Gear Review – Osprey Talon 33 Backpack

I purchase the Osprey Talon 33 backpack two months ago.  I have used it in a variety of conditions and am pleased by its performance.

I bought the pack to use on search and rescue missions for Search and Rescue of the Northern Adirondacks, however I used it on several hikes and Osprey Talon 33cross-country ski trips before being called out on my first search.  I use the NASAR pack contents as a guide for what I should carry.  I added some more stuff than they recommend, but also eliminated a few things.  I see no need to carry a tracking stick when I have no idea how to use it effectively, but a folding saw can come in handy when you’re in a thick alder swamp with only a couple of feet of visibility.

The pack had some extra room in it even with all the stuff I carry.  I use a couple of water bottles instead of a bladder, so with a bladder there would be enough room in this pack for a summer overnight.  While out skiing with the pack the first time, I was satisfied with the way the hip belt carries the load.  I did not have to deal with the pack shifting a lot, even over several layers of clothes.

I found that the small mesh pockets on each shoulder strap are very convenient for holding an energy packet or something else small.  I didn’tOsprey Talon 33 want to put a knife in there as the pockets are open at the top, but securely stored my multi-tool in the zippered pocket on the hip belt.  It’s easy to get to and in no danger of falling out.  I stash a compass in the other hip belt pocket, but they are large enough for a small digital camera as well.

My favorite design feature of the Talon 33 is the number of pockets, with very little on the outside of the pack to get hung up on brush.  After two days searching through alder swamps, off-trail through old growth and across rock ledges, the pack never got hung up once on any brush or rocks.  I was able to move through the brush easier because of the streamlined design of the pack.

However, there are actually nine pockets in addition to the main compartment and the beaver tail.  Two water bottle pockets on either side, one on each shoulder strap and hip belt, two on top of the hood, and a zippered mesh pocket on the inside of the hood.  Small things are very easy to access while still being secure.

I put my personal identification, keys, and phone in a baggie and put them in Osprey Talon 33the zippered mesh pocket.  I kept a notebook and maps in the top pocket, rain cover on the side, and crampons and gaiters in the beavertail.  I had no issue with a lack of storage with this pack.

The downsides are few in my opinion.  The shoulder straps are comfortable, light, and airy, but a little flimsy.  I can’t help but look at the padding through the mesh and wonder when it will start to rip.  The back also isn’t quite stiff enough.  I always carry a small foam pad to sit on, and it helped stiffen up the back a little bit.  The location of the water bladder is in the usual spot against your back, so using a bladder will probably cause the typical back bulge and make it less comfortable.

All in all, I am really happy with my purchase.  It does what I need it do, and even a little more.

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Cabin Life – #8

My hands are beat up.  I guess that shouldn’t be much of a surprise, but the combination of old scars and new wounds (fine, they’re more like boo-boos, but whatever) represent the bulk of the physical hardship of living out here.

The quarter-sized scar on the back of my right wrist is courtesy of the wood stove, as is the small scab on the back of my right thumb.  Next to the burn on my thumb are two little marks where large splinters were pulled out.  The back of my left thumb knuckle got skinned the other day while cleaning the chimney.  And my left middle finger got nailed grabbing wood out of the shed.

One of the apple trees

There are also the pre-cabin scars like the one on my index finger from where the first knife I owned folded up on me while I was up in the apple tree at my parent’s old house.  Plus the one on my right palm that ended with seven stitches after jamming my hand into a pile of broken glass at the bar during work.

There’s no doubt about it, my right hand takes the brunt of my abuse.  I just read “The Old Man and The Sea” and that had a similar theme, but the old man thought his left hand was weak and stupid.  He relied on his right hand and never had any doubts about its usefulness.  I don’t think my left hand is useless, and in fact I have to admit that if I was going to lose a finger, I would prefer that it came from my right hand.  I need all the fingers on my left hand to play guitar.

One nice thing about the mildness of this winter, so far anyway, is that my feet haven’t been as frost bitten as I thought they would be.  I developed frost bite on my feet years ago.  Cramming my feet into ill-fitting and stiff down hill ski boots and skiing over one hundred days per year pretty much sealed my fate.  I should have chosen boots that were comfortable, but I wanted racing boots even though I sucked at racing and was only on the team to get the free skiing.  The tables have turned now, and since I no longer get free skiing, I no longer get frostbite.  Truth is, I’d rather hit the slopes and deal with the frostbite.

Cabin Life – #5

Bitter, bitter cold.  The HIGH temperature yesterday was 1.  About 8:00 this morning, the thermometer in my car read -18.  And that was after the sun had been up for a while.  It hurts to do anything outside when it’s that cold, and I’m pretty sure that I would rather die than go to the outhouse right now.

There’s really no difference to the feel of the air whether it’s twenty below or thirty below.  Both temperatures are equally hellish.  It’s not like when the temperature goes from thirty to forty above.  Forty degrees is a really warm day up here this time of year.  I would have my windows open, there’d be people walking around in t-shirts.  But trust me, when its more than ten degrees below zero, it is all terrible.

I’m chicken sitting, otherwise I wouldn’t go anywhere on a day like today.  The car gets started at least thirty minutes before I leave to let the engine and parts get warmed up as well as the heater.  She starts fine, but there are always

The front door hinge inside the cabin

horrible sounds when it’s this cold out.  The Jeep doesn’t want to go anywhere either and it makes its protestations known.  Too bad, I got chickens to take care of.

So much time and energy are devoted to dealing with the cold when it is like this.  Two nights ago, it was well below zero, and when I went to put the chickens away for the night, I noticed that there was no light coming from the coop.  I checked inside, and the heating lamp was not on.  It was a frantic scramble to check the extension cords and make sure they were plugged in.  Hands freeze and become useless very quickly when they have to be shoved into the snow searching for a little piece of wire.  And I have to be careful opening the door to go in.  The tiny bit of moisture on my hands from the snow freezes to the doorknob, and I have to exert a little extra effort to “let go” of the knob.

Once inside, my face and hands start stinging.  I was outside for maybe five minutes.  I check all the places where I think light bulbs could be: basement, garage, linen closet.  Finally in a back corner of the basement, I find the light bulbs.  I love compact fluorescent bulbs to save money, but in this case they’re useless.  I need a good old fashioned incandescent, one that sucks up the juice and spits out a ton of heat.  I don’t know enough about chickens to know how well they’d survive a winter up here with no shelter, but I do know that I don’t want to report a dead chicken to Amy.  Even if it would be a delicious tragedy.

Another option if I can’t get the lamp working is to bring them into the garage.  It’s warmer and sheltered, but then I would have to clean up all that chicken crap in the morning.  Plus, they probably wouldn’t want to leave the garage, meaning that I would have to catch each one and carry it outside.  If you’ve never hung out with any chickens, they’re kind of dumb.

Luckily, it was just a burned out bulb, and I found one halogen light that seemed to throw some heat.  The next morning, the chickens were all still alive, so the bulb must have at least helped.  After checking the coop for eggs and finding two frozen ones, I guess that chickens can survive pretty cold temperatures.



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.

Hurricane Irene Trail Work – Week One

Debris pile at outflow of Avalanche Lake

During the second or third year of my tenure in Jacksonville, FL, Tropical Storm Faye came through the area and dumped a bunch of rain.  Nothing much happened other than some flooding in a few neighborhoods.  But since Jacksonville sits at sea level and has an enormous river running smack through the middle of it, the flooding was nothing new or unique.  Or even all that dangerous.       

Then, during the summer of 2011, on a beautiful August Saturday in Upstate New York, I got a phone call from the regional office telling me that we had to evacuate the campground due to Hurricane Irene, which was steaming up the Eastern Seaboard and heading straight for us.  You can imagine my dread at having to kick about a thousand people out of Ausable Point on a gorgeous day in the middle of their vacations because of a hurricane.  Surprisingly, we really didn’t run into any trouble as everyone seemed to be comforted by the fact that they were going to get a refund and come back after the storm had passed.  But here I was, in beautiful Upstate New York, and for the first time, I was a little worried about a hurricane.

Medium-sized moose track

When Irene finally reared her ugly head, she was a monster.  Hundreds of miles of roads were washed away, houses, businesses, and buildings were knocked off their foundations and thousands of people were without power for anywhere from a day to more than a week.  Ausable Point did not escape the destruction.  The campground was without power for a full week and there were dozens of trees knocked down.  I counted about 175 rings in one red pine.

The severity of the storm tested the resources of the state and utility companies.  It took about a week for everyone to wrap their heads around what had just happened.  Irene dumped more than eleven inches of rain in less than 24 hours.  It was somewhere in the neighborhood of a 500-year flood.

The Eastern High Peaks Wilderness and the Dix Mountain Wilderness got hit the hardest out of the wild areas up here.  High winds and the torrential downpours guaranteed a changed backcountry landscape as soon as anyone could penetrate it to find out.  The wilderness areas had been evacuated, but there were still a few people who stayed (and were allowed to stay) in the woods.  The ADK crew at Johns Brook Lodge and the state caretaker at Marcy Dam were a few of the brave people out there.  When the storm was over, there were dozens of new landslides, huge stretches of trails were gone and bog and stream bridges were reduced to kindling.  There was debris stuck in tree branches ten feet off the ground.  The magnitude of the damage was staggering.

Needless to say, after the storm, all resources went to helping the people and towns that had been slammed by the flooding.  Once the heavy cleanup was done and there was some breathing room, the state started to tackle the problem of the High Peaks.  Labor Day was coming up, and it is always a big hiking and tourist weekend, and the state desperately wanted to make sure that the trails were safe so the public could enjoy them (and out-of-towners could help defray the cost with their tourist bucks).

Lake Colden Interior Outpost

Since I love to hike and am certified to run a chainsaw (and already work for the state), I was tapped to do emergency trail crew for a week.  Actually it was more like a blitz than a crew.  Close to one hundred people assembled at the Mount Van Hovenburg Ski Center for debriefing.  I was told to show up and got no other information.  Worried that I would be under-prepared for whatever it was we were about to do, I packed for a four-day, three-night stay in the woods.  Tent, food, sleeping bag, clothes, etc., plus all my chainsaw gear, including heavy boots, chaps, and a hardhat.  When I got there, only a few people seemed to have more than a day pack.

Mt. Colden from the Flowed Lands

Seeing my enormous amount of gear, two of the guys in charge pulled me from a crew that was doing day hikes and put me in with four other people who were going to stay in the woods for the four days.  I found out that we would be staying at the Lake Colden Interior Outpost and that I didn’t need my tent or a couple of other things.  I still had a ton of stuff in my bag and it was topping out at about 45 pounds, plus I had to wear my hardhat and carry a chainsaw and a two and half gallon jug of gasoline.  This was by far the heaviest pack I had carried in a long time, if not ever, and we had a 6.5 mile hike through some of the roughest backcountry terrain in the state.

Leaving the Adirondack Loj trailhead and heading south, we were going to have to hike about 3.5 miles to Marcy Dam (the dam and bridge were wiped out by the storm) and then through Avalanche Pass on to Lake Colden.  It was going to be a rough hike, but luckily the four other people I had just met and agreed to go into the woods with were turning out to be really friendly folks.  But, as our individual paces strung us out along the trail, I had plenty of time to wonder just what I had gotten myself into.

I had never hiked through Avalanche Pass, and I knew the reputation was rough.  And that was before it had gotten hit by a hurricane and a bunch of new landslides.  Winding my way over boulders the size of school buses and using ladders and planks to navigate around them in wet conditions would have been bad enough, but I was extra top heavy due to the massive pack on my back and I also didn’t have either hand free due to the saw and fuel.  I was glad Pico had not been invited on this trip.

Looking up Avalanche Lake

Then we got to the Hitch-Up-Matilda’s, a series of boardwalks attached to the cliff face about half way down Avalanche Lake.  The cliffs drop straight into the water for a stretch of several hundred yards, and way back in the day, metal supports were drilled into the cliff and 2×6 planks were attached so that hikers didn’t have to swim that portion of the “trail.”  The lake got so high during the flooding from Irene that most of the planks had floated off the supports (even though they were bolted on) and were MIA (as we walked over them, the planks were about four feet above water level).  After negotiating the missing planks and climbing over a massive debris pile at the south end of the lake, we made our way for the last mile or two over and around more than 20 bog bridges that we would be repairing and replacing during the week.

When we finally got to the cabin, I was ticked.  I had lugged a bunch of gear and bad food this far into the woods because I figured that we’d be roughing it, and there stands a two-story log cabin with a propane fridge and stove, and even running water.  This place was a six and a half mile walk into the woods and it is far nicer than the one room hovel I currently reside in.  We let ourselves in and relaxed for a few minutes before our crew leader Bob joined us.  He left about two hours after we did, and arrived at the cabin less than twenty minutes after we got there.  Bob was going to be tough to keep up with.

Opalescent River

We had to put in four ten-hour days and we had a lot of trail to cover.  The walk in over the missing planks and the debris pile and the bridges that had been moved was just a sample of what we’d be doing all week.  Once we got the gear straightened out, we went off and cut some blowdown in the immediate vicinity, but there wasn’t too much.  We only had to hike a few miles south of the cabin to clear out some trail and then two lean-tos that trees had fallen on.  Oh, and we also had to upright and reset two outhouses that had tipped over.  It was wonderful and fulfilling work.

Even though I was exhausted, I slept terribly that night.  Dawn came early and so out of bed and into a bowl of oatmeal I went.

We backtracked from the previous day’s hike in, and headed north back to Avalanche Lake.  All the moved and missing bog bridges we had passed over the day before had to be found and put back into place.  A bog bridge is a really simple thing.  It’s basically used in areas where the ground is wet and the bridge helps protect the trail from erosion as well as keeping hikers relatively dry.  It’s constructed of four pieces of wood, all found onsite, and some heavy duty metal spikes.  You pretty much just have to find two big trees (you need a log anywhere from 20 to 40 feet long and with a diameter of at least 18 inches) and split the bigger of the two right down the middle.  Then you take the smaller tree and cut two 6 foot logs from it.  These are the footers, and then the long, split tree is put onto the footers so that flat part of the log is facing up.  The twelve inch metal spikes hold the whole thing together, and viola, you got a bridge.  One that can weigh several hundred pounds.  We were lucky because even though this area of the trail had essentially turned into a raging torrent during the storm, most of the bridges were intact and just had to be located and moved.

Bob and I left the others at the south end of the stretch and we headed towards the north end.  Then we would meet somewhere in the middle and have lunch.  It took both teams a few hours, but eventually we ran into each other and the work on that one little section of trail was done.  No bridges had to be built from scratch, but all of our backs and arms were hurting from moving so many of those damn bridges.  There were no outhouses in this area, so we had that going for us, which was nice.

Mt. Colden from Lake Colden

After lunch, our first project consisted of rebuilding a series of bridges that provided access to the south end of the lake and the camping area.  These bridges were the same construction as the bog bridges, but they were huge.  Each bridge probably weighed at least 500 pounds, and we had 9 of them to put back into place.  We cut some smaller trees to use as pry-bars and got to work.  It was rough going but with five people, no one had to kill themselves to get it done.  The views from Lake Colden are ridiculously nice, and I took the opportunity to snap some pictures.  After dinner I hopped into Cold Brook which flows right past the cabin and into Lake Colden.  It was very cold water and my “bath” lasted about 40 seconds.

Debris pile midway up Avalanche Lake

The next day dawned even earlier, although I definitely slept better that second night.  We walked north over all of the reset bog bridges and started to work on clearing the enormous debris pile at the outlet of Avalanche Lake.  About mid-way down the lake on the eastern side of the cliffs is a famous area known as The Trap Dike.  It is a huge split in the rock face that provides backcountry skiing and ice climbing in the winter and rock climbing in the summer.  The whole Trap dike had been washed out, and those that had seen it before said it was totally changed.  All I could notice is the immense pile of debris at the bottom of it.  The rubble stretched halfway across the lake.

Bob had talked to the project coordinator and decided that three people could actually head out that day.  We had completed our assignments and needed to move onto other terrain.  The other three people in the crew were going to finish clearing the debris at the end of the lake, fix the Hitch-Up-Matilda’s and then grab their gear and head home.  By some stroke of luck, we actually found most of the missing planks stacked at the end of the lake, so no one would have to negotiate that stretch without the boardwalk, and it made our trip out easier too.


Bob and I headed south back to the cabin and dropped some gear and picked some other stuff out.  We needed to go check a little-used trail that follows the Opalescent River down to Newcomb.  We bush wacked through The Flowed Lands and found that the trail was a wreck.  There was so much blowdown that in some spots, the chainsaw didn’t stop running for close to an hour.  We traded tanks of gas (fill the chainsaw with gas, then one person carries it and cuts until the gas is gone.  Refill and switch people and duties.  That way, one person doesn’t get stuck carrying the stupid chainsaw all day) and hit one cluster of trees that simply made the trail disappear.  After cutting my way in and down to the main trunks of the tress, I saw that it was a cluster that had all come down together.  The roots were upturned, but still attached to the trees, creating a situation where the trees were “loaded.”  This means that the trees will spring back into the upright position once enough weight is removed from their tops.  This is one of the most dangerous things you can cut with a chainsaw, but it had to get done.  Very carefully I cut the trees and the six and a half foot tall stumps sprung back into the upright position.  We should have trimmed them down closer to the ground, but decided to leave it as a sort of monument to future hikers that we dubbed “Treehenge.”

Bob made one of the finest meals I have ever eaten that night, even though the two of us basically had to sleep in a self-created methane gas chamber.  It’s amazing to me how much better food tastes when you’ve earned it.  (The best meal I’ve ever had was instant mac and cheese with tuna in it on the summit of Algonquin Mountain.  Disgusting, I know, but oh so delicious that day.)  On the fourth morning, Bob and I set out from the cabin with all of our gear, plus some that the others had had to leave behind and started walking north towards Marcy Dam.  There was a little bit of work to be done there, and then we were free to head home.

Hanging Spears Falls

We fixed the high water crossing over Phelps Brook.  Yes, the high water bridge with close to five feet of clearance had been moved a few feet even though it weighed about 1000 pounds.  We got some help from a summer intern and reset the bridge.  Then Bob and I headed out for the three and a half mile hike back to our cars.  Bob is a ridiculously fast hiker, and I gave up trying to keep up.  My pace was definitely off due to the hard work and thirty or so miles of trail that we had covered in the last few days.  Plus, the reduced weight in my pack from all the food I had eaten was offset by the extra gear I was carrying.  But he would stop and wait to make sure I hadn’t died and then we’d move on.

It was great to get a cup of chocolate after hiking in the rain all day, and when we were done with our debriefing at the central office, I headed home, looking forward to a very long and hot shower.  When I walked in the door, I knew I smelled bad, but my roommate looked at me and said: “You smell like woodchips and gasoline.”  It was one of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten.

* I changed Bob’s name just because I didn’t get to ask if they wanted their actual name used.

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.