Cabin Life – #4

Woke up normal time, between four and five in the morning.  I usually get up a few times a night to stoke the fire, but the stove has been burning well for the last couple of weeks.  I still like to get up and throw a couple of logs on, and to be sure the fire doesn’t go out, I set an alarm for 10:30pm, 12:30am, and 2:00am.

Got up, checked the fire, finished the book “Boomerang” that I got from the library and tried to fix my car window.  The driver’s window is stuck about halfway down, and since its winter, I really need to get it fixed.  But I don’t feel like going anywhere today, especially since I have to drive with the window down.  No, it’s better to put some plastic over it and wait a day or two to head to the mechanic.

Getting up so early and often generally requires that I take a nap during the day.  Since I get up so early, nap time is usually around 9:00am, which sounds weird, because most people have just gotten out of bed or are just getting to work.  But by nine, I’ve been up about five hours, and it’s nice to get a little more shut-eye.  When I lay down, the wind was blowing and the sky was overcast, but it was warm and there was a steady pat-pat-pat of water dripping off the roof.

When I woke up around noon, I glanced out the big window and could not see the trees on the other side of the yard.  They are maybe 150 yards away, but it was a white out.  The wind was raging, and snow was blowing everywhere.  The screened-in porch had about a half inch of accumulation despite the screens, there were a few inches on the ground while Pico turned white with snow after about a minute outside.

Since I had plenty of water in my brand new 5 gallon jug and lots of food, hunkering down didn’t seem like such a bad option.  It would be downright enjoyable if I had another little nine volt battery so I could listen to NPR once in a while, but I killed the last battery yesterday.  With all this indoor time on my hands, there’s really only one thing to do:  Clean.

I had a roommate for the last couple of months, but he’s gone now, so I set to making the cabin a little less like a weekend retreat and more like a home.  The biggest thing I have to do is the dishes.  There’s four knives, a bowl, a fork, and a small sauce pot to be washed.  It’s not that I don’t eat at home or cook, but I generally use paper plates and bowls, along with plastic silverware and cast-iron pans.  I know, I hate using the disposable stuff, but it’s really hard to do the dishes out here with no running water.  Plus, at least the paper dishes can go into the stove and produce some heat for the place.  Using the stuff twice, that’s my justification.

The propane stove is lit and the tea kettle is on.  There’s a big Tupperware in the sink to hold the hot water.  I have dish soap and a dish rag too.  Then the process begins.  I’ve put the five gallon jug on to two small pieces of 2×4 to raise it a little.  I wash in the hot water, rinse with the cold water.  It’s enough of a pain that I am still going to use mostly disposable stuff, but it only takes a few minutes to wash the dishes.  Trust me, this is a big step up in lifestyle.

I rearrange some other things so that I can sit on the couch in front of the big window and decide that that’s enough productivity for one day.  After all, I got all winter out here.  The storm is still blowing and the forecast now says that the high temperature tomorrow is going to be 1.  There’s about 6 inches of snow on the driveway, and I have to get it plowed for the first time this year.

But it’s nice to just sit inside by the fire once in a while.  There’s subtle pops from the woodstove and all three animals are snoring.  The sound of a fat cat snoring makes me want to crawl back into bed, but I have to head outside and get another arm load of wood.

Dix Mountain Range

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.

Surprisingly, we popped out on the main trail maybe two minutes later.  Hiking another quarter mile of so, we reached the summit of Dix, the fifth and final High Peak of the day.

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.