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

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!


9 Unbeatable Speed Records in the Northeast

By now, you’ve probably heard the news. On June 4th, Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell broke the speed record on The Nose of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Then, the very next day, the duo returned and broke their day-old record, taking their time under the two-hour mark (1:58:07).

Although the Northeast isn’t known for its speed climbing, it is home to numerous speed records involving the region’s mountainous terrain. With the Guinness Book on our minds, here’s a snapshot of some of the Northeast’s most-coveted FKTs (fastest-known times).

Editor’s Note: Records are current as of July 22, 2018.

Peakbaggers

NH48

For many New England hikers, summiting all of New Hampshire’s 48 mountains over 4,000-feet tall is the culmination of a lifetime goal. For others, like Andrew Thompson, owner of the fastest-known time on the NH48, it’s a good long weekend. It took him just three days, 14 hours, and 59 minutes—an incredibly fast time to cover the roughly 200 miles and 66,000 feet of vertical gain!

Adirondacks

The ADK46ers list shows that over 10,000 people have summited the region’s 46 High Peaks. In fact, the first known record dates back to the 1920s. That being said, none have done it faster than Jan Wellford. In June 2008, he picked them off in a staggeringly speedy time of three days, 17 hours, and 14 minutes.

Catskills

Although the Catskills might not have as many peaks over 4,000 feet, achieving the fastest-known time for summiting its high peaks—35 summits over 3,500 feet in elevation—is uniquely challenging. Unlike with the NH48 and ADK46, this sought-after FKT takes a single route through the Catskills, with no car shuttling between trailheads. Approximately 140 miles long, with around 38,500 feet of vertical ascent, the route covers roughly 80 miles of trail, 40 miles of bushwhacking, and 20 miles of pavement-pounding. Amazingly, in May 2018, Mike Siudy blazed it all in a breathtakingly breakneck time of two days, nine hours, and 16 minutes.

Classic Routes

Long Trail

For most backpackers, a trip along Vermont’s Long Trail is a three- to four-week endeavor. For fastest-known time-holder Jonathan Basham, it’s a good way to spend a week off, as it leaves a few days free to explore Burlington or take the Ben & Jerry’s Factory tour. Basham covered the 273 miles from the Canadian border to Massachusetts in an astoundingly fast four days, 12 hours, and 46 minutes in September 2009.

Presidential Traverse

A hike across the White Mountains’ Presidential Range, the iconic Presidential Traverse is a bucket-list trip for many Northeastern hikers. For others, like FKT holder Ben Thompson, this classic route is something to do before lunch. Ben blazed across the Presidential Traverse’s 18-plus miles and almost 9,000 feet of vertical gain in four hours, 14 minutes, and 59 seconds.

Yesterday I took the day off work to witness something incredible. Ben Thompson set a new Fastest Known Time on the Pemi Loop in an absurd 6:06:53. Here’s a picture of him cresting Mt. Truman with Lafayette in the background. … I hung out on the ridge to witness the attempt and was absolutely astonished at his speed and fluidity as he descended Lafayette, four hours in and just after a huge climb, he absolutely flew by. Congratulations Ben, what an effort! … (The Pemi is a 30 mile loop with roughly 10,000 feet of vert over technical mountain terrain, For context, I’m not in horrible shape and it recently took me a little over 12 hours) … #pemiloop #fkt #fastestknowntime #franconianotch #franconiaridge #mtlafayette #nh #inov8 #ultimatedirection

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Pemi Loop

The Whites are also home to another highly coveted route, the Pemigewasset Loop, or simply the Pemi Loop—one of the region’s most popular backpacking trips. The record holders have finished in time to make happy hour at the Woodstock Inn, Station & Brewery. FKT competitors can choose to do the route—more than 30 miles and over 9,000 feet of elevation gain—in either direction. This is one of the most competitive records in the White Mountains, and impressively, Presidential Traverse record holder Ben Thompson also owns this one. He completed it with a zippy time of six hours, six minutes, and 53 seconds in September 2017.

THE TRAIL: The Appalachian Trail covers 2,189 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt Katahdin in Maine. The total elevation gain over that stretch is ~464,000 ft, or the equivalent of 16 Mt Everests. It passes through 14 states and is constantly marked with white blazes that you see in the picture. The trail itself is overseen by the @appalachiantrail @nationalparkservice and @u.s.forestservice, and regionally maintained by thousands of volunteers and local hiking clubs. I found the trail quite quirky, flat farmlands in one section, boulder climbs in another. You’ll meet some amazing people and see all different kinds of small town America. Our nations past is intertwined in historic sections in Maryland and West Virginia. Maine, New Hampshire and Vermud will kick your butt but astound you with views. My perception of states like Georgia and New Jersey are forever changed – surprising me with their beauty and ruggedness. 2-3 million people each year hike some part of the trail, hopefully you will be one of those people 😁

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Appalachian Trail

Perhaps the most competitive speed record is the iconic Appalachian Trail (AT), the renowned footpath that starts at Springer Mountain in Georgia and ends at Maine’s Mount Katahdin. In recent years, some of the world’s most well-known ultra runners—such as seven-time Western States winner Scott Jurek and five-time Hardrock winner Karl Meltzer—have held the FKT on this roughly 2,200-mile trail. Currently, though, Joe “Stringbean” McConaughy holds the record. Self-supported, he cruised its full length in just 45 days, 12 hours, and 15 minutes.

Pacific Crest Trail

Coincidentally, McConaughy also holds the FKT on the Pacific Crest Trail—the AT’s West Coast cousin. However, his bicoastal record might not last long. Currently, Cincinnati teacher Harvey Lewis is putting in a strong effort to beat Stringbean’s AT time.

Shortish and Sweet

Just outside Boston, the Blue Hills’ Skyline Trail is a worthy goal for time-crunched runners and hikers. Roughly 15 miles out and back with over 3,500 feet of elevation gain, its challenges are on par with the region’s larger ranges. Fastest-known time-holder Ben Nephew—a Top 5 holder on many of the region’s other classic routes—rapidly dispatched this one in two hours, 25 minutes, and 44 seconds—fast enough to do it before work.

Another awesome out-and-back goes up and over Cadillac Mountain’s iconic North Ridge and South Ridge Trails. This 12-mile trip climbs almost 3,000 vertical feet along Maine’s rocky shoreline and affords incredible ocean views. Fastest-known time holder Tony Dalisio completed the route in one hour, 48 minutes, and 44 seconds. He partially attributes his tremendously fast time to doing the trip in April, thus avoiding tourists, the route’s biggest obstacle.

It only makes sense that the second-most hiked mountain in the world—Mount Monadnock—would have some seriously fast ascents. What is shocking is how long the speed record up the mountain’s most popular trail—White Dot—has stood. Since 2001, Elijah Barrett has held the fastest-known time, having made it to the summit in 24 minutes and 44 seconds.

Of course, we’ve listed just some of the better-known objectives and their record-setting times. To learn more about the records in your region, the Fastest Known Time website is a great resource. And, if you’re planning on doing one of these routes this summer, we want to hear about it—even if it isn’t record setting. So, tell us about your trip in the comments.


Project 100: A Wild Winter for the Good of the Mountains

While most Northeast hikers have heard of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks, few are familiar with the Adirondack Hundred Highest (HH). This peakbagging list is made up of the 46 High Peaks and the next-highest 54 peaks, many of which are remote and trail-less. Anyone who has bushwhacked off-trail above 3,000 feet regularly in the Adirondack Mountains knows the challenges of backcountry navigation, treacherous terrain, and isolation.

Neil Luckhurst is a man who knows these realities better than most. Last winter, Luckhurst, 61, became just the second person ever to hike the ADK HH in a single winter season. The challenges of completing the list at any time of year are big enough. But, adding deep snow, icy cliffs, below-zero temperatures, and unplowed approach roads makes for an almost unfathomable task. Luckhurst was driven to accomplish this feat (which he dubbed “Project 100“) not only for himself but also as part of a massive fundraising effort for the nonprofit conservation organization he founded, the ADKHighpeaks Foundation. He raised over $6,500 dollars to support Adirondack conservation and other nonprofit groups.

goEast had a chance to ask him some questions about himself, the project, and the foundation.

Luckhurst finishing Project 100. | Courtesy: Neil Luckhurst
Luckhurst finishing Project 100. | Courtesy: Neil Luckhurst

goEast: How long have you been hiking?

Neil: I began hiking in my early 20s in the Canadian Rockies. I stopped hiking altogether while going to school and starting a chiropractic practice in Montreal and having children. I have hiked, snowshoed, skied, and winter-camped in British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Northern Ontario, the French Alps, and, of course, very extensively in the Adirondacks.

goEast: That’s a lot of hiking! You say you’ve spent most of your time in the Adirondacks. How many peaks have you climbed there?

Neil: Approximately 150. I bushwhacked the entire Adirondack Hundred Highest list, including the 46. In addition to that, I have bushwhacked another 50 peaks from the 3,000-foot list, and friction-climbed about 50 Adirondack slides. Also, I have done the 46 in a single winter three times and, all in all, have completed approximately eight full rounds of the 46.

goEast: Impressive! What was the origin of Project 100?

Neil: In the winter of 2001 and 2002, Alain Chevrette and Tom Haskins basically went out and killed the list. Alain did the entire HH list, plus another 30-odd peaks from the 3,000-foot list. Tom did the Lower 54, plus most of the 46er list. In my opinion, this stands as one of the most monumental achievements ever done in the Adirondacks and has rolled around in the back of my mind for years. With Projects 46 [Luckhurst climbed all 46 Adirondack High Peaks in 10 days] and Full Deck [a single, continuous backpacking trip to climb 52 peaks] well behind me, I was mentally casting about for something else to do. Out of the blue, I realized the Adirondack Hundred Highest single winter season was just what I was looking for as a new challenge.

Luckhurst on Cheney Cobble. | Courtesy: Neil Luckhurst
Luckhurst on Cheney Cobble. | Courtesy: Neil Luckhurst

goEast: How many people have completed the Hundred Highest list in winter?

Neil: I only know of five people who have done them all over multiple winters, but there are probably more. However, in one single winter, as far as I know, only Chevrette has ever done this before. I have become the second.

goEast: So, what’s the ADKHighpeaks Foundation?

Neil: Originally, we were born from two internet message boards. One, Adkhighpeaks Forum was founded in 2003, and the other, ADKForum, was acquired in 2007. We started as a simple group of forest preserve hikers and recreational users that cared deeply about the wild places where we choose to spend our time. Over time, we came to realize that it is up to us to help improve the public lands that we enjoy, making them better for those that follow us. After all, we get so much joy and life-enriching rewards from these places that it seems only fitting that we do our part to return the favor any way we can.

Through our combined 5,000-plus membership, we began to look for ways to improve and have a positive impact on the forest preserve areas we use. In 2008, we began a grassroots, “pass the hat” effort, and with minimal effort, we were able to raise $5,000 to purchase needed equipment for the Keene Valley Fire Department’s Wilderness Response Team. The ADKHighpeaks Foundation was born from that effort.

We are now a major source of funding support for a number of endeavors, including the Summit Steward program, Fire Tower restoration programs, Search and Rescue team support, research grants, Adirondack Ski Touring Council purchases, and many, many more.

Courtesy: Neil Luckhurst
Courtesy: Neil Luckhurst

goEast: Why is it important to you to do these “projects” as fundraisers?

Courtesy: Neil Luckhurst
Courtesy: Neil Luckhurst

Neil: Over the years that I’ve been hiking in the Adirondacks, one thing that has struck me is how much work is done by volunteers. Trail work, lean-to reconstruction, SAR, public education, privy construction, and maintenance, etc. A lot of that hard work is done by volunteers. My way of giving something back for all the hiking I do is to raise money for the Foundation through these projects and via our web forum activities [by using projects as advertisements for the organization].

On a more personal level, my son Dominic and I did the 46 together as father and son. 10 years ago, he lost his life in an avalanche in the Canadian Rockies. The outpouring of sympathy from the Adirondack hiking community was incredibly supportive to my family and I. This made me decide, with Tim Dubois, to found the Foundation as a way of channeling this support into something concrete. These projects enable me to give back, as well as keep the memories of our hiking adventures alive.


Alpha Guide: MacIntyre Range in Winter

alpha Guides | Better than beta.

Get views for days on this three-peak traverse that includes the Adirondacks’ second-tallest.

The MacIntyre Range has it all: stiff climbs, a frozen waterfall, scrambling, and more than enough incredible views to keep you enjoying it from the second you step on the trail to the moment you return to the parking lot. While it’s certainly not the longest hike out there, the elevation gain you’ll have to tackle over this chain of three High Peaks makes you really feel like you’re earning the 360-degree views that await you on each exposed summit.

Winter daylight is fleeting, and temperatures on summits often reach well into the negatives. But, the sharp contrasts in the sights of the surrounding mountains and lakes make this a unique experience in the winter. Sunrises and sunsets in the spring, summer, and fall are always wonderful, but ones in winter tend to be a little more colorful due to the ice crystals in the air. Inversions, too, are more common, as clouds hang low over bodies of water after being heated from the day before. Summer rock-scrambling sections become a little easier with the packed-down snow. Overall, this route has an incredible amount of long, steep stretches that are practically designed for butt-sledding, thus making it the perfect winter day hike.

Quick Facts

Distance: 10.6 miles, out-and-back
Time to Complete: 1 day
Difficulty: ★★★★
Scenery: ★★★★


Season: November through April
Fees/Permits: $10 parking at Heart Lake ($5 for ADK Members)
Contact: http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/9164.html 

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Turn-By-Turn

The trailhead for the MacIntyre Range is the same one you use for Marcy, Phelps, and Table Top, starting on the Van Hoevenberg Trail as it leaves the High Peaks Information Center (HPIC) parking lot on Adirondack Loj Road (44.183061, -73.963870).

From the south (Albany or New York City), take I-87 north to Exit 30, and head west (left) on Route 73 towards Lake Placid for 26.5 miles, where you’ll take a left onto Adirondack Loj Road. The road is winding and becomes unpaved, however; you’ll reach the ticket booth after 4.8 miles. From the north (Plattsburgh or Montreal), take I-87 south to Exit 34 and head west (left) on Route 9N towards Lake Placid for 26 miles, where you will bear right (west) on Route 73. After approximately 11 miles on Route 73, take a left onto Adirondack Loj Road.

Credit: Francis Willis
Credit: Francis Willis

Stepping into Nature

After signing the trail register at the eastern end of the parking lot, follow the Van Hoevenberg Trail for approximately 1 mile. The Van Ho Trail, here, is unique, as it is well-marked with blue DEC trail markers and well-traveled by hikers. It also crosses many oft-traveled cross-country ski trails, identifiable by their wooden signs. A favorite trail you will cross is the Fangorn Forest Trail, named after a location in the Lord of the Rings series. After a mile, you will reach a junction (44.172403, -73.958979) where the Van Ho Trail connects with the Algonquin Trail. Here, the Van Hoevenberg Trail breaks left, but you should continue straight ahead, onto the Algonquin Trail.

Credit: Francis Willis
Credit: Francis Willis

The Thigh-Burning Begins

The real work begins after the junction. Continue to follow the Algonquin Trail, where you’ll steadily gain elevation as you twist and turn your way through the range’s foothills. Expect to slow down considerably here, as there are some notoriously steep parts. After approximately two miles of following the path through the trees, you’ll find yourself at MacIntyre Brook. Here, there is a beautiful waterfall to your left, called MacIntyre Falls (44.159344, -73.979633).

Continue along the trail as you gain more elevation. Between MacIntyre Falls and the next junction, a few treacherous sections ice over early in the winter season and stay that way until the spring thaw turns the ice to rivulets of water flowing through the rock. Be prepared to use your feet, hands, and wits in order to find the safest way to traverse these sections. Oftentimes, you will be able to see the path that hikers before you took and can get some insight into how to proceed safely.

After these sections, you will reach a small, unofficial junction. Here, some people branch off to the west to climb a small shoulder of Wright, affectionately nicknamed “Rong.” After this small junction, continue following the Algonquin Trail to reach the Algonquin/Wright junction (44.152531, -73.985754).

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

Heading the Wright Way

At this junction, many people will often leave their packs as they take the left fork and head up the 0.4-mile trail to Wright’s summit (44.151635, -73.979473), itself quick but steep (0.8 miles, 500′ elevation gain) and great for butt-sledding back down. However, only take this route if you are experienced and prepared enough to handle any accidents, should something happen between the junction and the summit. Wright’s summit is open and offers amazing views of the park, especially when you look toward the northeastern face of Algonquin. Also, be prepared for winds, as strong gusts often buffet the exposed summit, regardless of the season. You’ll have great views of Heart Lake down below, and if you look to the northeast, you’ll see Whiteface rising into the sky all by itself, creating an impressive silhouette.

After leaving the treeline and heading to the summit, be sure to keep your eyes out for any kind of debris. In 1962, a B-47 plane crashed on the mountain, and the impact threw its parts all over and around the summit. Today, much of it is still readily visible.

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

Short and Steep to the Summit

After returning to the Algonquin Trail junction, make a left and begin the final ascent to Algonquin’s summit (44.143693, -73.986437). This section is undoubtedly the toughest you will encounter all day. Particularly, slick, packed-down snow and ice make the hike’s 28-percent grade (0.7 miles, 1050′ elevation) far more difficult. After climbing steadily through the trees, leave the treeline, and follow the highly visible, human-sized cairns that mark the official path to the summit. Even in winter, you’ll want to stay on the trail, because any step on snow covering the fragile alpine vegetation can still do serious damage.

From Algonquin’s open summit, you get amazing views of nearly every High Peak, including everything from Whiteface to the Sewards, Santanonis, and especially Mount Marcy as it rises over Mt. Colden. Algonquin also offers a very unique view of Colden’s famous Trap Dike, a fun climb for those adventurous and prepared enough to tackle a High Peak in an unconventional manner.

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

Boundary, the Poor Peak That Doesn’t Count

After taking in the view, head over the other side of Algonquin toward your final High Peak of the day, Iroquois. After dropping down to the col between Algonquin and its neighbor, Boundary Peak, you will reach another intersection where the Algonquin Trail meets the Iroquois Trail (44.141591, -73.991251). Here, the Algonquin Trail becomes what is commonly referred to as the Boundary Peak Trail and begins a very steep descent toward the Lake Colden Trail. While not traveled nearly as often in winter, it forms a beautiful loop after descending Iroquois by heading back to your starting point through Avalanche Pass.

Just after this intersection, as you head along the Iroquois Trail, make a short climb to the summit of Boundary Peak (44.139831, -73.993863). This 4,800-foot mountain is unfortunately not counted as a High Peak due to its proximity and lack of prominence to both Algonquin and Iroquois. Boundary has some great views of its own, however. It offers a different perspective of both neighboring peaks that you won’t get from anywhere else while also offering a unique view of the wilderness to the range’s west. After dropping down the other side of Boundary’s summit, you will have a short and easy final push to Iroquois’ (44.136802, -73.998087). If you’ve been keeping track, there’s just an .85-mile distance from Algonquin’s summit to Iroquois’, with an elevation gain of 180 ft.

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

The Return Trip

After celebrating your third major summit of the day, it’s time to turn around and head back to your car! Retrace your steps, heading back the exact way you came. The only tedious portion lies in ascending Algonquin from the col between it and Boundary Peak. You will have to gain approximately 500 feet of elevation to reach the summit again, but then, you will have a completely downhill hike on the way out (a total of five miles).


Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

The Kit

  • When it comes to staying dry and warm during a winter hike, midweight base layers are usually the way to go, unless it’s an incredibly cold day. Midweight products will be more than sufficient on all but the very coldest winter days. You also want to be careful to not overheat, because you will be working hard throughout the hike. EMS’ Techwick Base Layers are perfect, because they’re inexpensive, comfortable, and work perfectly for winter hiking.
  • When hiking in the High Peaks region in the winter, you are legally required to have snowshoes or skis on your person when there is eight inches of snow or more on the ground. While there are a variety of brands and styles available, the MSR Evo line is a favorite choice of many seasoned winter 46ers for its durable deck that twists and flexes when it needs to. This feature can save your ankles and knees when you misstep or have an awkward landing.
  • When it comes to hard-packed trails, snowshoes are better left on your pack. Instead, you’ll want something that digs in and still allows you to step with confidence. Kahtoola MICROspikes are an oft-chosen option for such conditions, with a durable rubber frame that grips your boot snugly, and spikes that allow for a sense of security and safety as you trek along.
  • Even on mild and moderate days, you’ll want to make sure you have some kind of hard-shell jacket for when you leave the treeline. On warmer days, with dry base layers on, a heavier rain jacket, like the Marmot Minimalist, works wonders, but on colder days, when the wind chill may drag the temperature well below zero, you’ll want something with a little more insulation and protection – like the EMS Alpine Ascender Stretch.

Credit: Joshua Myers
Credit: Joshua Myers

Keys to the Trip

  • While this hike typically takes most of the day, you can move the start time around in order to catch a sunrise or sunset from any one of the three peaks. Sunsets on Algonquin never disappoint, and neither do sunrises. It’s a quick hike out afterwards if you time it to catch the sun setting there before you head back down. Just bring a headlamp.
  • Wright Peak is notoriously windy—more so than any other peak in the Adirondacks. Many first-time Wright summitters are unaware of the conditions, however, and it’s quite common to see or experience the feeling of having to crawl the last section to avoid being blown right off the summit. Because of the surrounding mountains and valleys’ shape, wind gets funneled over Wright’s summit and can easily reach gusts of 50 mph on any given day, so be prepared with warmer layers and traction.
  • Hungry after your hike? A favorite spot to grab food is the ‘Dack Shack in Lake Placid. They have a wonderful menu that consists of 46 unique sandwiches, all served on fresh homemade breads and named after the 46 High Peaks. The Blake sandwich on Asiago peppercorn bread is one that won’t disappoint!
  • If you’re feeling a bit parched, not far from the trailhead is the Big Slide Brewery. From IPAs to stouts and more, Big Slide Brewery is home to a delicious variety of microbrews, with a rotating selection of 10 on tap. For the perfect post-hike relaxation atmosphere, this brewery never disappoints.

Current Conditions

Have you been in the MacIntyres recently? Post your experience and the trail conditions (with the date of your hike) in the comments for others!