group together. But the steeper it got, the slower we went. And it got plenty steep. Dave and I went to snow shoes just as we reached the scrambling moves for which they were completely unsuitable. Back to crampons.

We reached the false summit of the Beckhorn (plenty high enough to be a 46er if it weren't so close to Dix), where we were confronted by a ledge about 6-7 feet high that posed quite an obstacle. In any other season, I think one could have easily climbed right up it, but we milled about it for some time before Stryder used his long legs to get over it. I was over it, next (using the front point of my crampons), and then everyone else followed. A steep couloir led to the summit of the Beckhorn. Dave and Peter, having already summitted Dix before, turned back. The remaining five of us continued, pressing through some thick snow before reaching the summit of Dix--at 4,857 feet, the sixth highest 46er. We enjoyed the fantastic views, and socialized with some Quebecois guys, who took our photos. But it was late in the day. About 2:30pm, and so down we went. And the descent was cake, the crampons biting nicely all the way down.

Back at camp, Dave and Peter had done an amazing job of gathering firewood, so we enjoyed a merry fire and chatted about tomorrow. We we happy to get Dix, but it definitely wasn't easy. Not everyone had an ice ax, and I wasn't sure I wanted us to try to climb the Macomb slide, as it was very icy. A veteran ADKer walked through and described it as very dicey indeed. The AMCers came through and described the herd path that ascends Lilian's Brook to the col between Hough and South Dix. Bingo! We resolved to try that the next morning.

Sunday morning, we were off and climbing this herd path, which proved a much easier path up to the ridgeline. It became steep and icy, but this proved no great obstacle. We reached the col by 11:15am, and quickly blundered up to Hough. The snow was falling and the wind rose as we gained the summit. Elated by our quick success, we chased down South Dix and East Dix, easily navigating the herd paths on the ridgeline. A young woman from Vermont, Thuy, joined us. We posed for pictures on the wind-swept and very cold summit of East Dix. The thermometer said about 6* and there was little for a view except for blowing snow. Still, we savored the success.

We were all happy as as we returned to South Dix. I remember thinking to myself, "I won't be able to live with myself if we don't try Macomb!" Stryder, Heavy D, and I resolved to do so, while the others headed down. The weather did seem to be coming on strong. Our attempt did not last long. We headed down off the summit of S. Dix and traversed an exposed, slabby area. The wind blew in gusts and we were nearly in a white out. Finding the trail was going to be tough, and as for finding it back .... We three looked at each, and decided to save Macomb for another day. We caught up with the others at the col, and descended Lilian's Brook back to camp.

Backpacker's midnight came very early that night, even by my standards. We had had a long and successful day, and we were all tired. I read my Kindle and sipped whisky in my bag. I dressed up, expecting -7* but it never came. Really we had moderate temperatures, in the teens and the 20s in camp, no lower than the single digits up high, though there was some wind chill at times. We were well prepared for the conditions, and could have gone much lower, I'm sure.

Monday morning, we struck camp and covered the few miles back to the cars very quickly. All that remained was the long drive home. Heavy D passed the time quizzing UPS on all aspects of things Indian.

Thanks to everyone for making my first W3 trip such a success. Winter credit on four 46ers (Dix, East Dix, South Dix, and Hough) is no small accomplishment. Special thanks to Peter and Dave, whose mountaineering expertise really enabled our success! And without Stryder, how would we have ever gotten over that ledge?

(So that's 22 of 46 for me, 4 of 46 for winter credit!)


PS It turned out that the Tyvek map sold by the ADk club is quite a bit better than the map I was using, as it showed the herd paths in the area much better. Had I been using this map from the beginning, I might have taken us up via Lilian's Brook from the get-go, instead of via the Beckhorn. This was a tactical error, as that climb was much harder.

PPS Doing all five of these 46ers in a day is certainly do-able, and would be a fun challenge, even in the winter. The most elegant way is to climb Macomb slide ... but one would have to move very fast. It would also help to know the trails. Descending via the Beckhorn is fast and direct.

Joffrey Peters posted on

Judging from a few photos, Macomb slide looks fun! Just need real crampons and some self-arrest confidence.

Will posted on

Now I really regret missing this one! Could have used my ice axe! Damn.