Friday, November 1, 2019

Cascade and Porter Mountains

I have been slowly climbing the Adirondack 46er peaks since I moved to the Adirondacks in May.  Cascade and Porter Mountains have a reputation as some of the easiest 46ers to climb.  Despite their relative ease to summit, they offer excellent views for a lot less work than many other higher peaks.  There short distance comes as a deterrent to me. Because with their easy reputation comes huge crowds, not what I'm looking for in a mountain experience.  Because of this, I avoided the peaks over the summer.

With fall rolling into late October, I decided to visit these two peaks.  Monday October 21st forecasted a beautiful day before less desirable weather moved in the rest of the week.  To avoid as much of the traffic these two peaks see, I arrived at the trailhead at twilight.  Only one other car arrived before me.

With my regular hiking partner, Choya, we began our climb of Cascade just before 7AM.  Heavy rain fell just a few days prior, leaving the trail rather muddy.  Mud would be the theme for the rest of the hike.  While Adirondack trails seem to hold mud, I was still surprised by the amount of mud.

Rock steps

The trail to Cascade climbs nearly 2,000 feet in 2.4 miles.  While not the worst climbing in the region, the trail climbs pretty consistently.  Because of the mud, this made the trail feel more difficult.  I tried to pussy foot through the mud by stepping on rocks. Because of the high volume of traffic, the trail bed is rather wide.  Plenty of rocks are available to follow to avoid some of the mud in the worst spots. The climb seemed to take longer than I would have expected given its distance.

The theme of the hike- mud

Around 3,500' in elevation, I started to encounter snow along the trail.  The snow was generally sporadic at first, with more as elevation increased.  The trail, which saw tons of traffic over the weekend according to the register, was generally clear of snow for the most part.  The snow never seemed to be more than an inch or two.

Notice a little snow starting to come into view

The first views start pretty high along the trail.  Views into the heart of High Peaks seemed promising with a few clouds skimming parts of the peaks.  As I neared the summit, the trail passed over bog bridges.  Packed snow on the bridges made the wood quite slippery.  The wet area around the bridges had a pretty thick icy coating.

Typical trail

View from open area during the climb

Early morning view

Snow on the higher elevations

Dense valley fog

Choya didn't care for this too much

Slick bog bridges

Cascade's summit looks pretty impressive.  The trail leaves the trees and ascends open rock to the summit high point.  Stairs built into the rock navigate the trickiest terrain.  The exposed summit offers quite impressive views.  Unfortunately, as I reached the summit, clouds closed in, eliminating majority of the views.  I waited at the summit, hoping the clouds would leave as quickly as they came, but I wasn't so lucky.

Approaching Cascade's summit

The sky was blue as I reached the summit

Clouds didn't obscure the north at first

Choya with wind whipped ears

Whiteface just before it disappeared 

Faint view through the clouds

It appeared that Cascade was the only clear summit at this point

A short window of visibility

Choya wondering what we are looking at

I dropped off the summit and retraced my steps about .3 miles to the junction of the trail to Porter.  The trail drops in elevation from the junction.  The well worn trail acted as a stream bed to melting snow.  Although not deep, the running water continued to the low point between the two peaks.  Sections of deep mud broke up the running water.  After the low point, the running water continued as I climbed toward Porter.

Dropping off Cascade

Cascade became fully shrouded by the time we left

The trail reached a large garage sized boulder at what appeared to be a high point.  My altimeter read close to Porter's elevation, although I knew it was reading somewhat high.  I scrambled up the slick boulder hoping to see ahead.  The clouds obscured the view, although there appeared to be another high spot ahead.

Heading toward Porter

This doesn't look fun

The route ahead brought me to some of the nastiest mud of the day.  I quickly reached Porter's summit.  The clouds broke long enough to catch a brief view of the higher peaks to the south before, I headed back.  The thought of trudging through mud and running water wasn't too appealing.  Surprisingly, I only sunk above my ankle once.  Choya wasn't so lucky and quite muddy up to his belly.

A brief glimpse at the High Peaks

The skies cleared as I left Porter

Not this again

Water flowing down the trail

At least the mud wasn't deep here

As I reached the junction of the Cascade Trail, the clouds appeared to be lifting.  I traveled the .3 miles back to the summit and my luck improved.  Most of the clouds lifted, and the views helped me forget about the slogging through the mud. Surprisingly nobody else was on the summit. The 360-degree views from Cascade are quite impressive.  The summit offers grandstand views into the heart of the High Peaks.  Snow on the higher peaks as well as the occasional cloud over the summits enhanced the views.  In the valleys, fog dotted the landscape below higher terrain.  I was lucky to get the view to myself.

Most of the High Peaks in the clear

Nice depth in the distant terrain

A few clouds leaving the summits

The same pic is above with no mountains visible

The clouds make for interesting shots

The fog hanging on to the north

Still some clouds but at least I can see mountains 

The summits almost completely clear to the south

Nice view across the snow

While I had only passed four people up to this point, my relative solitude changed on my descent.  In the 2.4 miles back to the trailhead, I never traveled more than a few minutes without passing upward hikers.  When I reached the trailhead, still before 11AM, the parking lots all seemed to be full.  Dozens of groups signed the register after me.

Nice water feature lower on the trail

Choya on Cascade 
Maybe he's enjoying the view too

On busy weekends, it's not unusual for these peaks to see hundreds of people a day.  They stand as the shortest routes to any of the 46ers with easy trailhead access.  The two summits are often some of the first tackled by aspiring 46ers.  Roundtrip to both peaks clocks in at just 6.2 miles.  Despite sitting in the High Peaks Wilderness Area, don't expect a wilderness feel with the crowds.  That being said, the views, particularly from Cascade, make it easy to understand why the peaks get so crowded.  Cascade's views are stunning.  If you don't mind sharing your hike with others, the two peaks are worth a quick outing if you are looking for views and don't have a lot of time.  With planning, it's possible to get the peaks to yourself.  I had both summits to myself by hiking during the week, after the peak season.

Catching Choya as he was blasted by a gust

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Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Hiking the Dix Range

The Dix Range towers over the southeast corner of the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks.  Although the Dix Mountain Wilderness Area stands as a separate wilderness as of this writing, it will merge into the High Peaks Wilderness in 2020.  The Dix Range contains five of the Adirondack 46er peaks.

The Dix Range ranked high on my list of places in the Adirondack I wanted to hike.  Most reports I read on the area promised plenty of excellent scenery from the peaks.  Dix Mountain also features a small section of alpine terrain.  The only negative I heard was about the crowds, which is to be expected on the 46er peaks.  The crowds lead to parking problems.  To combat the parking problem, I waited until October and visited on a weekday.

Although the range can accessed by the east or west side.  I chose to tackle the range on the west side from the Elk Lake area.This trailhead sits on land owned by the Elk Lake Club and closes during big game hunting season.  The trailhead was scheduled to close on October 20th.  I decided to head for the Dix Range on October 11th before the bustle of Columbus Day and Canadian Thanksgiving Weekends.  Sunny and warm weather in the forecast made the timing just right.

I reluctantly set my alarm for 415AM.  Even though the trailhead requires just over an hour to reach, I feared the parking situation.  When I arrived shortly after 6AM, only a few spots remained.  I hit the trail at 630AM guided by headlamp and Choya. A loon on Elk Lake serenaded me while I hiked in the dark.

Gentle trail through yellow leaves

The trail starts easily enough on the Hunter's Pass Trail on gentle terrain.  Like many of the High Peak's summits, much of the Dix Range travels over herd path.  Although well defined, they lack markings and signage.  I quickly reached the turn for my first summit, Macomb Mountain.  This turn is marked by a cairn and a crude sign just before after Slide Brook by the tentsites.  Though well defined, the start of the route was a little tricky to follow with fallen leaves obscuring the path.

The turn onto the herd paths

The route follows close to the brook before climbing to the first distinctive feature of the loop.  The path utilizes the Macomb Slide. Although a defined path is lacking, the route uses cairns to mark the way.  Generally traveling uphill along the slide will lead you to your destination.  From the slide, the first impressive views over Elk Lake come into sight.  As you gain elevation, Mt Marcy and other High Peaks join the view.

First look at Elk Lake 

Looking up a rocky stretch of the slide

More of the slide

Mt Marcy comes into view

The slide stays relatively steep.  The traction is often loose.  When not loose, the slide traverses steep solid rock.  Near the top of the slide, a few sections of scrambling are required before the path leaves the slide.

Slabby section of slide

Looking down the slide

Elk Lake near the top of the slide

Not long after leaving the slide, the route reached its first peak of the day, 4,405' Macomb Mountain.  Although wooded, the west side of Macomb offers a clear ledge with nice views.  The views look over the slide toward Elk Lake.  Fog rose from distant bodies of water beyond Elk Lake.  Numerous High Peaks including Marcy stand out.  The Beckhorn, Dix's southern point also stands prominently.

First summit

Elk Lake

Mt Marcy is the high point

Marcy and Great Range


The Green Mountains

Beyond Macomb the trail dropped gradually through muddy sections as it reached a saddle.  I soon reached the base of rocky slopes.  I followed the route that continued over the rocky terrain.  A few cairns marked the way.  I passed over several open rocky ledges.  I ended up passing by the 4,060' summit of South Dix without realizing it.  Whichever rocky ledge stands as the true summit did not matter.  Each high point along the ridge offered wonderful scenery to the east and west.  Leaf color added to the nice views.

Pond in the valley below
Approaching South Dix

Looking toward Vermont

Rocky approach to South Dix

Beckhorn in the distance


My next destination was Grace Peak.  Unlike the rest of the Dix Range, Grace stands as an outlier requiring an out and back jaunt away from the loop to reach it. I didn't notice this junction when I passed it.  It appeared that I was traveling in an unusual direction.  I checked my map and confirmed with my compass that I actually was heading toward Grace.  The route to Grace passed by fairly quickly.  Grace's 4,012' summit, although the lowest in the Dix Range, offers worthwhile scenery.  Grace's views extend mostly to the south and over Lake Champlain to the Green Mountains.

Valley color

View to the south

Low terrain below Grace

Hough and Dix

Choya with Macomb in the background


On my return to the main path from Grace, I easily found the junction toward my next target, 4,409' Hough Peak.  Numerous ledges break up the forest as I traveled toward Hough.  Near the summit, I encountered a series of ledges that required scrambling.  Before the hike, I worried if Choya could handle these ledges.  The ledges featured numerous shelves and Choya had no difficulty.  The views from the ledges looked back over much of the terrain hiked to this point.

Another look at foliage

View near Hough

Frequent ledges provide good views

Another ledge view

Hough's summit resembles Macomb.  Although wooded, a tiny outcropping offers open views, primarily over the Elk Lake area.


Elk Lake

Leaving Hough, the path looses elevation before hitting some challenging terrain. with plenty of open ledges for views. Up until this point, Choya handled anything that the path through at him.  We hit one obstacle he couldn't negotiate on his own.  We approached a narrow rock chute that rose 20 feet or so.  The rocks formed a narrow V over a steep slab.  I unhooked him from his leash and climbed first.  The climb required jamming my body in against the rocks to shimmy up.  I hoped that the small and nimble Choya would fit in the V.  The V was too narrow, and the rock too steep for him and he quickly abandoned his attempt.  I removed my gear and climbed down.  I held him and wedged up with him in my arms.  Another hiker at the top of the obstacle helped him the last few feet.

The Beckhorn

Color in the Elk Lake area
Choya with Elk Lake in the valley

Open ledges between Hough and Dix

Choya with the Beckhorn beyond

I have hiked with Choya in the Rockies, including the Sangre de Cristos, which are a steep range.  He has negotiated some hairy terrain including sections of class 3 rock.  This single obstacle was the most difficulty I have seen him have.

The Beckhorn from open ledges beyond Hough

Trail passing large rock

Overgrown herd path

Difficult to tell but this cleft drops 20 feet or so, where
Choya had difficulty

The remaining stretch toward Dix continued to hit rough terrain.  The first obstacle is the Beckhorn.  The Beckhorn stands as a prominent knob along Dix's ridge.  The actual 4,857' summit of Dix stands a short distance beyond the Beckhorn.

Dix Mountain stands as the 6th tallest summit in the Adirondacks.  The summit features open ledges with scrub trees and small patches of alpine vegetation.  The views extend in all directions providing an excellent perch to look into the heart of the High Peaks.  The scarred faces of the Great Range, stand out the most.  Marcy stands prominently just beyond them.  The Santanoni Range is easily identifiable to the west.  To the east, Giant and Rocky Peak Ridge dominate the view across the valley with the Green Mountains in the distance.  Fall foliage enhanced the views in all directions.

Looking south over the terrain I hiked


The scarred Great Range

Great Range

I sat on Dix the longest of the five summits.  Choya and I both ate and Choya even laid down while I chatted with another hiker.  For October, it was quite warm for an alpine summit.  I even removed the legs from my pants for the hike down.

Giant and Rocky Peak Ridge

Looking across the top of Dix

Elk Lake

I headed back to the the valley on the Beckhorn Trail.  The upper reaches of the Beckhorn trail feature some of the most challenging terrain of this route.  Cliffs, slabs, and open rock make for slow hiking near the top.  A few of the drops require hands to negotiate.  I lifted Choya at a couple spots.  Once back into the forest, the trail becomes more gradual.

Beckhorn from Dix

View from the Beckhorn to Elk Lake

Descending the Beckhorn Trail

Looking back down the Dix Range

Steep rock on the Beckhorn

The trail eventually reaches the Hunter's Pass Trail near Dix Pond.  The trail for the last four miles allows for fairly quick travel.  A few short climbs along this trail came as a surprise.  None of them are steep, just unexpected.  I took a break to cool down at Lillian Brook.  I took one last brief respite at Slide Book.

Dix Pond

Dix Pond

Lillian Brook

Rocky section of the Hunter's Pass Trail

I reached the trailhead just before 3PM.  This trip clocks in just over 15 miles with nearly a mile of vertical climbing.  I wrapped up my hike just shy of 8 1/2 hours.

Gentle trail near the end

This hike truly impressed me.  Each of the five summits offer worthwhile views.  Numerous ledges between the peaks offer scenery beyond the forest to keep the hike interesting.  Tricky sections require scrambling that add to this hike's challenge and appeal.  This hike, while quite popular, is for good reason.  I would happily return to this area.  I would say it stands as one of the best hikes in the northeast let alone the Adirondacks, and I have hiked the northeast extensively.

The Great Range

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