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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  1. Tomcat,
    I soooo enjoyed your pictures and post.
    I have done this loop twice staying over night both times with my sons at Slide Brook. (Once on the same weekend 10/12 in October)
    It is probably my favorite hike. Thanks for letting me relive it in vivid color.

    1. Thanks for reading and glad you enjoyed the post.

  2. ya did this in may... still snow in the valleys... post holed... took 14 hours to do the loop...epic... loved your pics brought back memories of the spring.

    1. Thanks for reading. The postholing would make it a pretty rough trip.

  3. Great report... It brought back many memories of my visits to the Dix range!

    1. Thanks for reading and glad you enjoyed the post.