It was late afternoon on the Dix Mountain Trail and I was stuck between a frog and a mastergrasshopper and had no choice but to push hard. Behind me, the frog was breathing frog breath down my neck and ahead, the grasshopper hopped along effortlessly, always 20 feet in front of me, no matter how fast I made my legs go. We were trying to break 10 hours for the five summits of the Dix Range. We had approached the range in the dark via the Boquet Valley to Grace Peak and were exiting on the “Blue Trail” after having summited Dix Mountain, the final one of the quintet. Total distance 20 miles, give or take. More important was the total elevation gain : 6000 feet and change of gain.
The Project 46 countdown calendar on my watch broke 50 days over the Christmas holidays. Every time I look at it I’m reminded that I’ll soon be taking my first step in my pursuit of the Adirondack Winter 46. With only 7 weeks to go it’s time to ramp up my training regimen. That explains why we were speeding through the Dixes.
It was a clear, cold day and the sky was a deep blue, which contrasted starkly against the fresh, white snow on the trees. Deep in the valleys there was only a few inches of snow over ice and we wore trail crampons (microspikes) for the entire hike. We also carried full, 10-point crampons in our packs just in case we encountered high-angled glare ice.
After reaching the head of the horseshoe-shaped valley we made a left turn and ascended an unofficial trail up the col between Grace and Carson Peaks, the first two of the five. The snow was crusty and I led the way, kicking footsteps up the steep hill until we could see sky directly in front of us. This meant we were at the height of land and we intersected the regular trail. Within minutes we were on top of Grace Peak in full sunshine with a full view of the other four peaks and dozens of other mountains including the Green Mountains of Vermont. We ran back down to the col, drank and ate a bit and pushed on to Carson. As forecasted, the temperature was dropping rapidly. From Carson to McComb it’s an out-and-back hike but first you drop a few hundred feet over exposed rock into the Carson-McComb col before a 600-foot ascent. The wind was chilly but the sunshine was brilliant.
Glen, the grasshopper, set a very fast pace through
untrammeled snow to the summit of McComb from which we enjoyed the views of the Adirondacks. The wind chilled us quickly though so I led the way down at a full gallop. Back up on the summit of Carson Peak we re-fueled and now it was cold enough that in just 5 minutes my pants and jacket froze like stove pipes. We were on our way to my favorite section of the hike. From Pough to Dix (Pough, pronounced Puff, is the name of an exposed ridge between Carson and Hough) and from Hough all the way to the summit of Dix the trail climbs a lightly forested ridge. The sub-summit of Dix is called the Beckhorn and it towers forbiddingly above you all the way. As you draw closer it looks increasingly and impossibly steep.
This part of the Dix Mountain Wilderness Zone is the wildest and most rugged place I know in all of the Northeast United States and I never tire of it.
The snow depth increased greatly after Hough Mountain and our pace slowed while our thighs burned and our chests pounded from the effort of driving ever upward in knee deep snow. We took frequent short breaks to admire the rugged beauty that surrounded us in all directions. We broke tree-line at the Beckhorn and although it was cold, the wind was calm. In every direction we looked we could only see more mountains.
David the frog, or TopoGothics as we know him on the forum, wore an altimeter which registered our rate of descent off the summit at 70 feet per minute to the base of the mountain. Now, we had 6 miles (10 kilometers) of icy trail to cover and it was at this point we realized we had a fighting chance of breaking 10 hours and getting out without using headlamps. The pace quickened and then it quickened some more. Over ice, wearing a pack and trail crampons, the best one can do is a quick shuffle with short jogs interspersed. My thigh muscles were taking a beating on the downhills but I was sandwiched in between the frog and the grasshopper so I kept the pace. Anyway, this was my fourth and last consecutive hiking day and I was curious as to how sore I’d be the next day.
We made it out in 10 hours and 10 minutes. Full picture album.