That's right, four peaks in one day!! We didn't think we could do it, but we did. This was also a first for Hiking Buddy and I (and our youngest sons) as we backpacked in and spent the night in the woods.
But I digress... The forecast was for a hot day in the 'daks, with possible storms in the afternoon and high winds. We figured we could get our hike in before the rain, and if necessary, finish it on Day Two. So the four of us left the Elk Lake trailhead at almost 6:30 a.m. Elk Lake is located on the Blue Line Road, just off Exit 29 of the Adirondack Northway (I-87). You have to drive in over clearly marked private property, but the Club allows hikers to park in the lot on State land, which you do reach after about 5 miles (the first two are paved). The lot holds about 20 cars and no parking is allowed on the road, so if you don't get a spot, you find another place to hike. This was a Thursday and only 2 other cars were in the lot when we arrived. Actually, only about 5 were there when we came out Friday morning.
We were geared up and ready for the hike. Any of you experienced backpackers reading this will probably laugh at the picture of my son and I because of all the "stuff" we were carrying. We even did the right thing and rented a bear canister (the yellow monstrosity on my back), although we did see people with food bags hung from trees. In any event, it took us an hour and 10 minutes to hike the 2.3 miles to the Slide Brook lean-to. The lean-to was vacant, but we had tents so we set them up, unloaded our big packs, got organized, repacked our day packs, used the restroom (door-less outhouse) and started our peak quest.
To get to the Macomb trailhead from Slide Brook, you must head back in the direction of the parking lot. Immediately after the bridge across the brook (which you can see in the middle of the photo at left), the trail splits. You can go either way; they both end up in the same spot. HOWEVER, if you take the right fork, you actually end up past the cairn marking the start of the herd path. I mention this because I saw a blog by another hiker who said they don't know how they missed this large pile of rocks but I'll bet this is how. So take the left fork and just on your left is the cairn. You'll actually walk through a campsite and the trail starts straight ahead.
Keep going on this trail until you come to the beginning of some rubble. This is probably scree that washed down the much larger slide, which you will see shortly. In the photo below, my son is sitting on a rock with the slide behind him. Unfortunately, you cannot determine the size of it from this photo. It is not difficult, but footing is never sure as it's all loose rock and even sand. One step up and two steps back in spots. It took us 35 minutes to climb the slide. Once we were back in the woods it was another half hour to Macomb's summit (2 hours 20 minutes total from the start of the herd path). The summit was mostly surrounded in trees. This was the only summit of the day on which we met other hikers. They were gracious enough to take our group photo with the yellow summit marker high above our heads. The view was of Elk Lake. The sky was overcast, which kept the heat down, but it definitely looked like rain was threatening. The clouds were moving quickly, however, so we assumed it would blow over. Nevertheless, after 25 minutes (our longest summit visit of the day) we started over toward South Dix.
One note about this day, which was almost entirely hiked on herd paths. I had read as much as I could to prepare for this hike and was a bit nervous. I read there is extensive blowdown, herd paths that lead to nowhere, no water in the range, and anything else that could make me nervous about leading our group astray. We had a compass, we had a map, we carried a ton of water - we were ready. Well, we didn't encounter an extreme amount of blowdown so someone is out there working on the trails (thank you) and the herd paths were fairly clear. Occasionally we came to an offshoot trail or a spot where we had to made a decision, but as long as we kept our bearing (which was about 80 degrees east for most of the way from Macomb to South to East Dix), we seemed to make the right choice on the herd path.
The trip from Macomb to South Dix, just under a mile, took us just under an hour. The last push up S. Dix included a section of bare rock and the wind was howling here! We tried to stay low until we got back into the trees, just before the actual summit. We had to look around a bit for the yellow disk that marks the summit. We actually walked past it and only noticed it when we looked back. It's on the side of a tree that faces E. Dix. At this tree there's a small side path to a clearing which was not quite as windy so we ate here. The photo above is of Macomb, looking back from South Dix (summit photo at left).
Our 15 minute break was over and we set off for East Dix. On our 1.1 mile traverse along the ridge, we passed 2 gentlemen coming back from East Dix. They cautioned us about the wind. We laughed and said, "Yeah, it was pretty windy coming up South Dix." They were kind of serious, saying, "No, really, BE CAREFUL on East Dix - the wind is dangerous." Ok, that put a little fear in us. When we came to a rock that looked the like the beginning of the last push to the summit, we debated dropping our packs. I actually thought some anchor weight might be good! We could hear the wind like a freight train. Ultimately, we did drop our backpacks (I still had a fanny pack with my camera) and headed up. It turned out to be a very quick hop and we were at the summit. No joke, the winds were easily 60-70 mph. We took our pictures, I propped myself against a rock to take some summit shots of the surrounding area, and we hurried back down. I think we spent 5 minutes on top. It had taken us an hour to get over there from South Dix.
Once we were just out of the wind, we took a brief break and debated how to get back down. We didn't want to go down the Macomb slide, so we decided when we got back up and over S. Dix, we'd take the herd path that leads towards Hough. If we still felt up to it when we got over there, we'd hike Hough as well. If not, we'd find a trail back to the lean-to.
By 2:30 we were atop S. Dix and ready to start down the trail to Hough. Initially, this trail was pretty narrow with plenty of opportunities for the brush to scratch us. We did have a pretty clear view of Dix at one point (see photo at left), which we had hiked less than a week before. We started down and were soon going back up. Apparently, there's a nob called "Pough" (Hough and Pough - really?) on the way. It was somewhat annoying. After that, we came to a clearing with a fire ring. I'm thinking it's an illegal campsite. The herd path to Hough began here. So did the trails leading back toward our inviting tents. Decision time. Did we want to take a shot at Hough and possibly run out of water and/or daylight, since we didn't really know how far back to the lean-to? Or did we want to bail out here and have to come back another time just to do Hough? We decided to take a crack at Hough and hike until 4:30. If we didn't see an end in sight, we'd head out.
So at 4 p.m. we left the little campsite clearing. The trail up Hough was steep. About 20 minutes in we saw a yellow disk on a tree up ahead. Could it really be the summit? Nope. Just an arrow pointing left around a large boulder. We actually had to go up, through and over this boulder, which for me required taking off my pack to fit through what my son termed "the lemon squeezer". We thought the top of that rock would be the summit. It wasn't. We kept on. At exactly 4:30 we felt like we were at the top and going down the other side toward the Beckhorn and Dix. So we stopped and looked around and there was the summit disk in a tree. Our boys were beat. We took our quick pictures and headed right back down. By 4:56 we were back at the illegal campsite. Less than an hour to go up and back on Hough. Boy would we have been ticked if we came back to do it another time and found out how close we were!
Now it was time to move. We had no idea how long the trail down was going to take us. There were pink ribbons tied onto them and the map indicated the trail should take us to Lillian Brook, the Lillian Brook lean-to and then, another mile further, the Slide Brook lean-to. The first part of the descent from here was fairly steep. There wasn't much talking going on. We were just trying to concentrate on our footing. Eventually we did come to the brook, well, mostly it was a dried streambed. We even crossed it a few times. Then we came to a fork and it felt like we should have gone left, but that seemed to almost curl back uphill. So we stayed right, which eventually curved back toward the left. We knew we didn't want to head north as that would take us toward Dix, so we kept an eye on the compass.
At this point, the path became relatively flat and the four of us were moving at a good pace. I know Hiking Buddy was nervous we would run out of daylight. After about an hour, we were starting to wonder why we'd been going along a stream, yet we never seemed to be getting anywhere, particularly to the Lillian Brook lean-to. And, we knew we still had at least a mile after that... Around 6:15 we saw a downed tree with a DEC trail marker on it. That was a good sign. Maybe 15 or 20 minutes later we heard voices. We came upon two guys who had a tent and tarp set up and were eating dinner. We asked if they knew what trail we were on. They didn't. We asked if they knew where the Lillian Brook lean-to was. They didn't. Just as we were ready to become completely disheartened, they said, "...but the Slide Brook lean-to is right there" and pointed up the hill behind them. Just through the trees we could see our tents! How the heck did we miss the Lillian Brook lean-to? Didn't matter - we were thrilled to be back! It was 6:40. We still had time to clean up, make and eat dinner and get ready for bed. It was a very warm night (a 100 degree heatwave had engulfed most of the East Coast; we lucked out with the cloud cover and constant breeze) and a good day. We were pretty proud of our little group. Four more peaks on the way to 46.
We awoke, broke camp and headed out by 7:30 the next morning. With lighter loads (although the bear canister did not feel any lighter...), we were back to the car within an hour.
I know you're wondering about the details of the peaks we climbed on this trip, so here you go... Macomb was named after Alexander Macomb, who won acclaim during the War of 1812 at the Battle of Plattsburgh, and served as Commanding General of the US Army in the early 1800s. John Dix was a former governor of New York State and apparently someone thought he was important enough to get three peaks in this range (Dix, South Dix and East Dix) named after him. There is currently a move afoot to rename South to Carson and East to Grace, but nothing official has been done yet. You may see other websites where this is referenced. Finally, Hough was named after Franklin B. Hough, the first chief of the US Division of Forestry, and sometimes called the "father of American forestry".
In order of height, Macomb was the highest of the 4 we did this day at 4405 feet and #21 on the list. Hough is close behind at 4400 feet and #23. South Dix falls at #37 on the list, at 4060 feet in elevation, and E. Dix is only 4012 feet, just clearing the list for 46er status and coming in at #42.