The last weekend of the 2006-2007 winter hiking season has arrived. As might be expected, I want to try and climb a few more peaks for my winter 46er list; however, we have a new, secondary reason for going: our new friends Linda and Mark are on track to make this day the day that they finally achieve the last of their winter 46er peaks, and have invited us along with them. The last peak they need is Hough Peak, in the Dix Range. Happily, this coincides with my and Jenn's need for Dix and Hough Peak.
Furthermore, two additional climbers, Peter and Jim, are also joining us on our hike. For Peter, this is also a significant day : after twenty-five long years, he too is achieving his winter 46, and on Hough Peak as well!
Originally, we had scheduled this climb for the Saturday. However, a late winter storm chose Saturday as the day to dump its load on the High Peaks. We felt it best to defer the hike from Saturday, and were even unsure about Sunday -- the end of the storm was forecast to linger and there was a forecast of more snow accumulation. We wondered -- would all of the routes be unbroken again? and, if so, how bad would the trailbreaking be?
We all agree to meet at 6am at the Round Pond Trailhead. The drive down is tricky -- as forecasted, it is indeed still snowing, sometimes heavily, and the roads are snow-covered. We arrive at the trailhead with 5 minutes to spare. Linda, Mark, Jim, and Peter are all there, ready to go!
To our mild surprise, there is a relatively recent snowshoe track leading up the trail towards Round Pond. The footing on it is good, and there is a hard base underneath about 6 inches of fresh powder. We quickly reach Round Pond and promptly lose the track (perhaps they turned off to camp in the woods near the pond?), so we continue on, crossing the pond, and break trail up towards the junction with the trail to Noonmark. Even though the going is harder while breaking the trail, it is not too bad. The recent warm thaw and then refreezing has created a solid, firm base underneath the new snow, and this makes trailbreaking conditions better than that of last week.
The weather is overcast, with a more-or-less continuous cascade of light snow and flurries. Based on the forecast we had seen before starting the hike, we have no expection at all of a nice day with clear views. Such is life!
From Round Pond, the trail climbs fairly steeply and then abruptly levels off, at about the 2300-foot level. It then continues more-or-less on the flat for a long time, passing the junction with trails leading to Saint Huberts and Noonmark. Here we encounter a fresh set of tracks leading in from the St. Huberts trail, which buoyed our spirits. No more trailbreaking, at least for a little while!
Eventually the trail reaches a lean-to, after which the trail finally starts to gain some altitude. We locate the source of the tracks at the lean-to -- a couple of hikers who have spent the night and are just finishing up their breakfast. Beyond them, the trail is unbroken again.
Now ascending continuously, we start to take turns at the head of the pack, breaking trail. We decide to switch the lead every 250-feet of vertical elevation, giving everyone a fair shot at the front.
We soon break out onto an open slide on the face of Dix, and choose to hike up it, rather than follow the trail across the slide and back into the woods. The slide is an alluring alternative, offering a steady, open ascent with good quality snow conditions.
We make good progress up the slide, and transition over onto a steeper slide. Here we have a choice: continue up the steepening slide and traverse over to the trail at its top, or exit into the woods at our current level, and bushwack over to the trail. The consensus is that the slide is looking a bit too steep, so we exit right and spend a good 30 minutes bushwacking through some difficult and steep terrain. Eventually, we gratefully hit the marked path, and soon after the junction of the trail with the ridgecrest trail leading to the top of Dix. Jenn voices a few 'told-you-so' comments to us about the perils of choosing alternatives to the signed path. It is about at this point that the couple from the Lean-to catch up to us.
We are now quite close to the summit of Dix. All that is left is a short but steep climb up the crest to the summit. It is quite windy out, and with all of the recent fresh snow there is a fair bit of it blowing about. There is pretty much no visibility -- I can't see any surrounding peaks. I put on my face mask and goggles and make my way up the final few hundred feet.
The windswept summit ridge is a blustery place today, and everybody braces themselves against the wind. We make our way past the couple from the lean-to, who have decided to turn around within a few hundred paces of the summit (I noticed where they turned around, and later on, where the summit survey marker was). I wonder if they knew they turned around short of the summit?
Since our objective for the day included Hough Peak (especially important to our soon-to-be winter 46ers....!), we needed to continue on, over the summit of Dix, and onto Hough peak, which lay in waiting on the other side.
Dix Mountain has a long and narrow summit crest. There is a nice airy feeling to it -- something you don't often get on an Adirondack peak. We traversed along this crest to a rocky subsummit called the Beckhorn. From here we leave the marked route and follow an untrailed route down the south ridgecrest of Dix, over to Hough. I have a GPS tracklog of a previous summer tour of the Dixes that I use as a guide. Really, though, over this part, it isn't really needed, as the route follows the crest of the fairly narrow ridge, so it is hard to get very far off the route.
Traversing to the Beckhorn
Our bushwack down the ridge progresses reasonably well, and most of us are quite happy to be off of the exposed, windswept ridgetop of Dix. The thaw and recent snows have obliterated any recent snowshoe tracks, but the routefinding is not too onerous, and the snow base is firm enough to prevent any significant sinking in or spruce traps. Hough still appears to be far away, but is slowly getting closer.