Back in 1987 when I finished my first round of the 46, there were a handful of peaks I swore I’d never repeat. If you’ve climbed Blake, Couchie or Cliff, you know what I’m talking about. Sooner or later though, I’d get dragged out by one hiking partner or another and notch second and third visits to those “never again” peaks. At the other end of the list are the favorites, the ones you return to over and over, even if it’s a decade between visits. Dix is on that list, 6th highest in the Adirondacks and offering some of the best and most interesting views of the 46. A recent two night stay at Elk Lake Lodge provided the perfect opportunity to climb Dix again.
You couldn’t ask for a better start to our day. After a hearty 7am breakfast served by the lodge staff and more ogling over the spectacular early morning views of the peaks surrounding Elk Lake, our hike began just steps away. These days, if you’re not staying at the lodge, you’d better plan to arrive at the Elk Lake trailhead early, as the public parking often fills by 6 or 7am. Overflow parking is more than a mile away, a total buzz kill at the end of the day when you’ve already got 15 miles under your belt. (Everyone should read the excellent series of recent articles by Mike Lynch in the Adironack Almanack on overuse of High Peaks trails: link, link, link and link.)
Since we were hiking on a Monday, traffic was light. The only hikers we saw until we got to the summit were two young guys trying to find the start of the herd path up Macomb. We got them pointed in the right direction and continued on.
From Elk Lake, there are 2 routes up Dix: the Hunter’s Pass route and the Beckhorn route. We chose to climb up via Hunter’s Pass and descend via the Beckhorn. I’ve done this route before, but somehow I forgot just how steep the climbing is above Hunter’s Pass. You get to the top of the pass thinking that you’re making great progress, but the real work lies ahead: 1200 vertical feet of climbing in three quarters of a mile to the junction with the trail coming in from Route 73. The “Wow! Look how steep this is!” photo ops quickly deteriorated into “How much #%$*ing longer?” and then simply #%$*.
It’s all worth it though when you hit the money pitch, the final half mile of trail from the junction to the summit. The grade slackens off and views back towards Nippletop and the Great Range open up. Once you’re on the summit ridge, the views are unobstructed in all directions. Elk Lake and its islands sparkle to the south, with the Boreas Ponds visible beyond the next ridge. A front had passed through the night before, dropping summit temperatures into the 40s with a stiff breeze out of the north: exactly the right conditions to remind you that you’re standing on the roof of the Adirondacks.
Of course the hike’s only half done at the summit. Our ascent via Hunter’s Pass was steep, but the descent down the Beckhorn trail is no walk in the park either, dropping 2600 verts in 2.2 miles. To add a little variety, we took advantage of our Elk Lake Lodge guest privileges and returned via one of their private trails along the east shore of the lake, enjoying some unique perspectives of Dix and Nippletop across the lake.
These days I don’t get up as many 4000 footers as I used to. With young kids, we spend more of our time hiking the lower peaks all across the Adirondacks. If I’m lucky, when the kids get older they’ll drag me out to climb Blake, Couchie and Cliff. For now though, my Dix fix will hold me for at least a little while.