March has finally rolled around - and the winter 2007 adirondack climbing season is rapidly drawing to a close! I wanted to get a few more winter peaks in before the season is out, and so we were going to head out for a climb, pretty much no matter what.
At first I thought about doing Allen, but then I caught wind of a plan to do the Dixes (or at least part of the Dixes). The original plan was for us to attempt a hike on Saturday, March 10, with Ron & Gordon and company from the Adirondack forum. I convinced Ron to tackle the peaks from my now-familiar Boquet River approach, and that was the plan.
This hike promised to be quite a social event. Through a trip-planning posting on the adk forum, a few fellow hikers contacted me to ask if they could join our group. Always happy to have new people to talk to and more snowshoes to pack down unbroken trails, I readily agreed.
Ron called me up and decided that he and his group were more comfortable with an Elk Lake approach, and so we split up, with our group (me, Jenn, Ewart, Bill, etc) going in from the Boquet River approach and up the East Dix Slide, and his group going in from Elk Lake. The hope was that we'd help each other break trail on the herd paths up on the ridges of the Dix Range.
Forecasts being what they are, the forecast for Saturday steadily deteriorated, and the forecast for Sunday got better and better. I therefore changed my plans to Sunday, and hoped to do the same itinerary. Clay, Mark and Linda (the hikers from the adk forum) also agreed to switch to Sunday.
We all congregated at 4:30am EDT at the Round pond trailhead. The plan was to put one car there and another at the Boquet River approach, so that if everything worked out, we could ascend to East Dix, do all of the Dixes, and return via Round Pond -- If everything worked out, I note again.
The night was still very warm, with temperatures above freezing at 4:30am. We were a bit concerned about snow softness and how this would affect any trail breaking or slide-climbing activities -- but we were here now and there was nothing else to do but give it a shot. After about 15 minutes, Mark and Linda hadn't yet showed up, and we figured they either couldn't make it or were thrown off by the overnight daylight savings time change (which occured on March 10-11 this year).
We ferried a couple of cars over to the Boquet river start point, got our gear on, and started out. To our happy surprise, we discovered that a faint but perfectly serviceable track had already been broken out. This was great news, because it meant that we wouldn't need to break trail for at least some portion of our approach. The question was, how long would the track last? Would it go all the up East Dix, up the slide?
3rd Quarter above Spotted Mtn
The track followed the proper herdpath route quite closely for the first hour or so. Stream crossings were generally not a problem, and the snow in the tracks was consolidated enough that we were not sinking in. We made good progress, and reached the South Fork of the Boquet river only an hour and half after leaving the highway. So far, so good!
We started heading up the valley of the South Fork of the Boquet River. Here the track didn't follow the herdpath precisely, causing us to navigate through several annoying thickets with branches in our faces (including one that gave me a good scratch near my eye). The track continued until it reached one of the official camping spots higher up in the valley, and then it stopped dead. Our free ride was over! Trailbreaking from now on.
Trailbreaking slowed us down, but overall the condition of the snow wasn't too bad. It was certainly easier to trailbreak through this snow than that of our Gothics-Armstrong hike
two weeks before. The river itself was mostly well-frozen and covered, and in many places we simply trudged right up its center.
As we neared the base of the slide, we heard two hikers coming up behind us. They turned out to be Mark and Linda, who had indeed been thrown off by the time change, and had started one hour later than us. We quickly exchanged handshakes and hellos and continued on.
Very soon, things got a lot steeper, and we arrived at the base of the East Dix Slide. The snow seemed stable, with no sign of instability that might lead to avalanches. The snow was soft, though, and it was tough slogging heading up. Occasionally, a firmer section would tantalize us, but then a soft section would follow. There were several steep steps combined with soft snow that proved quite tiring to ascend.
With the tough trailbreaking conditions, our progress slowed to a crawl. Ewart was sinking in especially deeply on the ascent of the slide, and I could tell that he was finding this very tough. Each time I looked back, he was farther and farther behind, and I could see that he was resting for a long time between only a few steps. Still, the morning was early, and we had plenty of time.
The steep top part of the slide was a little more tricky. Along with areas of deep and tiring snow were a few steep bits that had hard-blown crusty and icy patches. These were the crux of the climb and were a bit of a challenge to ascend. Some of us used our MSR snowshoes along with our ice axes; others chose to use crampons; Mark chose the more sporting route, heading up a more exposed rocky pitch.
Choosing the hard way up!
Just after 11 am, we topped out at the top of the slide -- a spectacular place at any time of year. Since the slide tops out right at the top, you can peer over the edge and see the entire climb. Our snowshoe tracks looked insect-like, wandering back and forth up the slide, far, far below.