I’ve been wanting to hit the trails solo for about a month or two but to be completely honest, I had a fear of something happening to me while out there. But with the gorgeous weather last week and an urgency to take one last vacation day (I can’t take time off in August) I just had to make it happen. I wouldn’t say I’m a pro, but I felt confident enough that the 25 previous hikes/peaks gave me enough experience to give it a go.
The next step of planning which peak(s) to climb had me going back and forth between two options: hike a 15-20 mile day and bank one or possibly two peaks, or hike a thirteen mile day and bank four? Of course the second option seemed more appealing however I must add, that those four peaks were going to be on unmarked trails = added chance of becoming lost in the woods. The beau thought I was out of my mind for even considering it.
So, I spent a lot of time researching the unmarked trails and came to the conclusion that I could do it! Hey, I thought if the new National Geographic ADK map shows these unmarked trails, they must be there and easy enough to follow. My back up plan would be to follow the marked trails all the way out to Dix Mountain and I’d at least get one peak and those 15-20 miles.
The night before I wrote out an itinerary for the beau, packed my bag, and prepared all of my meals for the hike. I brought more than I typically do, but wanted to play it safe by bringing extra food and a warmer shirt, hat and extra pair of socks regardless of the weather report. I laid everything out so that it would be a simple morning and I wouldn’t wake the beau shuffling around; I was on the road by 3:30am Tuesday.
You can access the Dix Mountain Range from Elk Lake Road by taking exit 29 off the Northway (87). It’s an easy trip and I loved seeing signs of the rising sun as I made my way to the trailhead parking. I was shocked to seeing the 8 or 9 cars in the lot, and after checking in, I realized that they had all been there from the previous day; most of the people/groups were making a two or three-day trip out of what I was about to complete in one day. I was walking into the woods at 5:42am.
I knew from reading that I was looking for a cairn after 2 miles that would signal me to take a right up toward Macomb Mountain. This was a hike that Paula and I had attempted this past spring but with the snow, completely missed our turnoff. On this brisk summer morning, it was easy to spot.
I was shocked by how easy it was to follow the herd paths and was making great time. Within an hour I could see where I was headed and the rocky slide that I’d have to scramble up. Let me note: when hiking alone, every little sound is loud. And when a deer JUMPS across your path just ten feet in front of you, it scares the crap out of you! Your senses are definitely heightened when you have no one to talk to or listen to. This was right about the time when I took a wrong turn; but I didn’t know it until I had hiked for fifteen minutes or so in the wrong direction. I was following hikers previous to me, but still, my intuition told me it wasn’t right; by then I should have already been climbing the slide. So, I turned around and retraced my footsteps and easily found where I had gone wrong. Up the slide I went!
The slide takes you up and back into the trees (and gives you great views of Elk Lake!) and you have another half hour or so until you reach the summit. This side of the mountain was still dark because the sun was rising on the other side and I must say, it kept me cool while doing all that climbing. I summited at 8:18am and the views were already breathtaking.
I stayed only a few moments to take a couple of photographs and turn on my phone to try to ease the beau’s mind that I was doing it… this was when a flood of messages came through from the night before… one of my good friends was engaged! A view and good news?! I couldn’t take it; I then continued on to South Dix. Again, the trail was easy to follow and because it’s about 400 feet lower than Macomb, the down had me gaining distance quickly. I reached this tree covered summit at 9am and stopped briefly to have a snack of fresh mango slices and a handful of cashews.
My spirits were high at this point because I was already half-way done with my planned day very early on. I had put in my itinerary that I *may* attempt to complete the entire range if I felt great and it had crossed my mind, but I didn’t want to commit to anything until I reached the fourth peak. I set off to reach East Dix, which was only a mile from the summit of South. I summited at 9:47am.
The views!!! I could now get a clear look at the entire East side of this mountain range and I was smiling ear to ear. At this point in the hike I really wished that I had someone to share these views with; the skies were blue, the temperatures were low and the bugs were nonexistent. I hiked back to South Dix and was on my way to Hough Peak.
Now this leg of the trip was difficult for me mentally. This was a much higher climb than the previous two and was technically my fifth up for the day. I was also approaching my sixth hour on the trail and I was starting to get hungry for lunch. At one point I kept telling myself, okay, another half mile and if the peak isn’t there, I’ll stop and eat. It was steep and I had to stop and catch my breath a couple of times but I had pushed myself up and reached Hough Peak, my fourth summit of the day at 11:18am. You better believe that I plopped myself down and enjoyed the views (and a sandwich).
Probably five minutes after arriving, a group of three came up and joined me; they were the first people I had seen or heard all day. It was a gal my age and her parents who had come up the Lillian Brook trail to hike Hough, her 36th peak, and were then planning on hiking over Dix out to Route 73. They seemed super impressed by my time and distance so far, and encouraged me big time to hike over to Dix to finish the range. They even offered to let me join them if I was looking for company. I kindly declined but insured them that they’d probably see me again on the connecting trail to Dix because I was growing tired and slowing.
That 10-15 minute break was just what my body needed to recharge; the climb to Dix was steep but I powered thru! All until I came to this MASSIVE boulder and realized that the only way up to the summit was over. I stood there. Almost began to cry and then decided that I should give it a try before crying. So there I stood, in the middle of this boulder, about five feet up off the ground, with my foot stuck in a crack and not being able to move. This was a good enough spot to cry but instead, I stood there for a good three minutes, trying to calm myself down and think of a new plan. I secretly hoped that those people behind me would show up and offer a hand, but I was too far ahead to hear any chatter. I was on my own.
I don’t know how I did it, but I dislodged my foot and shimmied my way up the boulder. It still blows my mind that my hands gripped that rock that hard, which explains why the day later I didn’t have a single fingerprint left. The marked trail came up from my left and within a few hundred feet, I was on the summit of Dix Mountain! It was 12:52pm and I joined at least ten other people who were taking a much needed break. There was a group of boys from a camp that were out for a three day trip and I shared some of my most recent stories with them. There was a family of three that were about to head down the marked trail and suggested that I take the shorter route for the most direct route out of the mountains.
Little did I know, that this trail was steep! The two miles coming down off of Dix was slow and very calculated because I didn’t want my jello legs to give out and cause me to get hurt. Once I reached the connecting trail that would take me back to my car, I had about four miles of the toughest part of the day: convincing yourself not to stop. By this time, my legs were achy and tired and the patches of fluffy grass that appeared every so often looked like the perfect spot for a nap. But I kept going, slowly but surely, and reached my car at 4:30pm just ahead of the family of three that I had met a few hours earlier.
I was more proud than exhausted and couldn’t wait to get home to tell the beau what I had done and seen. The views on top of Dix Mountain were by far the best I have seen to date in the Adirondacks; a 360 view of New York and Vermont. And if you’re keeping count, I’m officially at 30 High Peaks (out of 46)!