“Trusting yourself means living out what you already know to be true.”
– Cheryl Strayed
August 6, 2017
It had been some time since I embarked on a solo hike. Plus, the Dix Range whispered nudgingly that we had some unfinished business to discuss. I realized hiking all 5 peaks in the range may have been a bit ambitious with all my hip issues. Nevertheless, I remained committed to this climb, as it had been the monkey on my back for awhile now.
I stayed in a quaint one room cabin in Schroon Lake the night before, which proved to be the perfect retreat and basecamp for the weekend. My alarm buzzed at 4:30 a.m. and by 5:15 a.m., I was out the door! A chill rushed over me as I drove to Elk Lake Road. Although it was still very much summer, the mountains seemed hard pressed to begin its crisp autumn weather.
Clouds drifted through as I quietly witnessed daybreak. Glorious! Arriving at the trailhead at 5:40 a.m., I acquired the 2nd to last parking spot! I knew this was a popular camping trailhead and worried about parking. The early bird sure does catch the worm!
Then it was 15 minutes of screwing around with my attire…shell pants or no pants, fleece or just baselayer, tie and retie my hiking shoes. It was definitely an unseasonably cool morning, somewhere around 50 degrees. But I was nervous…and stalling quite honestly. Judging by the full parking lot, I knew I wouldn’t truly be alone on this hike. However, for some reason, my brain goes through this same ritual every time I solo hike.
“This is crazy. What if you get hurt? Are you really safe on your own? What if you can’t make it and have to turn around?” #yaddayaddayadda
So, I had my usual chat with Fear, reassuring her that we would be just fine. That we would take this hike one step at a time and see how it goes. My hopeful plan was to climb the first 4 (Macomb, South Dix, Grace Peak, & Hough) and leave Dix for my #46 finisher. Truthfully, my mind tried to convince me that 3 would be plenty for this time around.
So, at 6 a.m. down the trail towards Slide Brook I went! Within a few minutes, I was passed by some faster hikers (typical). Sleep was far and few between the night before due to anxiety-born butterflies in my stomach. Maybe the reason my legs were slow-going? Or maybe I am just slow, lol. Experience has shown me though, that my stamina and endurance hold much stronger when I start off a bit easy.
Beautiful mountain ribbons of Birch trees awakened my soul to “breathe it all in, and love it all out” as I climbed over this one and hiked on. A peaceful confidence began to grow within.
The trail to Slide Brook flew by quickly. I enjoyed the silence as I hiked on.
It was literally a few paces after the bridge…you do have to walk through a camp site to get to the actual start of the herd path. There was a group of hikers sleeping in hammocks, one of which was blocked the 2 cairns. If you didn’t walk around the campsite (zig-zagging through the sleeping hikers…shhh) you might have missed the path.
The terrain changed from “fast to up” as my heart rate increased. Again, I was passed by at least 3 groups of hikers (funny because I did not hear anyone behind me at all for the hike in) and discouragement set in! I mean, I’m not a fast hiker, but I’m not really slow either. Nonetheless, I forged on…one step at a time.
Spotted some Indian Pipe on the trail as I paused to remove my fleece. Enter the hot/cold tango that dances every time as the mountain terrain transforms.
Ok…so when I reached the base of the Macomb Slide, I caught up to all but one of the groups that passed me. There were also 2 other groups that started from the trail head about 30 minutes or so before me. I congratulated their speedy efforts! And that’s when I found out that most of the groups had camped! Phew! That made much more sense to me…confidence was back in action as I methodically worked my way up that slide.
Now I have to say, I would climb the Saddleback Cliffs any day than have to climb Macomb this way again! In hindsight, I would have much rather descended that slide than climb it. (Hmmm, a winter buttslide perhaps?) The dangerously loose gravel and constant rocks rolling down the mountain made for a snail’s pace. Someone could easily twist an ankle on this sucker! My foot placement was purposeful and not haphazard. My poles were useless however. So my hips and I would bear crawl some parts and tread carefully on others.
About halfway up the slide, there were enough footings to stop and take some deep breaths. A beautiful vantage of Elk Lake could be enjoyed , as I watched several auspicious clouds roll on in…
The last bit of the slide was actually a more typical rock slide that graces most high peaks. Much easier on the ankles and much easier in general. The air temperature continued to drop, which was surprising for the first weekend in August.
Once I was back in the tree line, the trail continued to ascend over cumbersome tree roots and boulders. By the time I arrived at the summit, there were 3-4 minutes of crazy, blustery winter-like winds and a whiteout for a few seconds. On went the layers typical of fall/winter hiking! Except for my legs. I ditched the shell-layer pants in my truck before I began the hike, remember? Who knew the weather would be so blustery?! #chickenlegs
So at 8:30 a.m., I reached my 34th high peak with Macomb Mountain! So far, I’ve hiked 4.3 miles in 2.5 hours. The Slide Brook Trail was tough for me from start to finish. But a sense of relief rushed over me as most of the ascent for the day was behind me (or so I thought…).
Macomb sign was missing 😦
I did not linger long at the summit. It was frigid! Onward I trekked to South Dix. The trail was fast and fun! I LOVED climbing South Dix! Rock climbing is so much easier for me. After only 25 minutes, I thought I was there with this first scramble…
The clouds still pestered around, as the wind gusts actually worsened! I had to brace myself a few times on the top of that last lookout, before heading back into the safety of the tree lines towards the true summit.
And…just like that, 45 minutes after I departed the summit of Macomb, I found myself at my 35th peak with South Dix!! I climbed over to South Dix with a great family from Fairport. The mom was hiking with a recently recovering sprained ankle. She was amazing! So She and I took turns taking official summit pictures, while the rest of her family relaxed on the lookout.
Views of Vermont from the lookout were fantastic. The sunbeams gazing down from the heavens. Just incredible.
Truly breathtaking. In more than one sense of the word. The air was freezing now. But the landscape provided a soulful warmth. Following a quick snack and water break, I bid the lovely family farewell and began the walk over to Grace Peak.
This may have been my favorite part of the entire day. The trail was quick, yet beautiful. I only passed one pair of hikers on my way to Grace, so I truly enjoyed the peacefulness of the path. It was still early in the day and my mind wandered to thoughts of times gone by. It is challenging to work through feelings of regret or sorrow. I was back in the healing stage that climbing solo often brings. Our past is static. Unable to be changed. But the present provides the opportunity to be brave with your life and grow strong in your truth. Yes…I would be ever thankful for the pensive moments this trail uncovered within.
Some colorful trail magic along the way..
After the serene 30-minute hike, Grace Peak! In all her beauty! At 10:00 a.m., I reached my 36th high peak. Grace Peak is the 42nd highest peak, but easily the most precious! Incredible. The summit was absolutely incredible.
Grace Peak represents everything that is sacred about the Adirondacks. From the true summit (no yellow disc summit marker anymore) there are the amazing views of Vermont. If you walk along the ridgeline, she reveals a view of the high peaks. There were wild blueberries and gorgeous flowers. She exudes sweetness and simplicity. But do not be fooled by her gentle nature. There are hidden wonders to uncover exploring her trails.
The winds continued to howl through the summit (my hat almost blew far, far away!), but the sun blessed Grace with bursts of heated illumination.
The need to keep my legs moving returned before long. I was thankful for the magic found during my time on this mountain. It was time to backtrack and reclimb South Dix to the herd path that led to Hough. This was the small cairn, right before the carvings in the tree signifying the South Dix summit, that marked the start of the adventure towards Hough!
I knew the next part of the journey would not be an easy walk along the ridgeline. Hough and Dix required quite a bit of ascent, and at this point, I was still just planning on climbing Hough and calling it a triumphant day!
So down, down, down into the col I went off of South Dix before beginning my slow ascent up Pough and Hough. A little vantage point on the herdpath before ducking back into the woods again.
After 30 minutes since the cairn, I arrived at the abandoned campsite and cairns pointing the way down the Lillian Brook Trail. This was the path I planned to return on, so I snapped a picture of it in case my old aged brain forgot! Haha!
My legs began to wimper at the sight of the trail to Hough. It was fairly eroded and messy…and all of it was up, up, up.
Most of my energy was focused on the constant, steady climbing that I failed to take many pictures. Slow and steady, one foot after the another. “You can do it, Jen,” I reminded myself. “You have plenty of time, no need to rush.”
I must admit, after 20 minutes of encouraging self-talk, the iconic rock structures of the Pough and Hough hike was a relief for this old lady! You do not actually need to climb these, although I am sure many people do! There was a trail that skirts around the layered beauty to keep you moving.
I honestly have no idea when the bump of Pough was reached, possibly when I took some of these photographs of the gorgeous mountainscapes.
Just a few minutes later, at 12:00 p.m., the summit of Hough Peak!! Phew! Happy….I was so very happy! Happy the sun was finally out. Happy to rest my tired legs on the cute little summit rock. Happy that I had 4 peaks tackled by noon!
I accomplished what I set out to originally do…climb the 4 peaks minus Dix. I hiked roughly 9 miles so far.
9 miles. 6 hours. 4 peaks. Just proves how tough this range can be.
Hough Peak was my #37 and stands at 4400 feet tall. It is the 23rd highest peak out of the 46ers.
More thoughts from my notebook…
I met 2 other couples on the summit. One couple that was continuing onto Dix and the other had actually just descended from there. They were doing the loop in reverse (smart hikers!) I felt content though. I enjoyed my lunch in the sunshine and reassured myself that there was no reason to continue onto Dix. I previously decided to save Dix for my finish. No reason at all to continue on…totally fine with turning back and descending via Lillian Brook as planned. Yup…just do what you planned, Jen. Totally fine.
Then, I listened to the two couples chatting about the hike to/from Dix. “It’s only a mile,” they said. But as I gazed over in that direction…the Beckhorn and Dix looked so much further away. Didn’t it??
Only a mile…it’s only a mile, Jen. When have your plans actually worked out anyways?? Anything is possible, if you have enough nerve. I turned toward the couple that was heading that way, we all gave that look like ,”If you go, I’ll go.”
I figured in that exact moment I might as well go for it!
Soooo…off I went!!
Some final sights before the down, down that is the Adirondack way.
There were some tricky parts ascending the Beckhorn from Hough, which required creative climbing and footwork. A lot of rock climbing to be had. I was tired. Exhausted actually. But, I had committed to Dix so I just kept going. The beauty of the trail to Dix was all the little lookouts.
Elk Lake wayyyyy in the distance now…
At around 1 p.m., the first view of the Beckhorn appeared. I began to wonder if I made the right choice. I knew in the back of my mind that the hike out later was going to be a killer for me.
And then…at 1:30 p.m., 7 1/2 hours and 10 miles later, VICTORY!! Dix Mountain! 4857 feet tall and the 6th highest peak. More humbly though, Dix was my 38th high peak.
38th. Holy crap. I did it. Every viewpoint was magnificent. Magical and monumental. I could see every mountain I had previously climbed!
The Great Range, Marcy, and all of my favorites behind me. If I was happy on Hough, I was ecstatic on Dix! Thankful and grateful and ecstatic. A truly wonderous day.
Giant and Rocky Peak Ridge to the East.
I was full of dirt, scrapes, sweat and pure exhaustion. But boy, was I truly at peace. Peace.
I forced myself to eat something and drink a Gatorade, despite the “too tired to move.”
The couple from the Albany area that I met on Hough and I just sat in silence. With all the hikers I had passed and seen on the trails, it was amazing to have the summit completely to ourselves, even if for only a little while.
Then there was the matter of the near 7 mile hike back to the parking lot. Oh and the realization that I would have to now descend via the Beckhorn! My hips hung on tightly but my knees were starting to make some noise. Beckhorn is incredibly steep for most of the trail.
So at 2 p.m., I breathed my final summit breath and began the painful descent. The Beckhorn had some nail-biting sections that my short legs struggled with…careful ledge scaling and enormous cliffs to “jump” down if you had short legs! Once past the sketchy section, the rest was downhill. Literally.
Looking back on the open-faced rocks…
The trail was roughly 2 miles and at least it was not a herd path. However…after climbing 5 peaks (SD twice!) and the Beckhorn, my body was shot. I think tears fell from my eyes from time to time. Yeah, pretty sure I shed a few tears.
Thankful for a few view reprieves…
My final destination…only 7 miles. Elk Lake was only 7 miles away..
As I paused to catch my breath and regain my footing, I turned around to see where I had just come from…
The terrain remained similar for the path down. I honestly do not remember much except my tunnel vision of “get me the heck down this mountain!” Hiking is like that, isn’t it? Your emotions go on their own up and down journey…one minute, HAPPY. The next, CRYING WHY DID I DO THIS??
Haha! Seriously though.
There are a few trails in the Adirondacks when that 2 mile hike feels like an eternity, and this was one of them! So when I finally spotted the junction at the base of the Beckhorn trail, I cheered and clapped and even a “woohooed”! An hour and 45 minutes of “holy crap, that was steep!” was finally over. Phew!
Only 4.3 miles or so to go…it would be another 2 miles to the start of the Lillian Brook herd path. Despite the pain in my legs and now my hips, it was hard not to stop at Dix Pond. The ripples in the water were eye-catching and the entire area was silent. Quite serene and rejuvenating.
It only took 25 minutes to reach Lillian Brook. Again, I returned a happy girl again!
Ahhhh…the soothing sound of water.
I should have known better! Like I always say when I hike…
Because soon after crossing the brook, there was that deathly Adirondack “mini-ascent and descent” that often sprouts up out of nowhere on the trails! That humbling twist in your side from Mother Nature as to remind us to respect all she has provided. Still, I trudged up that incline as if my legs were made of lead balloons.
My brain frantically searched for a song to help pass the time, but the only earworm that popped into my head was “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for…”, which turned into Darth Vader’s Imperial March. #nothelpful
Nevertheless, onward I walked. Every part of my being was screaming in pain. With about a mile left to go, I admitted to myself that I pushed it way too far. My hips were pissed off at me. My knees loathed my entire soul. The couple I had hiked over to Dix with were a bit ahead of me. So I did my best to keep them in my field of vision. It was good for me to have a pacer of sorts and honestly, to know I wasn’t completely alone this late in the day when my body was ready to lay down and wave the white flag.
At 5:50 p.m., with a limp in my stride and almost 12 hours after I began this “Go Big or Go Home” hike, I signed myself out of the register! My Garmin clocked this loop of the range at 16.8 miles, with an elevation gain of 5772 total feet. Yeah…maybe a bit too much too soon with my hip dysplasia.
Awesome profile of the my hike from my Garmin!
The Dix Range, in my opinion, is the epitome of hiking in the Adirondacks. You have the aggressive, treacherous climb of the Macomb Slide, the exhilarating rock climbing of South Dix, the honest beauty and endless discoveries of Grace Peak, the endurance tester of Hough and the mountain high, 360 views from Dix and the “holy crap” of Beckhorn. It’s all there for you.
That being said, this range almost broke me. Broke me to the core. But I bet the views are spectacular in the winter…just saying. 😉
As I said in the beginning, I needed this solo hike. Like everything in life, it was the next right step. I am continuously in awe of what I am able to accomplish, as if every hike comes as a shock to me that I could actually do it. I was nervous as heck about hiking the range alone.
But in the end, as Cheryl said, “Trusting yourself means living out what you already know to be true.” What you already know to be true. Yes.
Thanks, Cheryl. Thank you, Dix Range for refreshing my memory that I am enough. Always.
I bow my head to you in gratitude and lift my soul up to maintain the courage to continue on.
Only 8 remain,