Forecasters, meteorologists, weathermen, whatever you call them, I label them all the same: Useless.
Heading out from Ausable Point with a belly full of banana bread, I drove down to Newcomb, and then to the Elk Lake parking area after work. The plan was to hike in a little over two miles to the Slide Brook lean-to, then the next day head up into the Dix Range to climb Macomb, East Dix, South Dix, Hough, and Dix.
When I got to the parking lot, I spoke with two separate groups that both said the lean-to was full. I was worried about the forecast, which said rain starting late that night and continuing through the next day, and I didn’t bother to bring a tent. So I decided to sleep in the car and get an early start. “It’s only a couple of extra miles, and those groups did the range as a day hike, so I won’t have any problem.” Stupid forecasters.
I woke up early and started to hike, with a much lighter load. I didn’t need my sleeping stuff, so I ditched it and headed up the trail. The first miles were an easy, pretty flat grade, and I covered the distance to the herd path in under an hour. The herd path up the first four mountains (trail-less) started right from the lean-to, and to my chagrin, there were only four people sleeping there, which is considerably less than full. But oh well, it was less than three miles.
I had planned on the rain, and Pico’s ability to drink from the thousands of puddles that the rain would create. But so far, there was no rain, which of course was good for hiking, but bad for our water supply.
Heading up the herd path following Slide Brook, Pico and I made pretty good time. After starting at about 6:30am, we reached the base of the rock slide on Macomb in just a hair under two hours. Pico and I had never hiked up a rock slide before, and I have to tell you, it was a hell of a lot more scary than I had imagined. I got the first glimpse of the slide a little before reaching the base, and quickly realized that it was close to a thousand feet long, and probably gained six or seven hundred feet in elevation. Staring up from the base of the slide, I was taken aback at how loose and sandy it was. There were some pretty big rocks and lots of smaller ones, with no discernible path up it.
Pico, of course, immediately started up the slide without any hesitation. I, on the other hand, gingerly started to pick my way up, occasionally having to use hand and feet holds, and sending loose rocks sliding with any small slip of my foot. The going was kind of slow, but not too bad, and after getting about halfway up the slide, the first views of Elk Lake were reassuring. It sure did seem pretty far away, though. I was also really preoccupied with the stability of the slide. I thought about avalanche safety, and never crossing the slide, but it was unavoidable. There were several times when I thought about just how screwed I would be if me or Pico started to fall. There wasn’t going to be any way to stop until gravity decided to cut me a break.
After topping out on the slide with no major problems, the trail started again and we were on the summit of Macomb pretty quickly. The clouds were just sitting on top of the mountains, and with no view of the four other peaks on the agenda, I got out the compass and got a bearing towards South Dix. Luckily, the trail was again easy to follow, and Pico and I had no problem making our way to the summit of South Dix.
Just below the summit of South Dix, I ran into a couple who were hiking the other way. They had gone up Dix, then over Hough, camped out, and were exiting over South Dix and Macomb. They said the trail to Hough was easy enough to find, but the two groups who told me the lean-to was full had both gotten lost on their way to Hough. By now the clouds had lifted and I got my first view of what Pico and I had already climbed and what we still needed to climb. We were on the summit of the second of our five mountains for the day, and it was already 10:20am. Better get a move on…
Leaving the summit of South Dix, the trail follows the ridge between South Dix and East Dix. It was easy going, but due to the distance, it took close to an hour to get there. And of course, we then had to turn around and re-hike the same ridge to climb South Dix again. Looking up at the hogback, Hough, and then the small summits leading up to Dix was intimidating. They look so close together, but I know that we still have a lot of walking to do. Plus, our water was getting low because I had to keep sharing it with Pico. Not a single friggin’ puddle for him to drink from. Stupid weathermen.
Not sure how those two groups I spoke to the day before missed the trail to Hough, but Pico and I found it with no problem. We started off to climb the three hump hogback between South Dix and Hough. After getting over the hogback, the ridge drops to just below 4000’ in elevation, so there is a campsite there. Nice little spot, and you’re pretty much guaranteed privacy since it’s in the middle of nowhere.
A steady climb brought us up to the summit of Hough a little after 1:00pm. By now, the sun had peaked out a couple of times, and I was, again, rationing water for Pico and myself. I was starting to be thirsty all the time, and Pico was lapping up every drop I gave him. We had a quick lunch of bagels and I took off my clothes to let them dry out a little and soak up some sun. The summit of Hough was kind of lackluster in and of itself, but there were some great views, especially of Dix, South Dix and Macomb, even with the clouds still sitting pretty low.
Climbing over the three sub-peaks to get to the summit of Dix was demoralizing. I was thirsty and tired, but I also knew that the fastest way back to the car was to climb Dix and head out on the main trail, just like I planned. So we pressed on, and the trail was still easy to follow, but considerably harder to hike. The steepness of some of the sections made me a little worried if I had to down climb, but soon we were right near tree-line, and it seemed like the summit was near. The trail then led us to a giant boulder with a thirty foot long crack in the middle of it. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I searched around for a path around the boulder, but found none. I figured that I could try to climb it and maybe it looked worse than it was. I finally got up into the crack and made it up about halfway, then looked back at Pico and realized he wasn’t going to be able to follow me up, and the only rope I had was some flimsy clothes line, not strong enough to pull him up. I down climbed and then bushwhacked my way around to the left of the boulder. The trees were thick and stiff, and it took close to twenty minutes to go about thirty feet. But, Pico was able to follow on this route, and we made it to the top of the boulder.
The hike out was uneventful to say the least. Pretty much a straight shot out to the car, even though it took another four hours of walking. Just as I was able to see the parking lot through the trees, I felt the first sprinkle of the day. We got to the car, and I drank water until I almost threw up. As the sprinkles got a little heavier, I stripped for the second time that day and took a rain shower right there in the parking lot.