This Hike is a Blue Square: The Problems with NYS's Plan to Rate Hikes Like Ski Runs

The New York State Assembly is currently considering a bill that would rate the difficulty of hikes in the same manner in which ski areas rank the difficulty of their trails—black diamond for experts, blue square for intermediates, and green circle for beginners. According to New York State Assemblyman Chris Tague, the bill’s sponsor, the purpose of this trail-rating measure is to improve hiker safety. But this also begs the question—how does slapping a circle, square, or diamond at a trailhead do this?

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While the bill may provide a very generalized assessment of difficulty, it doesn’t say anything definitive about what a hiker is “in for” on a particular trail. Nor does it explain what hikers should be carrying in their packs in case of emergency. This is information that has historically been included in guidebooks and on signage found at many trailheads. Why not refocus this bill toward improving the existing information by consolidating it into an online region-by-region guidebook, then posting detailed trail descriptions at trailheads? That way hikers could easily research their objective before they left home and, if it was a last-minute outing, read about the hike at the trailhead. From websites giving detailed trail descriptions, (such as our Alpha Guides) to dedicated enthusiast websites, to personal blogs, much of this information already exists and consolidating these sources would give hikers a much better picture of what to expect (mileage, elevation, terrain difficulty, etc.) than a single symbol.

From websites giving detailed trail descriptions, to dedicated enthusiast websites, to personal blogs, much of this information already exists and consolidating these sources would give hikers a much better picture of what to expect than a single symbol.

A second concern with the proposal is that it doesn’t account for seasonal and weather-related changes to trail conditions. Consider a situation common to hikers in the Northeast, where icy conditions, a winter snowpack, or a water crossing with high water turn a moderate hike into an epic. Diligent hikers do their research, seeking out an up-to-date picture of what to expect on the trail before they leave home. Is New York going to similarly dedicate staff to changing that green circle into a black diamond when conditions warrant? More so, where community-based websites are already filling this role, aren’t the State’s resources better allocated to helping foster a state-wide trail condition forum like NewEnglandTrailConditions.com or TrailsNH.com (which already cover some of the state’s higher peaks)?

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A third problem is that difficulty is incredibly subjective. Simply scroll through the comments on some of the hiking pieces we’ve written for goEast or on a website such as AllTrails.com and it quickly becomes clear that one person’s easy hike is another’s nightmare. And it’s not just the web where the subjectivity influences trail descriptions and level of challenge—hikers are rarely in sync with the suggested completion times found in popular guidebooks. Once again, the ever-changing nature of trails and weather can play a role in this. Dry conditions and mild temps can make for an easy ascent one day, while slick, wet trails or heat and humidity can lead to struggles the next. It’s not dissimilar to a problem shared by many ski resorts—shred a black diamond run that’s filled with snow and it may feel easy, but encounter it later in the day when the snow has been scraped off and the challenge rises exponentially.

Simply scroll through the comments on some of the hiking pieces we’ve written for goEast or on a website such as AllTrails.com and it quickly becomes clear that one person’s easy hike is another’s nightmare.

It’s not only the dynamic nature of trails that make using a single rating to define their difficulty a problem, but the question also arises, what do we, as hikers, think is difficult? Will the ratings merely be based on mileage and elevation gain? What about the quality of the terrain? After all, a rough and rocky trail is much slower to navigate than a smooth trail. What about how rapidly the elevation is gained? Many of us find a slow, gradual ascent easier than a steeper, more direct ascent. Then, of course, there are technical bits such as water crossings, ladders, and steep sections which, depending on experience and comfort level, will feel easy for some and turn others around.

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Finally, what happens if hikers are planning on using multiple trails? Do two greens equal a blue? Or, three greens equal a black diamond? It seems to us that this system could quickly cause more confusion than it helps to clarify. In addition to sowing confusion, could rating hiking trails like ski runs lead to complacency? For example, would hikers be encouraged to leave behind essentials such as a headlamp because a trail is a green circle?

Do two greens equal a blue? Or, three greens equal a black diamond?

Interest in hiking and exploring our wild places is on the rise and thinking about how to make our trails safer and more inclusive should be on the top of people’s minds, especially those in charge of managing these places. But, while we feel like the New York’s heart is in the right place, we don’t think that rating hiking trails like ski trails is the solution they’re looking for.


8 Tips for Winter Hikes Above Treeline

While the mountains of the Northeast may not contain the vast alpine climates of the American West or other regions, many peaks of the Adirondacks, Greens, Whites, and Maine do require extensive travel above treeline to reach summit. Hiking above treeline, especially in winter, can be some of the most spectacular and rewarding hiking around, but it doesn’t come without challenged or danger. The unpredictable and harsh weather, inhospitable terrain, and difficulty of getting help all the way up there makes preparation necessary any time you venture into the Alpine, and these tips will start you in the right direction.

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1. Do the proper planning.

While sound preparation is a must for any safe hiking experience, it becomes even more important when visiting above treeline trails. You should carefully study your route, read trip reports or descriptions of your hike, and take careful note of weather predictions. Higher summit forecasts can be very different than general weather reports, and you should account for being exposed to any wind or precipitation which can often be more intense on exposed summits and ridgelines. As with any hike, be sure to let others know a detailed itinerary and when to expect you in case of emergency.

2. Practice makes perfect.

Before entering an alpine zone in winter, you should have a chance to test and dial in your gear and technique on lesser objectives and more forgiving trails. A windswept cold summit is not the place to find your water has frozen or your crampons don’t fit your boots. Pick a cold and windy day to try a small hike above treeline where you know you have an easy exit to test out your skill, gear, and resolve.

3. Adjust your risk assessments.

A part of more extreme peak bagging that is often learned through (sometimes negative) experiences is decision making and knowing when it is best to bail on an objective. When deciding to travel above treeline, the risks you are willing to take should be adjusted accordingly. Travelling solo or pressing on despite issues can have much more severe consequences here. Have alternative plans, expect the worst, and be willing to bail if needed rather than risk injury or worse.

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4. Carry the proper water and food.

Realize that subzero wind chills and exposure to the elements and weather will change the way you eat and drink. You will be uncomfortable or even dangerously cold if trying to fumble with preparing food or melting snow for water. Carry what you need for fluids in insulated containers to prevent freezing—winter alpine regions are no place for hydration packs whose tubes can freeze easily. Carry snacks that won’t freeze in easily accessible pouches or pockets so you can eat on the move without having to access you pack frequently.

5. Dress for the cold.

You will want to be sure to carry and wear the correct clothing. Typical winter layers may also require a heavy down insulating layer and a waterproof/windproof shell depending on conditions. Don’t over layer as you will still generate a great deal of heat even in freezing conditions. However, think about what you would need to stay warm should you become immobile for hours or, at worst, even overnight. Depending on the duration of your time above treeline, the availability of bailout options, and other factors, it may even be wise to carry basic winter shelter such as a bivy or emergency blanket as needed.

6. Wear the right traction.

While most winter hikes will include the need for traction devices such as snowshoes or Microspikes, this becomes even more crucial above treeline. The above treeline areas of the Northeast are often rocky, icy, and/or exposed—you may even require full crampons for safety. It is better to have all these devices than to find yourself sliding into a possible injury along a fully exposed section of trail. Be sure to be properly trained in crampon technique before using this potentially dangerous equipment.

7. Protect your face and eyes.

Blasting winds and ice over long stretches of ridgeline can quickly create uncomfortable or even dangerous frostbite conditions on any exposed skin. Carry and use adequate gear to protect your face. While a simple Buff may suffice for cold windy hikes in the woods, alpine exposure may require a full face mask, as well as goggles or glacier glasses to protect your eyes. It seems simple, but some forget that hiking with no vision can quickly lead to disaster.

8. Navigate carefully.

The regions above treeline in winter look much like the moon. They can be uniform landscapes of rocky white with at best an occasional cairn to mark routes. Besides studying routes ahead of time, it is crucial to take extra steps to ensure proper navigation. Consider carrying a GPS, and always be equipped with a map and compass. As you enter an alpine zone, take careful note of the direction you came from, the direction you are heading, and any notable landmarks or indicators. It is wise to even take a quick bearing on your compass of the exit and/or target routes. It is not uncommon for a clear summit to become a windswept and engulfed in whiteout conditions in just minutes. If you do get caught in extreme weather, don’t panic. Think carefully for a minute of the information you have and make sound decisions to get below treeline rather than rashly scrambling in what might be a dangerous direction.

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The Top 10 Things to Do Around Whiteface This Winter

Whiteface Mountain, in Upstate New York, has significant history. It is one of the Adirondack region’s 46 High Peaks, home to the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, and features a ski resort with the largest vertical drop in the East. With these factors in mind, Whiteface Mountain has plenty to offer the winter adventurer. But, while the mountain and nearby Lake Placid are well known as skiing and vacation destinations, you have plenty of other options for a winter excursion.

1. Ski or Ride “The Slides”

On the East Coast, The Slides are some of the only true double black diamond trails. These natural landslide routes run adjacent to Whiteface’s main resort trails. However, you will need to hit the mountain during a good weather period, as The Slides are only open a few times a year, based on snow and safety concerns. To go, have a partner, be sure you have the expert skills needed, and realize that these are the real deal. Added to this last point, have your avalanche gear packed and ready to use.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

2. Tour the Highway

The Whiteface Veterans’ Memorial Highway climbs the backside of the mountain. Besides offering vehicle access to the summit in summer, it serves as a wonderful winter touring route for backcountry skiers and snowboarders. This is typically one of the first early-season spots to do some laps. So, slap on the skins and climb the highway for either a mellow trip down the same route, or for access to the slides that bisect the highway for a fast ride down!

3. Enjoy the Après Ski

Recent upgrades and renovations mean that the Whiteface Resort base lodges offer plenty of options to have a few drinks by the fire after you hit the slopes. However, for great drinks, hearty meals, and live entertainment, head just a few miles north on Route 86 to the four corners in Wilmington, where you will find the Pourman’s Tap House. Depending upon when you’re there, stop by for the après ski specials, live music on Saturdays, and weekly wing nights.

Credit: Florin Chelaru
Credit: Florin Chelaru

4. Hike to the Top

Finished with a day on the black diamond runs and looking for more adventure? You can explore the other sides of the mountain by hiking or snowshoeing the marked hiking trails up to the mountain’s summit. To start, you have a choice of options. For one, begin from the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center and travel over Marble Mountain. Or, opt for a longer trek, beginning from Connery Pond and then ascending the mountain’s southwest shoulder. Just be prepared: The summit proper is open and exposed to the High Peaks’ notorious winter weather.

5. Spend a Night Out

If you are looking for a wilderness feel or are on a budget, check out the Wilmington KOA campgrounds, located just a few miles from the mountain and open year-round. The KOA offers everything from simple camping cabins to “rough it” to nice multi-room cabins with kitchens and fireplaces that are great for a group. Additionally, if you are up for a true outdoor experience, get your cold-weather gear dialed and camp in one of the lean-tos that surround the Adirondack Loj, about 15 minutes away.

6. Enjoy the Frozen Waterfalls

Just down the road from Whiteface is High Falls Gorge. At any time during the year, use the groomed trails, bridges, and walkways to view over 700 feet of waterfalls and dazzling displays of ice along the mighty Ausable River. Snowshoeing options exist here, as well.

7. Drink With the Locals

If you are willing to take the 15-minute drive to the sleepy village of Au Sable Forks, pick up some of the best hand-tossed pizza and specialty wings at a local favorite, Lance’s Place. If you are feeling a bit more adventurous, across the street is 20 Main, the area’s longtime backwoods watering hole. Here, you’ll find friendly bearded locals, cheap drinks, and an old-school indoor shuffleboard.

Credit: Chris Waits
Credit: Chris Waits

8. Be an Olympian

If you head just 15 minutes down the road from the mountain, you can make your way to the Olympic Sports Complex. Here, take a ride on a real Olympic Bobsled or Skeleton run. Or, hear the rumble of the sled rocketing down the track with a professional driver.

9. Meet Santa

If you are visiting with children, be sure to visit the North Pole. Who knew that the North Pole was just minutes away on Whiteface Memorial Highway? Home to Santa’s Workshop, the North Pole is a long-operated winter wonderland, where kids and adults alike can enjoy shows, rides, and attractions that center around Santa Claus himself.

10. Come Back in Summer

Many visit Whiteface to explore its wonderful winter history and activities. But, don’t forget about what it offers in summer. You’ll find world-class mountain biking in the resort itself, and the town’s system of trails has expanded greatly in recent years. As well, the Ausable River offers world-class trout fishing, and for taking a dip, you’ll find plenty of great swimming holes, including “Flume,” a local favorite just a few miles down the road.


Alpha Guide: Skiing the Whiteface Auto Road

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

A staple winter outing for cross-country and backcountry skiers in the Adirondacks, Whiteface’s Toll Road offers ease of access, a long route, and a large ascent, making it a great objective for those being introduced to backcountry skiing and for those looking to maintain their fitness for bigger objectives.

The Whiteface Veterans’ Memorial Highway is a five-mile stretch of paved road that ascends the opposite side of the mountain from the well-known ski resort. Every year, the Toll Road gates close for the winter season and re-open after all the snow melts in the spring, so winter access to the Toll Road is for non-motorized traffic only. This turns the five miles of eight-percent incline pavement into a long and flowing skiable trail.

As one advantage, the Toll Road doesn’t need much snow to be skiable. Because the base is smooth pavement instead of a rocky and lumpy trail, just a few inches of fluffy stuff transform the surface and make it one of the most reliable early-season ski tours. However, skiing to the top of Whiteface is only half the fun. From the end of the road, you have multiple options for descents, depending on conditions and ability.

NOTICE: There is work scheduled on the Whiteface summit elevator for the 2018/19 winter season. Because of this, the Toll Road will be plowed on weekdays. 

Quick Facts

Distance: 10.5 miles, out and back to the summit.
Time to Complete: Half-day for most
Difficulty: ★★
Scenery:★★★★


Season: November through April
Fees/Permits: None.
Contact: https://www.whiteface.com/activities/whiteface-veterans-memorial-highway

Download

Turn-By-Turn

From I-87 North, Take Exit 30 for 73W. Drive through Keene Valley and into Keene, bearing right onto 9N North. Take 9N into Jay and make a left onto 86, which will take you into Wilmington. At the main intersection of 86 and 431, follow 431 straight and up the hill to the toll house, following signs for the Whiteface Veterans’ Memorial Highway.

The parking area to ski the Toll Road is right at the Whiteface Memorial Highway toll booth (44.402276, -73.877192). In winter, the road is plowed up to this point. The toll booth will have its gate down and locked. Park to the side of the road, but be careful not to pull too far off the shoulder into the soft snow.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

The Ascent

The Toll Road keeps a constant eight-percent grade for the entire 2,300 vertical feet, so the climbing begins immediately from the car and never lets off. Although the climb is consistent, however, it never feels steep. This lets you find a rhythm for efficient and consistent uphill skinning. It also helps those new to skinning get the basic motions down.

The road stretches and winds for a few miles. Along the way, the roadside picnic tables offer a few opportunities to take a break and enjoy the view. The higher you climb, the more the snow depth increases, and the trees become more and more buried. At 3.3 miles in, the road opens up to a northwest-facing view, with a picnic table. This spot also makes the base for the upper slides that run between the switchbacks (44.371359, -73.905634).

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

The Switchbacks

Here, you’ll spot the top of the mountain, so it might seem like you are just about finished, but you still have 1.7 miles of road and 700 feet of elevation to climb through the switchbacks. So, don’t get too excited yet. As you continue onto the switchbacks’ first turn—aptly names the Lake Placid Turn—you will find that the road opens up to a fantastic view of Lake Placid and the High Peaks. On a clear day, it’s easy to spend a lot of time here soaking in the sun and the views.

Past here, the road continues up, with a 0.8-mile stretch until the next switchback, which offers views of Lake Champlain, the Green Mountains, and beyond. Finishing the second switchback sends the road back west and into the final stretch to the Castle. This last section is just about at treeline, so expect high winds for the final stretch. The Castle (44.367348, -73.906213) is normally an operating cafe with warm drinks and food, but in the winter season, don’t expect to find any unlocked doors or hot meals waiting for you. As one benefit, it offers some shelter from the biting winds.

From the Castle, unclip your skis, and make the final ascent up the shoulder trail to Whiteface’s summit (44.365852, -73.903005). This section of the mountain is often windswept, so expect to find both bare ice or rock and deep snow drifts. Traction aids are highly recommended.

As is the case with any Adirondack summit, the top of Whiteface can offer spectacular 360-degree views on a clear day, or you could find yourself completely socked in with dense clouds. The summit may also be windswept and bitter cold; if you are trying to stay for more than just a few moments, the weather station, although locked, provides the only break from the biting winds. If you are fortunate enough to be up top on a clear day, the views of the surrounding High Peaks are crystal clear, and peering even farther to the east reveals the Green Mountains of Vermont and even New Hampshire’s Presidential Range beyond.

Lake Placid from the road. | Credit: Aaron Courain
Lake Placid from the road. | Credit: Aaron Courain

The Descent

Here is where skiers get more opportunities for backcountry fun. For skiers who are on Nordic setups or who are looking for a mellow descent, simply turn around and make your way back down the Toll Road. The mild pitch doesn’t make for fast skiing, but if you stay in your uphill skin track to build up momentum, you can shoot into the deeper snow to link a few turns before you slow down.

For backcountry skiers or snowboarders who are prepared and have the right abilities, and for when the conditions are good (having advanced avalanche knowledge is necessary), the top of the Whiteface Toll Road provides access to multiple slides. The previously mentioned slide that cuts through the Toll Road switchbacks is the obvious choice if you want to easily end up back at your car.

The slide begins at the top of the Toll Road near the Castle. However, entrance to the slide requires a careful hop over the stone wall into the snow. Be sure not to hop over at the wrong spot; otherwise, you will have a long fall. Once at the base of the Toll Road wall, clip or strap in, and make your way down the slide to the Toll Road’s first crossing. The slide’s upper portion is steeper than the lower portion, and may have an icy base obscured by a thin layer of snow.

When the slide reaches the Toll Road, cross and find a weakness in the trees on the other side of the road. The entrance to the slide’s lower half is steep, but it soon mellows out. Keep in mind that this section seems to collect snow more easily, due to having more vegetation and less wind exposure. When you get to the Toll Road again at the switchbacks’ bottom, you have reached the end of the slide. Now you can opt to head back up for another lap, or continue back to your car.


Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

The Kit

  • Every backcountry adventure requires a place to stash your layers, food, and extra gear. The Osprey Kamber 32 Ski Pack has all the durability, volume, and accessories you need to hold your skis and equipment for whatever tour or winter adventure you find yourself in.
  • Proper layering is key to a happy day of ski touring. The EMS Feather Pack Hooded Jacket is a lightweight, packable, and very warm down jacket, which itself is a crucial component of any layering system. You will be happy to have the low weight on the uphill and the extreme warmth on the downhill.
  • While a simple pair of sunglasses suffices on Whiteface’s summit in the summertime, in the winter, you will want the added protection of a pair of ski goggles, like the Native Eyewear Spindrift. These goggles have a wide field of vision and offer an easily interchangeable lens system, which lets you choose the right lens color for the conditions ahead.
  • While countless skis are appropriate for skiing the Toll Road and more routes, the Fischer S-Bound 112 finds a happy place between a Nordic touring ski and a true backcountry ski. The waxless base with a scaled mid section allows for plenty of grip on the uphill, and for steeper tours, the ski is also compatible with climbing skins for when more traction is needed. The shaped cut with a 78mm waist provides plenty of float and turning ability for the downhill in all but the deep powder days.
  • Collapsible trekking poles often have an advantage in the backcountry over a solid ski pole. But, any pole needs to have a set of powder baskets at the bottom, or else, it will basically be useless in deep, fluffy snow.

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

Keys to the Trip

  • It’s always a good idea to check the ski conditions and recent snowfall before a day of backcountry skiing. Too little snow means scraping your skis up and down pavement for miles. After a big dumping of snow, however, the Toll Road’s mellow grade may require just as much effort to go downhill as it does for uphill. The NERFC provides plenty of snow forecasting and data, so that you can make informed decisions on the best time to ski.
  • If you are venturing into Adirondack slide skiing, avalanche safety and preparedness are a must. Unlike Tuckerman Ravine, the Adirondacks have no avalanche forecasting. Nonetheless, having the proper knowledge is crucial for a safe day of backcountry skiing. Thankfully, the EMS Schools offer avalanche training for those who want to venture into the snowy backcountry.
  • When you come back down from the summit, head right back down the hill into Wilmington to stop at Pourman’s Taphouse. They have delicious, warm food with plenty of beers on tap to get the creative juices flowing for planning your next trip.
  • There is work scheduled on the summit elevator for the 2018/19 winter season. Because of this, the Toll Road will be plowed on weekdays. However, if a Friday or weekend snow fills in the Toll Road for the weekend, then, it’s game on!

Credit: Aaron Courain
Credit: Aaron Courain

Current Conditions

Have you recently skied Whiteface’s Toll Road? What did you think? Post your experience in the comments for others!


The Rescue Report: Falls On Ice in the High Peaks

Accidents happen and plans go awry—That’s just part of what makes an adventure. But when they get really bad, oftentimes hikers need a little help. Thankfully, across the Northeast and the country, there are experienced professions in place to lend a hand when an adventure makes a bad turn. In New York State, that comes in the form of Forest Rangers from the Department of Environmental Conservation. But no matter how well they do their job, we would all probably prefer to not need their services and get out of the woods on our own. Luckily for us, the DEC is also a resource of information, regularly sharing the incidents that rangers respond to. Necessary reading for Adirondack explorers, we’re taking them a step further and adding commentary from experienced rescuers, emergency personnel, and backwoods folk, so that you might know what not do to the next time you’re outside, and how to avoid needing a rescue and being in the DEC report yourself.

Would you do something differently, have another suggestion for ways to avoid these situations, or a question about the best thing to do? Leave a comment!

View more incident reports from the DEC, here.

Falls On Ice in the High Peaks

Town of Keene, Essex County: On Oct. 23 at 1:22 p.m. DEC’s Ray Brook Dispatch received a transferred 911 Essex County call from an injured hiker in the High Peaks. The hiker, a 42-year-old woman from Nederland, Texas, was descending the Algonquin trail just below MacIntyre Falls when she fell on ice and twisted her ankle. The injury was described as non-weight bearing. Seven Forest Rangers and two members of the Ray Brook DEC trail crew responded to assist with a possible carry out. The first Forest Ranger reached the injured hiker at 3:10 p.m. After applying first aid and warming the hiker, the Ranger assisted her walking to the junction where the old Algonquin trail meets the existing trail. Rangers Daniel Fox and Kevin Burns arrived with a UTV and evacuated the woman and her gear out to the Adirondack Loj by 4:40 p.m. The hiker declined further medical care.

Town of Keene, Essex County: On Oct. 28, a 19-year-old Mount Sinai man and a 20-year-old Syracuse man reported to DEC Ray Brook Dispatch that they were near the summit of Mount Marcy when one of the men injured his knee after falling on the slippery terrain. Six Forest Rangers and the Lake Colden interior caretaker were dispatched to evacuate the pair. A rescue by helicopter was prohibited because of cloudy, rainy weather. The pair met up with one Ranger during their descent and continued to slowly hike out to Marcy Dam. Within five hours of their call, the pair were transported by UTV to the Adirondack Loj parking lot, where both men said they would seek further medical attention on their own.

Analysis: These two scenarios are similar as they both involve a slip leading to a fall, a lower extremity injury, and the cold winter-like weather that we had been experiencing at the end of this October. In the case of the first rescue near MacIntyre Falls, the rescue effort was roughly 4-hours shorter because of easy access to a road. In more remote terrain on Mount Marcy, the injured person was much farther away from definitive medical care.

In both cases, weather is an important factor to consider. The Fall season in the mountains sees many accidents and injuries. The combination of a change in weather and the decisions of how to prepare for a late-fall hike in the mountains both seem to be significant factors. Often times the weather in the valleys can be quite pleasant at a lower, less exposed elevation, but in the High Peaks, conditions are much more winter-like with snow, ice, rain, cooler temps, and wind chill. One of the best ways to prevent slips and falls as the ground begins to freeze is to use a traction device on your boots such as Microspikes. Remember to look closely at the mountain-specific forecast for a more accurate depiction of expected weather to help guide your gear and route selection for a fun day out.

Waiting On A Rescue

Town of Newcomb, Essex County: At 5:36 p.m. on Sept. 30, DEC’s Ray Brook Dispatch received a call from a hiker reporting his partner had injured his knee descending a steep, eroded section of the Mount Adams Trail. The 71-year-old hiker was located less than a quarter mile from the summit of the peak and was unable to put any weight on the leg. Under the authority of Lt. John Solan, several Forest Rangers and one assistant Forest Ranger were requested to assist with a night carry-out of the injured party. At 10:08 p.m., Forest Rangers arrived at the hiker’s location and provided patient care. Once the patient was stabilized and secured in a litter, Rangers began the difficult carry out to a staged six-wheeler at the base of the mountain. With slippery, steep, and hazardous conditions, the rescue required low-angle rope rescue techniques. At 1:20 a.m. on Oct. 1, the man from Tolland, Conn., was out of the woods and Newcomb Volunteer Ambulance transported him for further medical treatment.

Analysis: This is an example of how a of a rescue in remote, rugged terrain can significantly affect the time it takes to evacuate an injured person.  It took 5.5 hours for help to arrive to the location of the injured person. If this person had been ill prepared in inclement weather, a 5.5 hour wait without moving can easily lead to other injuries such as hypothermia. Additionally, had the party not had cell service, response time could double from going to get help rather than calling for help. Consider a GPS communicator for reliable communication and access to emergency help.


Lessons on Grace: Lost in the Dix Range

On August 19th at 9:30 a.m., I entered the Dix Range, solo, for an intended 18-mile traverse over its five High Peaks. I was running late. Many attempt the loop hike as a day trip, albeit a long one, so I had intended to start hours earlier than I actually did. Rather than change my plans, I would just have to hike faster. Simple.

My gear consisted of three liters of water in a CamelBak, three apples, two Clif bars, two lighters in a Ziploc bag, a Swiss army penknife on my keys, a great pair of Scarpa boots, and an athletic T-shirt and shorts. En route to the trailhead, I texted my father the GPS coordinates and told him that if he hasn’t heard back from me by 9:00 p.m., I have died and he should search for me there. It was a bad joke that would only get worse.

At this point, I had hiked primarily along the Appalachian Trail’s fully blazed trails, and climbed a half-dozen High Peaks before, all with clearly marked, easy-to-follow paths. I knew that some were marked less clearly, but I didn’t realize this route would be notoriously difficult to follow. The maps I had downloaded from AllTrails made it look like any other trail. At the same time, the GPS coordinates I was using as my starting point weren’t for the main trailhead, either.

Instead, I set out from the Route 73 entrance on an unmaintained herd path. However, High Peaks guidebooks dropped this route decades prior. Cairns placed across the river, sometimes hundreds of feet away and with no clear path of boulders to leapfrog across, indicated river crossings. At junctions, a large broken branch indicated the turn. For someone who frequently gets lost in his own hometown, this was like hiking blindfolded.

I lost a good hour and a half following this vague route and killed a large chunk of my phone’s battery while trying to follow the GPS track before I even touched a summit. Feeling the lost time, I started jogging.

After reconnecting with the Bouquet Forks Trail, I quickly summited Grace and South Dix. I arrived on the summit of my third peak—Macomb—at just shy of 4 p.m. At the summit, I met a quartet of women who were finishing their final peak. They graciously offered their map to cross-reference against my dying phone to figure out my route. The leader recognized the gravity of my situation: “Even if you ran the whole way, you couldn’t finish this five-peak loop before sunset.”

Then, my phone died in my hand. I put it back in my pocket, without saying a word.

The author meeting other hikers on top of tk. | Courtesy: Allison Kozel
The author meeting other hikers on top of Macomb. | Courtesy: Allison Kozel

Racing the Light

The quartet had entered the Dix Range from the Elk Lake Trailhead. At 4 p.m., they had just finished all five of their peaks, doing the loop clockwise and ending on Macomb. In retrospect, I should have abandoned my plan here and exited the wilderness with the group. That would have entailed descending the Macomb Slide with them to their car and bumming a ride back to my VW Beetle at the Route 73 entrance.

That is not what happened. I fully understood it was now impossible to complete the full loop with the dwindling daylight, but I felt I could haul at a clip and retrace my steps back to my car without relying on joining the group of women. I even congratulated myself for the compromise, believing abandoning my plan signaled maturity. Without realizing, I had simply downgraded from the impossible to the extremely difficult, sidestepping a surefire successful exit.

Giving up on completing all five peaks, I started running back down Macomb, retracing my steps over the three peaks I had summited earlier. After returning to Grace, I knew I had minimal light left, but knowing I was off the peaks and in the last several miles back to my car buoyed me forward.

But, the switchbacks on the river, already difficult to follow at a walk, were impossible at a jog. Ducking over and under boulders and waterfalls and navigating a route marked only by cairns, I lost my path, and doubled back. Was that pile of rocks a cairn? Was that branch intentionally broken to indicate direction? I found other herd paths that were not mine. I realized I was losing light fast, and was no longer sure I was even on the right river. Holding my hand to the sun, I had just fingers left of light before the horizon.

Running through my inventory, I realized I had almost no equipment at all: no jacket, tent, blanket, iodine tablets, or anything. My focus shifted immediately from getting out of the woods to surviving them. I decided I needed to get a fire going to keep warm when the temperatures would likely drop into the mid-40s.

There was no time for panic. I found a large downed birch near the bank of the river. It was perpendicular to its course and high enough off the ground to break the wind—perfect for me to lay back against. Then, I scrambled together firewood, until the last ray of light disappeared, and built a small fire in front of my improvised windbreak shelter. From 8 p.m. to 6 a.m., I fed the fire continuously, occasionally awakened by the cold whenever the fire began to ebb. I reached into the dark for my wood pile, fed, and adjusted the fire, before settling again into sleep.

The stars were infinitely clear. Any rustling heard throughout the night never felt threatening. I was never particularly uncomfortable. Though I never forgot the gravity of my situation, the solemnity and clarity of my home for the night filled me with a peace and awe that I have never experienced so intensely before. Though I had little with me, I had just enough for the night.

Credit: Lecco Morris
Credit: Lecco Morris

Searching for a Way Out

When I awakened again at dawn, the embers were down to nearly nothing. And, there was nothing left in my pile of dry wood.

So, I resolved to bushwhack to find my herd path and get out of the woods on my own steam. I began walking up and down one side of the river, spending several hours being torn apart by shrubs and overgrowth. I found dozens of other herd paths, following many of them until their ultimate conclusion: nowhere.

Sometime in the late morning, I realized it would be impossible for me to locate the path without more information, and that I was helplessly lost. While searching, I was wasting energy on a task I realized was fruitless. I cursed my lack of a map. I sat down and took stock.

Panic crept into my mind for a minute or two as I steadied myself on a rock. The sky above started to take the bruised color of filling clouds. Searching any longer for the path would be useless, but I needed to get out of the woods before I had to reckon with a storm.

In the early afternoon, I decided to stay put, hoping for rescue. In the river, a large sandbar mostly made of pebbles stood, flanked by a beaver dam on the downward side. I started making a signal fire from the driftwood. Remembering that birch bark burns oily and black, I leapt from the sandbar and scrambled up a mud wall. In those dozens of trips for birch bark, I cut long strips off a blowdown birch with my minuscule penknife.

I had less than a liter of water by this point, so I couldn’t risk lengthy sun exposure. Instead, if I heard rotors or saw a chopper, I would leap out from the shade to throw more birch onto the fire and would hope they saw the smoke in time.

For about three hours, I hoofed birch bark to the sandbar whenever I heard rotors up close, and threw pounds and armfuls onto the fire, trip after trip. Two or three times, I actually saw a chopper cresting the ridge. Eventually, I realized I needed to wrap my psyche around the idea that I might not be found for days, and thus would need to ration water for an unknown length of time. The deepening bruise in the sky also made me think the coming night would be a wet one. I couldn’t survive an unprotected windy night in the rain at sub-50 degrees, and had to make a lean-to.

By late afternoon, I was far from starving. However, in an effort to prepare myself for being stuck in the woods for an indeterminate length of time, I decided to find something to eat. If it came to killing an animal, I wanted to cross that line earlier rather than later. Although the frog lurking at the river’s muddy bank was too fast for me, I noticed many orange salamanders with black spots (later identified as Eastern red-spotted newts). I am aware that slow-moving, brightly colored animals are commonly toxic. However, in this case, I figured eating a few would be an okay way to test this rule.

I found two, said “I’m so sorry” aloud as I speared them with a stick, and cooked them over the signal fire. Because they were so unbelievably terrible, I presumed they were low-level toxic (I was right). Then, I attempted to figure out how to construct a lean-to.

The author on Macomb. | Courtesy: Allison Kozel
The author on Macomb. | Courtesy: Allison Kozel

A Cloud of Fire

As I schemed how I would build a shelter and what I would use, I heard the sound of a chopper quickly getting closer and closer. Heart pounding, I ran back out to the sandbar, waving my hands and screaming, “HELLO! HELP!” At the very moment the chopper crested the ridge, a voice 30 feet to my left exclaimed, “Philip Morris?”

“Is that a human? Yes! It’s me!”

“Are you injured?”

“No. What’s your name?”

“Pat.”

Out of the shrubs appeared a tall, clean-faced young man—younger than me. He had been in the woods for some time.

10 seconds prior, I was alone, having not seen another human for 24 hours. Now it was me and Pat, on a sandbar. An enormous DEC helicopter kicked up dust and leaves in a cyclone over the water.

Pat leapt over the river to the sandbar and radioed to the chopper, now directly overhead. I had intentionally chosen a sandbar large enough for a chopper to land, but hadn’t anticipated the downdraft over the fire and the embers shooting into the sky. For a moment, it felt like a war rescue operation. Pat and I jumped back to pour countless Nalgenes of stream water onto fire. The chopper came down as a maelstrom of sticks, leaves, and dirt swirled around us.

They strapped me into one of the four seats. Just like that, it was over. The chopper was unbelievably loud, and no one spoke. During the entire flight back to Keene, I didn’t spot a single sign of human habitation in any direction. I had ended up taking a tributary off the main river. My car, meanwhile, still sat several miles away, along another branch. Waves of green rolled in every direction as far as the eye could see.

The author and his rescuers. | Courtesy: Kathleen Morris
The author and his rescuers. | Courtesy: Kathleen Morris

True Professionals

After my parents hugged me, the entire DEC team took turns giving me bear-hugs. My mother, of course, had already promised them that if they found me, I would perform piano pro bono at a DEC event. While I was sure the DEC would ream me out for my lack of knowledge, they were simply glad I came out unscathed.

The DEC team’s professionalism in the High Peaks cannot be overstated. From interviews with my parents, they had built a whole personality profile for me, had dispatched a chopper, and had teams on foot canvassing the area. The officer my parents had spoken to at midnight the prior night stayed on his shift and didn’t leave his post until I was found.

The world is a playground, yes, but comparatively requires a lot more respect and preparation. I have no illusions that a series of thoughtless, compounding errors built on cavalier overconfidence resulted in a huge mobilization of people, grey-hair inducing worry for my family, and a real risk to my life.

I hope that sharing this story makes similarly overconfident folks pause to prepare, and to recognize the humble station that humans occupy in the wilderness. I’ve resolved to never rely on my phone for a map. And, to prepare for only the most ideal outcome, I’ll no longer bring the absolute minimum of gear. To take off into the High Peaks at any point, whether you’re anticipating an overnight or not, it is essential to bring a print map, a good compass, multiple layers (even in summer), iodine tablets, a good knife, and more food than the bare minimum, and to arm myself each and every time with prior research. Physical capacity and good survival instincts are no substitute for preparation.

I survived the night and had a DEC Park Ranger find me. They choppered me out of the High Peaks from a fiery sandbar in the middle of a whitewater stream, framed by one of the Adirondacks’ most remote mountain ranges. While this enduring image humbles me, I’m still thankful for it. The knowledge I gained has put that much more of the wild world within reach.

Credit: Lecco Morris
Credit: Lecco Morris

The Rescue Report: A Broken Leg on Armstrong and Gothics

Accidents happen and plans go awry—That’s just part of what makes an adventure. But when they get really bad, oftentimes hikers need a little help. Thankfully, across the Northeast and the country, there are experienced professions in place to lend a hand when an adventure makes a bad turn. In New York State, that comes in the form of Forest Rangers from the Department of Environmental Conservation. But no matter how well they do their job, we would all probably prefer to not need their services and get out of the woods on our own. Luckily for us, the DEC is also a resource of information, regularly sharing the incidents that rangers respond to. Necessary reading for Adirondack explorers, we’re taking them a step further and adding commentary from experienced rescuers, emergency personnel, and backwoods folk, so that you might know what not do to the next time you’re outside, and how to avoid needing a rescue and being in the DEC report yourself.

Would you do something differently, have another suggestion for ways to avoid these situations, or a question about the best thing to do? Leave a comment!

View more incident reports from the DEC, here.

A Broken Leg on Armstrong and Gothics

Town of Keene, Essex County: On Sept. 17 at 1:50 p.m., Ray Brook Dispatch received a call from a hiker advising that her husband, a 68-year-old male from Hinesburg, Vt., had suffered a possible fracture to his femur while hiking between Armstrong and Gothics mountains. The male hiker’s injury was non-ambulatory. Phone coordinates obtained by Essex County 911 placed the pair near the summit of Armstrong Mountain. Forest Rangers were dispatched to coordinate the rescue effort. Three Rangers were picked up by a New York State Police Aviation helicopter and two Rangers were inserted on the summit of Armstrong Mountain. The Keene Valley Rescue Ambulance staged at Marcy Field with an Advanced Life Support crew. One Ranger was staged at Keene Valley Fire Department with a ATV in the event a hoist extraction could not be performed. The Rangers inserted on Armstrong Mountain hiked down to the injured hiker, stabilized his injury, and outfitted him with a rescue harness. He was then hoisted out by the helicopter and airlifted to Marcy Field, where he was turned over to Keene Valley Rescue for transport to Elizabethtown Community Hospital. The Rangers that were inserted assisted the remainder of the hiking group out of the woods six miles with their gear, and the incident concluded at 4:30 p.m.

Analysis: This is a great example of a well-coordinated rescue for a serious injury that went relatively quickly. A 6-mile carryout in rough terrain could easily take 12 hours or more and require many rescuers. A helicopter evacuation can often be much faster and safer for everyone involved in the rescue. Unfortunately, mountain weather and terrain can often prevent a helicopter from accessing an injured person in the mountains. It is important for recreationists to remember that access to a helicopter is not always possible and it should not be considered a reliable option in a backcountry emergency. Dealing with a broken leg in the backcountry is never an easy situation, but having a responsible hiking partner with some Wilderness First Aid training and supplies, reliable communications, and a thorough trip plan, can help greatly during a backcountry emergency.

Splitting-Up on Allen Mountain

Town of Newcomb, Essex County: At 5:03 a.m. on Sept. 17, DEC’s Central Dispatch received a call for Forest Ranger assistance from Essex County 911 for two hikers lost on Allen Mountain. The group of three from Rochester had planned to hike Marshall and Allen mountains, but one of the hikers suffered a minor knee injury while climbing Marshall. The subject stayed at the Calamity lean-to with his camping gear while the other two subjects decided to hike Allen Mountain. On the trail, the pair became lost and spent the night in the wilderness. The next morning, they hiked up Skylight Brook to try to obtain cell coverage and called 911 for help. Based on the coordinates provided, Rangers located the two hikers, who were cold but in good condition. They were escorted back to the Calamity Brook lean-to where they were reunited with their companion and hiked out. The incident concluded at 2:30 p.m.

Analysis: This situation is a near-miss after an unexpected injury changed the group’s travel plans. The hikers decision to split up, put two group members over 5 miles from from the injured member without communication resulted in an additional hiccup in the groups outing. The sum of unexpected outcomes and mishaps in the backcountry often lead to serious incidents with undesirable outcomes. Had the weather been worse, in this case, spending a cold, wet night in the mountains can lead to hypothermia or other injuries and the hikers could have faced a much worse outcome. When unexpected mishaps happen in the backcountry, it’s always best to default to conservative decision making and come up with a new plan.


goEast's Favorite Adirondack Weekend Adventures

Is there a better time to explore New York’s Adirondack Park than the fall? We can’t think of one. From the majestic rocky summits of the High Peaks to the low, loon-dotted, swinging lakes of the St. Regis Canoe Area, to a locally-brewed post-adventure beer in Lake Placid, a fall weekend in the Adirondacks has something for everyone. How much can you pack in between Friday night and Monday morning? Use these guides to our favorite ADK weekend adventures to plan your trip and soak up every last drop of that crisp Adirondack foliage.

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Our favorite hiking trip: Climb to the top of New York State

Climbing Mount Marcy is a rite of passage for many area hikers, whether it’s a personal goal on its own or a small piece of the pursuit to become an Adirondack 46er. Beginning from the High Peaks Information Center (HPIC) at the serene Heart Lake, this moderate, 14.5-mile hike passes scenic areas, like the old Marcy Dam and Indian Falls, before climbing for a half-mile on the windswept, rocky slope above treeline to a summit with spectacular 360-degree views of the surrounding Adirondack landscape and adjacent mountains. Mount Marcy is a special place in the High Peaks Wilderness, more than five miles away from any road and a mile into the sky and reachable only by those on foot, thus making it a worthwhile journey into a wilderness as deep as you can find anywhere in the region. Need the beta? Read our Alpha Guide.

Honorable Mention: Test your navigational skills and climb 5 High Peaks via a series of herd paths.

Honorable Mention: Leave the 46ers to the crowds and get high on these less-than-4,000-footers.

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Our favorite paddling trip: Paddle a classic route through the St. Regis Canoe Area

The Adirondacks’ St. Regis Canoe Area includes some of the Northeast’s most pristine paddling opportunities. Enough waterways and canoe carries connect this massive expanse of lakes, letting paddlers explore and enjoy them for days on end. But, as one of the area’s most classic routes, Seven Carries takes you through a variety of wilderness ponds and wildlife habitats, giving you a great taste of everything this area has to offer.

The Seven Carries route was originally created as a transport route between the Saranac Inn, which has since burned down, and Paul Smith’s Hotel, now known as Paul Smith’s College. Now the route only has six carries and takes paddlers through three lakes and seven ponds. This one-way trip can be done in either direction and requires two cars. Although the route is a relatively short nine miles, some paddlers will want to turn it into an overnight trip to enjoy one of the many quiet, waterfront campsites on St. Regis Pond. Don’t put in without reading our Alpha Guide.

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Our favorite post-adventure activity: Rehydrate in Lake Placid

As with any big hike or paddle, it’s the trudge back to the parking lot that can get a little long. As winter daylight begins to fade on the back end of a long November trek, I’m sometimes cursing outselves for not trimming that one toenail that’s banging against my boot’s toe box or simply convincing myself that the hike down, with its steep icy sections, would be so much faster than the one up.

Then, my mind wanders to that first cold beer and hot bowl of chili awaiting me at one of the many Lake Placid eateries when we’re finally out of the mountains. Imagining the bartender topping off that big draft is the vision that keeps me going. Need suggestions? Read about the four best LP watering holes, here.

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Our favorite fall must-do: Check out the foliage, obviously

One of the things that the Northeast is known for is of course it’s extensive fall foliage. Fall is also a time when cool mornings and sunny weather draw many to the regions network of hiking trails. There is perhaps no better place to combine the beauty of Autumn and a passion for hiking than the Adirondack Mountains. The backdrop of the rugged Adirondack peaks, the reflections of its countless ponds and lakes, and the fiery colors of the regions hardwood forest create a spectacular scene around the month of October which is arguably unrivaled in the country.

While the massive Adirondack Park covering nearly one third of the state offers countless destinations, below are three of the finest places to combine great hiking and the warm glow of Autumn’s colors. Pick the best spots using our guide.


3 Adirondack Fall Foliage Hotspots

The Northeast, of course, is known for its extensive fall foliage. Added to this, the season’s cool mornings and sunny weather draw many to the region’s network of hiking trails. To combine the two, there’s no better place than the Adirondack Mountains. The backdrop of rugged peaks, reflections on its countless ponds and lakes, and the hardwood forest’s fiery colors create a spectacular, unrivaled scene around the month of October.

While the massive Adirondack Park covering nearly one-third of the state offers countless destinations, below are three of the finest places that combine top-notch hiking with the warm glow of autumn’s changing foliage.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Giant Mountain Wilderness

One of the most popular High Peaks, Giant Mountain offers some amazing views into the Keene Valley area from its summit. However, within the immediate area, a few other less-crowded hikes are just as rewarding. Start from the northern trailhead on Rt. 9N to travel just 2.4 miles to the short-but-steep spur trail to Owl Head Lookout. Here, you’ll get nearly 360-degree views of Giant, Rocky Ridge, Green, Hopkins, Hurricane, and many other nearby peaks.

Also within the immediate area, extensive hardwood glades provide brilliant colors during the season’s peak. For another longer day, look to climb towards Rocky Ridge Peak from the Rt. 9 trailhead in New Russia. A more difficult trek, this hike encompasses over 4,000 feet of elevation gain, but the views start early and continue to Blueberry Cobbles and Bald Peak. Both along the way are worthy targets in their own right, if you don’t want to complete the whole traverse.

Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Credit: Ryan Wichelns

Boreas Ponds Tract

Just two years ago, this area of over 20,000 acres opened to the public via a state purchase. Access is from Gulf Brook Road, located off Blue Ridge Road, just a few miles west of exit 29 on the Northway. A few miles down Gulf Brook Road leads you to a new parking lot for hikers. From here, you can hike or bike a decent dirt road into the Boreas Ponds, enjoying the open forest’s brilliant colors on either side. At 2.6 miles, you’ll come across a bridge over the LaBier Flow, itself a magnificent scene. Hang a right at the intersection just ahead, and you’ll soon arrive at the Dam and southern end of Boreas Ponds.

The view towards Panther Gorge, Mount Marcy, Haystack, and other peaks, with the Ponds in the foreground, is one of the Adirondacks’ finest. This newly opened area will likely soon have established campsites and DEC trails to explore, as well. If you are feeling adventurous, the dirt road continues around the Ponds’ east and north sides, offering more wonderful fall views of a forest that has not been open to the public in over a century. Please be aware that bikes cannot be taken beyond the Dam.

Credit: Lucas LaBarre
Credit: Lucas LaBarre

Pharaoh Lake Wilderness

The Pharaoh Lake area near Schroon Lake offers a host of trails, most of which are moderate and well marked. Due to its location being a bit farther south, peak foliage typically occurs a week or so after it does in the High Peaks. As such, it offers some spectacular fall color, even after the northern zones have faded. For a longer trip, consider the region’s great ponds and lean-tos, which are ideal for overnights and backpacking treks.

Pharaoh Mountain itself is, perhaps, the area’s most challenging hike. While just barely rising above 2,500 feet, it requires over 10 miles of hiking, with a steep ascent of 1,500 feet. The rewards are nearly 360-degree views of the southern High Peaks, Pharaoh Lake, and Gore Mountain.

Another slightly shorter hike is Treadway Mountain, which starts at Putnam Pond Campground and tops out on a U-shaped ridge that offers unique views of the area. From its open rock, you’ll spot birch standing in previously burned areas and old-growth forests in the wilderness’ northeastern corner, and with so many bodies of water serving as a backdrop, few views capture fall in the Adirondacks quite as perfectly.


Alpha Guide: The Dix Range Traverse

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Traversing five High Peaks with awe-inspiring views nestled deep in the Adirondack wilderness, the Dix Range beckons to those hikers with an adventurous spirit and passion for a challenge.

Given its unique terrain, true wilderness atmosphere, and marvelous scenery, the Dix Range is a common favorite among many Adirondack hikers. Beginning from the Elk Lake Trailhead, the difficult, 14.8-mile hike starts off easy, before steeply ascending a unique slide to Macomb’s summit. Next is an exposed scramble to South Dix, followed by a comfortable walk to Grace, and several scenic ups and downs to Hough. A final push through the woods, with some rock scrambles, leads to the remote, bald summit of the state’s sixth-highest mountain, Dix. With a backdrop of lakes, river valleys, other High Peaks, and even Vermont’s Green Mountains, the Dix Range’s allure is undeniable.

Quick Facts

Distance: 14.8 miles, loop
Time to Complete: 1 day (with an optional overnight)
Difficulty: ★★★★
Scenery: ★★★★


Season: May through October (The trail is closed during big-game hunting season)
Fees/Permits: None
Contact: http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/9164.html 

Download

Turn-By-Turn

You’ll find parking at the Elk Lake Trailhead along Elk Lake Road, about 20 minutes northwest of North Hudson and 40 minutes northeast of Newcomb.

From the south (Albany, New York City), take I-87 north, and from the north (Plattsburgh, Montreal), take I-87 south. Depart I-87 at Exit 29, (“Newcomb/North Hudson”), and take a left to head west on Blue Ridge Road for about four miles, where you’ll then take a right onto Elk Lake Road. The parking lot will be five miles down on the right-hand side. The surrounding area is private land, however, and outside of the designated lot policy, there is a very strict no-parking rule. Another DEC parking lot is located along Elk Lake Road at Clear Pond, but it’s two miles back from the trailhead, thereby adding on four more miles roundtrip.

Credit: Elizabeth Urban
Credit: Elizabeth Ricci

The Warmup 

Sign in at the register (44.020924, -73.827726) before hitting the trail, which is marked with red discs. The path is well maintained and relatively flat, making it a great warmup and easy to follow if you’re starting before sunrise. This stretch is relatively uneventful, with a few stream crossings, including Little Sally Brook and Big Sally Brook. At approximately 2.2 miles, you’ll reach the Slide Brook lean-to and four primitive campsites. If hiking the entire range in a day seems too daunting, this is a suitable location to spend a night, either before or after hiking the range.

This spot also marks the intersection of the main trail with the herd path you will take to Macomb (44.044437, -73.805971). The herd path will be on your right, heading west, and may seem confusing, as it appears to go right through a campsite. If you stay to the right of the campsite, it will be relatively easy to pick up the trail leaving the site.

Negotiating the Macomb Slide. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns
Negotiating the Macomb Slide. | Credit: Ryan Wichelns

The Slide 

The herd path remains in the woods, paralleling Slide Brook. You’ll gradually gain elevation, before the terrain starts to steepen. Like most of the range’s herd paths, the trail may be narrow at times but is well worn and relatively easy to follow. At approximately 3.5 miles (44.051854, -73.786633), the trail veers right and emerges onto the impressive Macomb Slide. Although the slide is short (0.15 miles), it is very steep, climbing nearly 500 feet. For this reason, the loop is typically hiked counterclockwise: Going up the slide with fresh legs is preferable to going down with fatigued muscles. Unlike most of the Adirondacks’ rock slab-type slides, this one is characterized by rocky rubble varying in size and grade. It can be immensely fun for those who like a good scramble but daunting for others who fear heights or exposure.

Although the slide has no correct path up, many people prefer to stay toward the right. Take your time and allow for plenty of space between yourself and those ahead. Although there’s no need for a helmet, cascading rocks are common on a busy day. The slide narrows toward the top, so it’s easy to spot where the trail reenters the woods (44.051472, -73.783510). After a few quick rock scrambles, you’ll pop out on Macomb’s summit at 4,405 feet and mile 3.9 (44.051702, ‘-73.780204), where you’ll be treated to beautiful views of Elk Lake tucked among the mountains to the west.

Credit: Elizabeth Ricci
Credit: Elizabeth Ricci

Scrambling

From Macomb, follow the herd path northeast, heading back into the woods. The trail will descend about 600 feet before reaching the bottom of the col between Macomb and South Dix. At the col, take the shortcut to the Lillian Brook herd path. Keep right to stay on the trail to South Dix, and there, you will begin climbing again. Soon, you’ll exit the woods and scramble up a large rock outcropping. Generally, you should stay toward the right but follow the cairns other hikers have created.

You may think the summit lies at the top of this rocky section, but you’ll alternate between woods and more small rock outcroppings two more times before reaching the actual South Dix summit at 4,060 feet and mile 4.7 (44.059934, -73.774472). Located right near the summit, the trail will split: to the right (east) lies Grace and the left (north) is the path to Hough.

Note: South Dix is in the process of being renamed Carson Peak to commemorate Russell M. L. Carson, a founding member of the Adirondack Mountain Club. The names are often used interchangeably.

The summit of Grace Peak. | Credit: Sarah Quandt
The summit of Grace Peak. | Credit: Sarah Quandt

 A Walk in the Woods 

At the intersection near South Dix’s summit, stay right to head east toward Grace. Just past the intersection, a short side trail on the right leads to a ledge—the only spot for views on South Dix’s actual summit. Back on the herd path, the terrain is relatively flat before gently descending about 350 feet to the col. From the col, it steepens but is a relatively short 300-foot climb to the bald summit of Grace (mile 5.7), itself barely a High Peak at 4,012 feet (44.065014, -73.757285). On this remote summit, you’ll be treated to sprawling views of the surrounding river valleys and smaller mountains.

If you’re up for some exploring, venture to the summit’s north side to get a look at Grace’s aptly named Great Slide. However, resist the temptation to relax here for too long, and instead, head out, because you still have a good deal of climbing and scenery ahead. From here, retrace your steps back to South Dix’s summit (mile 6.8), and at the trail intersection, stay right (north) to head towards Hough (pronounced “Huff”).

Note: Formerly known as East Dix, Grace Peak was renamed in 2014 to honor Grace Hudowalski, who, in 1937, became the first woman to climb the 46 High Peaks. Old maps and guides will use the East Dix title. 

On top of Hough Peak. | Credit: Sarah Quandt
On top of Hough Peak. | Credit: Sarah Quandt

Houghing and Poughing

From the summit of South Dix, stay right (north) at the trail intersection, and follow the herd path as it descends into the woods. After a short while, you’ll begin climbing again and rise above the treeline. Don’t be fooled by the impressive views, however. You aren’t on Hough yet but, instead, on the small bump informally known as Pough (pronounced “puff”).

After meandering along the ridge, the trail descends back into the woods, until it reaches the col between Pough and Hough, which is distinguished by a small clearing. This is also the intersection with the Lillian Brook herd path (44.065483, -73.777484), which is on the left (west) of the clearing and heads back down the range to the main, marked trail.

At this point, assess how you and your group are feeling and check on the time. From this spot, you still have quite a bit of climbing (1,500 feet) and distance (7.6 more miles) to cover. Assuming you’re still up for the challenge, continue straight through the clearing, following the winding herd path up to Hough. The path may be steep and overgrown in areas, and will remind your body how much work it has done so far. Albeit small, Hough’s summit at mile 7.5 (44.069549, -73.777813) is a welcomed resting area with excellent views, including the Beckhorn looming in the not-so-far distance.

On top of Dix. | Credit: Sarah Quandt
On top of Dix. | Credit: Sarah Quandt

The Pinnacle

Upon leaving Hough’s summit, you’ll descend back into the woods and reach a col. From here, the final push begins. More climbing may feel rough at this point, but compared to the section up Hough, this path is a bit gentler. As the woods open, you’ll need to get through a few more rock scrambles before reaching the Beckhorn (44.079930, -73.784957), a large, easily recognizable rock outcropping and the beginning of a marked trail. You’ll return to this location later for the descent of the range.

From the Beckhorn, continue north. After only a few minutes, at mile 8.7, you’ll finally reach the range’s crown jewel—Dix itself (44.081902, -73.786366)! Take time to enjoy the summit and exquisite 360-degree views, which, by this point in the day, are well earned. To the west, Nippletop towers in front of Blake and Colvin. Farther out, you’ll spot the Great Range and the always-impressive Mount Marcy. To the north is the Bouquet River valley, followed by Giant and Rocky Peak Ridge. Dix’s summit is bald and forms a short ridge, offering plenty of space for groups to spread out and soak in the afternoon sun. While it may be tempting to stay for a while, be conscious of time. You still have a very steep descent, followed by a long walk out ahead of you.

Descending to Elk Pass. | Credit: Sarah Quandt
Descending to Elk Pass. | Credit: Sarah Quandt

A Steep Descent

Retrace your steps from Dix’s summit to the Beckhorn, where you will turn right (west) to head down on the yellow disc-marked trail (44.079930, -73.784957). The initial descent of the rocky Beckhorn may be tricky, but look for the yellow blazes to guide you. Once back below treeline, the trail will continue to descend steeply for a total of 2,500 feet over two miles. Keep in mind that many hiking accidents happen on the descent after a successful summit bid. Here, people tend to be fatigued, are eager to be done, and often are less observant. Instead, exercise care, stay mentally alert, and try not to split your group up.

While this trail is no more difficult than almost anything else in the Adirondacks, you’ll be tackling it after an already very full day of hiking. Make sure everyone is hydrated and well fed, so they are in optimal shape and good spirits. After what will seem like an eternity of trekking downhill, the trail ends where it intersects with the main trail (44.068988, -73.809992) at mile 10.7.

Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

Not All Downhill from Here 

Upon reaching the main trail, turn left (south) to follow the red disc trail markers. It’s a long walk out from here, so settle into a good trekking rhythm and enjoy your surroundings. You’ll quickly pass Dix Pond on the right, before hiking up and over a small bump and crossing Lillian Brook. Beyond, at mile 12.6, you’ll come across the Lillian Brook lean-to and a couple of primitive campsites.

From here, you’ll begin a slow ascent of another “bump,” which, eliciting some grumbles, will account for an unwelcome 200 feet of additional climbing. As the climb tops out and you reach the bump’s high point, you may see a rock cairn on your left. This marks the Lillian Brook herd path, the top of which you saw earlier at the col between Pough and Hough. Continue straight on the main trail, following the red discs, and you will begin to descend the bump. As the trail starts to flatten out, you’ll reach the Slide Brook lean-to and campsites again. From here, you can retrace your steps from much earlier in the day back out to the trail register and parking area, 14.8 miles later.


Credit: Sarah Quandt
Credit: Sarah Quandt

The Kit

  • Trekking poles are essential for the Dix Range, with all the climbing and descending. Invest in a quality pair that is up for the task. LEKI’s Micro Vario Ti COR-TEC Trekking Poles are lightweight and packable and come with a lifetime warranty.
  • Although the herd paths are well worn, they are often overgrown with vegetation and can leave bare legs and arms covered in scratches. To stay cool but protected, a durable pair of convertible pants, like the EMS Camp Cargo Zip-Off Pant, are an excellent option. Pair them with the EMS Techwick Essence ¼-Zip for full coverage.
  • You should always be prepared when hiking, especially on longer, remote treks. Invest in a basic first aid kit, like the AMK Ultra 0.7 Scout First, which provides a comprehensive selection in a compact, waterproof package. Weighing in at only 6.5 oz., it’s barely noticeable in your pack.
  • Nutrition and hydration are paramount on grueling hikes. Calorie-dense foods are your best bet to keep up your energy and save space in your pack. Fill up on tasty Clif Nut Butter Filled energy bars and Honey Stinger Vanilla & Chocolate Gluten Free Organic Waffles. Replenish electrolytes with GU’s Grape Roctane energy drink mix.
  • Always carry a headlamp and extra batteries in your pack. They may be the difference between an easy walk out and spending an unplanned night in the woods. Try Petzl’s Actik Core headlamp, which delivers 350 lumens and offers both white light for visibility and red for night vision.
  • Pick up the National Geographic Adirondack Park, Lake Placid/High Peaks topographical map. It shows all the trails, campsites, and recreational features and offers relevant information on wildlife history, geology, and archaeology.

Credit: Elizabeth Urban
Credit: Elizabeth Ricci

Keys to the Trip

  • Get an early start. The small parking lot fills up very quickly on weekends (well before 7 a.m.). Additionally, beginning in the dark with a fresh mind and pair of legs is better than finishing in the dark when you’re mentally and physically drained.
  • The trail between the Slide Brook lean-to and the Beckhorn is technically unmarked and unmaintained. So, be sure to carry a map showing these herd paths, familiarize yourself with the route beforehand, and carry a compass (that you know how to use!). Although the herd paths are well traveled and defined, preparation is imperative.
  • Carry extra water and food. This is a long, strenuous day hike with unmarked herd paths and very few water sources. Staying hydrated and keeping your blood sugar up will keep you strong, focused, and in good spirits.
  • Know your and your group’s limitations and be realistic about expectations. The Lillian Brook herd path leads down from the Dix Range to the marked trail and is a good bailout option, if needed. You can always come back to complete the other summits!
  • Keep up on the latest trail conditions at the DEC’s Backcountry Information page for the High Peaks Region, which is updated weekly.
  • Overnight hikers may use the Slide Brook and Lillian Brook lean-tos, along with the various designated primitive camping sites, although they are first-come. Aside from these marked sites, you can camp anywhere that is at least 150 feet from a water body, road, or trail, and below 3,500 feet in elevation, unless the area is posted as “Camping Prohibited.”
  • If you finish early enough, stop at the Adirondack Buffalo Company (closes at 6 p.m.) for a variety of home-baked goods, fresh produce, buffalo meat, locally made crafts, and, perhaps most importantly, coffee. It is located on Blue Ridge Road, just before the Elk Lake Road trailhead.

Current Conditions

Have you hiked in the Dix Range recently? Post your experience and the conditions (with the date of your climb) in the comments for others!