2013 August 10
13 miles/4,250 feet (both slides/exit over Beckhorn)/12 hours
Elk Lake trailhead to Beckhorn Trail – Bushwhack from 3,100 feet elevation to slide – Slide - Exit to ridge and back over Beckhorn.
Slide (from northern runout bottom) Elevation/Length:
about 950 feet/3,000 ground feet
Begin: 8:10 a.m., Begin Bushwhack: 10:50 a.m., Slide runout: 12:00 p.m., Top of North Run: 2:20 p.m., Top of South Run: 3:15 p.m.; Finish Hike: 8:00 p.m.
Introduction and Thoughts
I topped Santanoni’s East (Twin) Slide on Monday, August 5th. While scanning to the east something seemed amiss in the panorama. Two white scars, partially hidden behind one of Dix’ western ridges, painted what looked like the side of the southern ridge (between the Beckhorn and Hough). I pushed it to the back of my mind at first. The next day, I grew curious and scanned a few photos from trip reports on the forum. Comparing June and July photos from Hough confirmed that Dix had a new slide added to its already extensive collection. Time to explore!
Few things in life are more completely satisfying than exploring a wilderness unknown, especially if it’s newly created. Irene created vast amounts of new territory to play upon. This new creation on Dix reinvigorated the excitement I felt nearly two years ago when I was in the backcountry. This time, I didn’t have as much information ahead of time…no aerial photos or easily accessed line-of-sight vantage points. It stoked my curiosity to a feverish level.
There isn’t any satellite imagery on these slides yet, but they (not surprisingly) followed along the same course as ancient slides that had regrown with mature forest. As a point of reference based on currently available satellite imagery, the release point for the northern run began between two 15 foot runs of old-exposure ledges at roughly 4,220 in elevation. The ledges are clearly visible on flashearth.
Approach and the 2013 Slide
I arrived at the Elk Lake parking lot around 7:00 a.m.; it was full by 7:10 and NP was still en route. At least a dozen cars looked
at the lot only to be turned away in hopes of finding a place miles back down the road before the gate. When NP arrived we got
creative and found him a spot.
Fast forward a bit to our arrival at the Beckhorn Trail intersection a bit over four miles from the trailhead. We needed to climb an
additional 850 or so feet before beginning what I hoped would be a the path of least resistance to the runout of the slide—
wherever that started. I felt a bit under the weather wasn’t really in the mood to navigate the stream confluences leading up into
At 3,100 feet we reached my target where the trail becomes nearly flat atop the ridge. We embarked right on a perpendicular course
to the right. I’d never bushwhacked here and looked forward to seeing the area. Rotten blowdown and moderate growth with the
occasional glacial erratic seemed to be the rule. The cool rain of the day prior was still on the branches of the trees.
Once on the other side of the ridge, a heading of 62 degrees true (or 76 magnetic) led us on a counterintuitive route on contour along
the ridge. This will change slightly depending on how you exit the ridge. I was just guessing at the location of the runout since I didn’t
know how far it had torn down the valley. En route, the forest vacillated between loosely knit and enjoyable to more tightly knit sections
of balsam. I fought the instinct to descend rather than continue on contour. My heading did, indeed, vary a bit as we worked around
obstacles so I looked for visual cues to reaffirm our location. (This became ever more important each time NP reminded me that if we
got lost it would be my fault :cry: ). The first positive sign was a 10 foot wide stream flowing down from the left. We looked up its
streambed and saw the Beckhorn was still far away. …but what a place to relax!
After a bit more bushwhacking, we began to see some slides reflecting brightly in the late morning sun. They were too broad for our
target…Hough. I didn’t expect to be quite as close as we were. “C’est la vie.” We needed to readjust in order to climb north of a smaller
ridge between Hough and Dix. I changed the bearing to 60 degrees magnetic. Ten minutes later we found a few small snags of mud
and pine needles in another small streambed. A bit farther uphill was a narrow toe of rubble. NP’s excitement rose while I kept mine
to a dull roar until I was comfortable that we weren’t following the drainage of some minor slide. The bed opened wider with freshly
exposed stone all around; this all fit what I’d hoped. Pure luck found us at the first signs of the slide. (Another runout of the same
slide set lies a bit farther to the southeast). The bushwhack of a bit over about ½ mile had taken about one hour or four from the
trailhead. The time stood at noon.
Kevin walking up the slide...almost there. This is quite the runout!
I found the first item of geological interest just upstream--a stone with what looked like the remnants of a 3” geode with either
clear quartz or calcite crystals. Slightly higher, it was all about the views as it widened more and more. To the rear, Elk Lake was
framed by the deeply gouged stream bed. We were also on an even elevation with an unabashed view of Hough’s magnificent
slides. The best perch seemed to be atop of a 15 foot pile of trees some with their leaves still green, though wilted.
The runout itself became more and more impressive as we ascended. It’s not as long as some from Irene, but the terrain and
volume of debris that tore through the area cut a humbling track. Most of it seemed pretty well consolidated, but I was careful
of what I tugged and walked on. We were far from help and about 5.5 miles from the trailhead.
The direction shifted rather sharply around an island of tall softwoods. The relative streambeds from each slide (2) were close
enough to each other on either side to obliterate the forest between. After climbing a large rubble pile, a full view up to the top
of the southern tributary unfolded. It was expansive, dramatic and simply breathtaking. The first major outcrop of slab under the
southern tributary was underfoot at about 3,750 feet in elevation. Scrambling another couple hundred feet of debris, we found
a comfortable ledge and took a long break to eat and discuss our climbing strategy.
Kevin looking up the southern run.
NP and I walked over to the thinner (northern) track as our first climb. It was the shorter run with about 300 vertical feet of slab. From the bottom, we eyed the line of clean stone and put on rock climbing shoes. It was slightly concave. At the time, it simply meant that the top would have the steepest, most exposed climbing. Almost the entire track is on granular anorthosite with a small amount of debris. The traction was incredible.
NP working his way up. About 150 or so feet above the base.
Friction, pockets from differential weathering of the slab, overlaps, ledges, dikes and fractures all made for a relaxing climb. The largest ledge toward the middle of the ascend is about 4 feet high. Many of the features are quite photogenic especially with the sun casting shadows and Beckhorn over your shoulder to the north. NP hooted and hollered a bit (well all the way from the bottom) with excitement. It just doesn’t get any better than exploring new territory!
As mentioned, the most exposed climbing was at the headwall where the stone changed considerably. A steep climb with small remnants (very small) of moss led up to a tiny shelf of unfallen debris. Above on the headwall, it’s all about climbing on small holds with a bit of grit. The slope is about 45 degrees with some short steeper sections.
Climbing a small ledge en route to the steep fun climbing.
It was about this time that I began to feel very odd. My stomach quivered and I couldn’t find a comfortable stance. I was shifty. NP picked up on this and said, “You seem nervous…relax.” It was good advice, but I wasn’t particularly nervous though I felt the empty air below—something I’ve become very used to. I knew I wasn’t at 100 percent, so perhaps I was being too careful? In any case, I focused and all ended well. The situation exemplified that feeling a little off in the beginning can amplify as the day wears on or things get dicey. (NP categorized the headwall climbing as high 4th class/low 5th class).
The run tapers to a fine point where we exited right into the woods at about 2:20 p.m. Looking to the west was breathtaking . There was a full view down Dix’ long ridge from the Beckhorn and unoccluded perspective of the slide track winding toward Elk Lake.
The next “problem” was the descent. We exited to the south down some ledges via the woods to avoid the headwall …about 50 feet. Afterward, we simply down-climbed the remainder before heading over to the south.
Getting steeper, but not quite at the headwall.
Final few feet of the headwall where the pitch lays back a bit. Beckhorn in the background.
While the northern side is a slightly tapering straight line, the southern is wide by comparison, say 75’ across. It then tapers to a narrow curving tip that reaches about 40 feet higher up the ridge than its partner. It’s not quite as steep and harbors considerably more debris. The danger on this side primarily lies in dislodging small (or large) stones on your partner.
Our ‘lunch ledge’ as at the bottom; just above sat the main run of slab climbing. It turned out to be a bit less granular than the adjacent stone to the north. Good friction climbing on the moderately angled slab led up to the first significant section of mud. The longest line on stone was along the left-hand edge. Above the mud was the most challenging portion, still (in my opinion) easier than the northern run.
Blocky ledges with good holds and less exposure led to the top. You can take more exposed routes in the center to climb the most dominant ledge. Still feeling ‘off’, I chose a conservative run on the side. The last 50 or so feet offered good traction, but has a lot of loose stones lying about. We cleaned the largest one off, but thousands of smaller ones still remain (we didn’t bring a shovel!!). It was 3:15 when we reached the top for a well-earned break.
Good slab on the lower section.
Above the majority of debris approaching the ledges at the top.
Obviously, there was no herd-path through the thick krummholz to the ridge—this was too new. It was a blessedly short bushwhack to the path, one that took a mere 5 minutes up about 75 feet of elevation gain.
My original intent was to summit Hough and take the Lillian Brook path down, but I was hell-bent on finding a good view of the slide from afar. Climbing the Beckhorn was worth every bit of energy especially since the journey up was riddled with views and the day was pristine. The top of the Beckhorn yielded an unadulterated perspective of the entire track with Hough, Grace and Elk Lake in the background. As we wound down the snaking ridge, the runout disappeared from sight. The slides, however, were lit up in full glory as the sun shone directly on them. From a direct view, they almost perfectly resemble a lobster claw…an extremely large one!
Evening at Dix Pond.