Intro to the Dix Wilderness: Macomb Mountain

1636Following up on my hike up Mt. Marshall on Saturday I took advantage of the three day weekend and squeezed in one last trek. Macomb is my first venture into the Dix Wilderness and the Elk Lake Trail.

Early Big Game Hunting Season starts the weekend after Columbus day so this was my last ADK46 hike of the year. I don’t know about you but I’d prefer to stay clear of  hunting areas, particularly when by myself. Don’t get me wrong – I totally support multi-use of land and hunting season. I just stay clear of wildness when the guns are out.

2014-10-13 10.03.07Like many of the peaks in the ADKs there many combinations to hiking the Dix Range: Dix, Grace Peak (formerly E. Dix), South Dix, Hough and Macomb. All but Dix are trail-less (i.e. unmaintained herd paths). Though possible to do in one continuous hike – it rarely is done together without camping – and I have doubts that I’d have the speed to safely do all five in one long day. So my plan was to break it out in three hikes: (1) Macomb (2) Dix and (3) Grace, South and Hough. Macomb was the perfect intro to the Dix Wilderness and chance to get a “short” hike in. Though short does not translate into easy. The last 1.6 miles rises up 2200 feet on some difficult terrain.

The Elk Lake Trail is accessed via the Elk Lake Lodge Road (private). For a bit I questioned if I was on the correct road – it went much farther than I excepted with no signs of hikers but finally I saw the tell tale signs of cars parked on the road indicating a full trail head parking lot. I was relieved to find several open spots – guessing most of the cars were weekend camping backpackers.

2014-10-13 10.53.30The first 2.3 miles flies by:  relatively flat, with some gentle rises and falls, a pretty worn trail, with a few rock hopping sections, crossing first Big Sally Brook and several other small brooks before reaching the unmarked trail (ok actually marked by a cairn) just after Slide Brook. Unlike, Marshall the trail is easy to follow (even with the trail covered in leaves) and the first mile is a beautiful forest hike, with some elevation gain but nothing too steep relative to most ADK hikes. Also some nice peeks at South Dix and Grace on the way up.

2014-10-13 13.12.26But then you hit the slide – oh boy it is certainly one of the most interesting sections of hike. But easy isn’t what I’d call it. The first part of the slide is quite loose (read: lose rock and dirt that slides all around you as you make your way up that gives you the feeling that if you slip you’ll keep going). Angling left puts you on firmer scrambles but steep and slippery/wet on this day – I opted for a combination on wet scramble and the loose rock in sections depending which footing seemed less treacherous. All that said – it was very unique and awesome. With great views of the Elk Lake region stretching below, gave some views when resting. Which was good because the summit was in cloud cover.

Eventually reaching the tree scrub to a higher and steep section of the slide that ends with a transverse under a huge boulder. From there joins the less used (longer trail from the slide) to transverse the ridge just south of the summit.

2014-10-13 12.16.15The view from the top, well, was non-existent. Cloud cover through and through. But I still enjoyed a quick break before heading back down to the slide and enjoyed my lunch break below the cloud cover and the view.

Ascending the slide took some time, and probably could of picked a more efficient path – but considering there is no “path” it wasn’t self-evident to determine the best option. At times rock climbing down the edge of scrambles where they met the brush line. But I finally found a good switchback option about half way down in the more “loose” section. Witnessing one hiker slip – I watched the rocks tumble down and sure made me thankful I was above him and not below. It was also reassuring to see he only slid about 5-10 feet vs. the horrific tumble I was expecting to see.

2014-10-13 13.10.28

2014-10-13 11.00.02At the junction with the “trail” back to the woods I ran into two hikers. After some conversation turns out the woman was from my home town village: Schuylerville, NY. With a population of 1300 I never run into random people from my home village much less on a hiking trail. Once we exchanged our names, the man started asking my last name. He was pretty shocked and full of exclamations which caught me off-guard. Turns out he was good friends with my older brother back in the day. Small world. We then chatted the last few easy miles out and caught up on life, family, etc. It sure made the hike go by fast.

We hit the trail head at 4pm. It was an odd feeling to be out so early and in fact was going to be home before dark! My plan for a short(er) hike worked out well, so I could be a functioning human at work the next day. I’m now officially at #20 and feels great to reach the 20s. Still many more to go – but over a year in and I’m on my way!

A note on Grace Peak:
East Dix was officially renamed Grace Peak this year in honor of Grace Hudowalski (1906–2004), who in 1937 became the ninth person and first woman to climb all 46 of the Adirondack High Peaks. I never had the opportunity to “write to Grace” as many 46er have. She was the long time secretary of the ADK46 club and handled the correspondence for those aspiring 46ers. This Fall my mother went to the state archives to get the paperwork for my two Uncles and Grandfather for their official 46er paperwork. While I have not read them in full yet, I’m looking forward diving in over this coming winter. But one thing I’ve enjoyed so far is breezing the correspondence with Grace. Thank you to Grace for being the first woman 46er. I see many women hiking (though fewer than men) but to date I’ve only met one other solo woman hiker – and none that do it routinely. I hope many more (myself included) follow in her footsteps. And thank you tot he ADK46er club for honoring her with a much deserved renaming of East Dix to Grace Peak.

Macomb Mountain: completed 10/13/2014, total distance 8.5 miles, hike time: 8 hrs, elevation 4,405 , order of height 21

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