West Face Slide GroupsDix Mountain
is riddled with slides along its northern and western flanks. The west face alone contains no less than nine. The authors have combined these west face slides into four groups (from south to north): Devil’s Pitchfork (3 slides), Triangle (1), "V" Slide
(2), and Hunters Slide
(3). These names are unofficial. To the best of our knowledge, they do not have official names, and since we had not found documentation of previous ascents (except for the left finger of the Pitchfork slide), we took the liberty of naming them.
I hiked Dix years ago in one of the worst rainy and windy days I remember. Needless to say the view was only of the closest summit rocks. The Beckhorn looked like a ghostship in the blowing October fog. My aspirations on this day were to view the surrounding areas and enjoy the exposure on a slide...I wasn't disappointed. This was also a training hike for our upcoming Great Range Traverse the following week.
I have been interested in the Hunters Slide ever since viewing it from the summit of Nippletop. From this summit, the slide seems to have a duality... sometimes it looks vertical and only climbable with technical gear, sometimes it appears steep but climbable without gear. I often saw both points of view on the same photograph, and it intrigued me.
Due to a multitude of reasons, MudRat and I decided to climb in the Dix range. We ultimately decided to hike up the "V" slide, and scout the Hunters slide from the top and bottom on our descent.
I drove to the Elk Lake trailhead on Friday night, and spent the night in the back of my wife's car. I slept well. Upon waking at 5:00, I ate breakfast and drank a Carnation instant breakfast. It was quite cold, so I decided to turn on the heater until MudRat arrived. As I turned the key, the daytime running lights came on, which I'm sure woke up anyone else who sleeping in their cars. I couldn't find out how to turn the lights off, so I just turned the car off, and crawl back under my sleeping bag. Kevin arrived about five minutes later.
The walk in was a nice opportunity to wake up after the one hour drive south. I always enjoy the road to the trailhead from the Northway. Walking in the darkness was refreshing and my excitement rose with the sun...it was going to be a great day. Time went by quickly as we approached Dix Pond in the steely blue hues of early morning.
Dix Pond in the early light of morning...
To be honest, I really don't rememeber a lot about the hike to the base of the slide. My body was moving, but my mind wasn't awake. I do remember that the trail passed directly in front of the Lillian Brook lean-to, which I thought was a bit strange. I also remember that the people staying in that lean-to stashed their bear canister on the side of the lean-to. Probably not the best idea.
The drainage snaked upward after a short bushwhack of less than .1 mile. It was characterized by a streambed scattered with the typical mountain boulders as well as dramatically sculpted slab. Upon reflection, I realized that the stream paralleled the formal path for a brief period. It would have been more expeditious to follow the drainage from closer to the trail.
The stream immediately started its ascent with a slick mossy scramble. The lower portions were mostly this type of terrain, occasionally broken up by piles of boulders and intermittent blow-down. Several water sculpted attractions captured my photographic attention.
Flume of sculpted rock.
After roughly ¾ mile we came upon a steep soil-walled area that had recent (within a week) slide and blow-down activity. We were forced to bushwhack off the drainage for about a hundred yards at one point. At another, we simply plowed through. All but WalkWithBlackflies’ hands were invisible.
We continued to climb upward and eventually found a fork to the left that was dry. We opted to take that, climbed a few hundred more feet and found our way to the base of the “V” slide. The first headwall was, to me an unclimbable mossy rock face that mocked my ambitions of climbing. My partner proved me wrong and I followed as he sat lackadaisically snapping photos.
This was a magnificent if not very exposed scramble up open slab. Rico emphasized safety as he told me to keep a shelf (protruding area) below me to stop my fall should I lose footing and slide down. Nervousness walked hand in hand with awe as I ascended over 1200 vertical feet on an ever-increasing pitch. I must admit that the slab was very grippy and I did not lose my footing. Violet-blue wildflowers competed for space in the cracks along with sphagnum moss, stunted conifers and my feet. The rising sun made photography a challenge as we played with the aperture to influence the light.
The top portion posed several challenges. The first was an eight foot headwall leading to more open slab of the same pitch. Strong vegetative growth at the base made the ascent less dangerous. The pitch increase beyond 45 degrees as the slab narrowed. Footing became less stable as moss increased until the final headwall of six or eight feet. Blueberry bushes were the only aid to climbing. Cripple brush greeted us as a welcome respite from the exposure. Ten minutes later we pushed through to a sandy area at the base of Dix’s summit ridge rocks.
A quick scramble later and we were eating lunch at 11:00 a.m. and enjoying the incredible views from the summit. This was especially enjoyable for me since the last time (and only time) I’d been in this peak region I met the cloud ceiling at about 3000 feet and saw only rain blowing sideways for about ten hours.
Once we got off the trail and began bushwhacking up the drainage, my brain started to work. Unfortunately, my body shut down for a brief instant. I lost my balance, put my hand out to brace me, and got "stabbed" by the base of a broken pine bow. A little blood, a little flap of skin, but nothing photo-worthy.
Although aerial photographs showed that this section was part of the slide, it was really nothing more than a glorified streambed. However, there were some beautiful chutes, including one where the water actually flowed uphill. This finally proved a therory I've had about the Adirondacks: water either flows uphill, or towards the nearest trail. As we ascended the drainage, we entered an area with significant blowdown. I noticed that the leaves of the fallen hardwoods hadn't begun to wilt. This blowdown must have occured earlier in the week. I then noticed that we were hiking over a recent landslide, and that the walls of the drainage looked very unstable. It appeared as if some boulders were sticking to the walls by individual grains of sand. We didn't linger there. After hiking through this area, we re-named the slide from our original "Pitchfork" to "Devils Pitchfork".
We soon reached the fork that would guide us to the "V" slide, and I was surprised that there was very little blowdown in this side drainage. We ascended up alternating slabby and ledgy sections, and got to test our bouldering "skills". A short time later, we were at the obvious base of the "V" slide.
The slide itself was exhilarating. Good rock, at a steep incline, with nice benches, shelves, and ledges to break up the monotony of the slab. There were expansive views first to Elk Lake and the southwest, then to Nippletop (northwest), and finally to the Great Range extending along the northwestern horizon. At the top of the slide, we needed to push through some thick cripplebrush, but it wasn't bad by Adirondack standards.
The summit was under foot at 11:00 a.m. I was in awe at the view even though I live shortly down the road. The vantage of the summit allowed me views of familiar ranges from unique angles. I was in heaven and had a camera. Just as importantly, I had a sandwich (but lost my water). WWBF had an over abundance of ambition, so we scouted to the Beckhorn exploring possible future insanities, I mean, hikes.
Once through the cripplebrush, we found ourselves on the summit block. We stopped on a nice ledge just below the summit, where we ate an early lunch. When we felt the need to move again, we headed over the summit, and continued onto the Beckhorn (a prominent false summit). When I was on Spotted Mountain a few weeks prior, I had seen a slide that appeared to run straight up to the Beckhorn summit, and I wanted to scout it from the top. Long story short, I really didn't see much of a slide from this vantage point.
We backtracked up and over the summit, and began our descent of the northern shoulder towards the top of the Hunter Slide. When the forest opened, we ventured out towards the slide, but were turned back by thick intertwined cripplebrush. Continuing down the trail, we crossed an open grassy area, and again headed into the woods toward the slide. We came out right on top of it.
WalkWithBlackflies wanted to “scout” the Hunter’s Pass Slide on the way down. I screwed up with some GPS coordinates that I was supposed to program, so we guessed on its location after we passed the intersection with the Round Pond trail. An open area of low growth presented itself along the maintained path. We stepped into the balsam and after less than 200 feet, I said, “We found it!” I stood upon the top of a large rock at the top of a series of small not-quite-vertical cliffs. Again, our original goal was to scout this for another day’s hike. In typical fashion, I asked, “Want to take the slide down?”
“I think I do,” was the answer I heard…so we did.
Looking up at the area we descended was intimidating at best. It took about ½ hour to descend via cripple brush around the series of small cliffs at the top of the slide. If I died, at least I’d have one heck of a tombstone/slab! We stayed on slab where possible, but safety (at least for me) required vegetative hand holds. I worked my way down the slide I was nearest as WWBF skirted a short way south through the brush to the main slab and thus more exposure.
We met shortly on a slab several hundred feet across where both sections intersected. To say it was dramatic and awe-inspiring, only understates the moment. The rock stuck to our feet (or visa versa) as we trekked downward, WWBF donning his rock climbing shoes somewhere along the way. The pitch was roughly 45 degrees.
I should mention that I’d lost my last bit of water and was dehydrating by this point (actually on the summit) as I worked my way below the central headwall which sported a small cascade of tempting water. I spotted this from several hundred feet higher and must say that this influenced my enthusiasm to take the slide down! We filtered and ate while soaking in the view of a crystal day. A small amphitheatre greeted us several hundred vertical feet lower. The pitch increased into the technical zone as WWBF stood at the ridge just feet away from the long drop. I viewed from the edge and took photos of spider-fool, I mean spider-man.
At the bottom, WWBF continued down the open slab as I descended a small wall to view the bottom of the bowl better. The view up was every bit as dramatic as from above. The drainage continued to a self-contained tannin colored pond about ten feet in circumference. I believe it was about six foot in depth.
Pond in Hunter's Slide.
It was contained by boulders, sediment and growth on the lower side. Several frogs enjoyed it as home. A few hundred feet beyond, we walked down a beautiful section of slab near a molded head of stone.
Just beyond, the slide tapered in width and dropped off nearly vertically. I was reluctant to venture closer as WWBF explored the edge once again and reluctantly agreed that it was time for a bushwhack. The cliff continued into the woods on either side and we eventually found our way down the thirty foot ledge and to the drainage again.
The slide looked beautiful from our vantage point. When MudRat saw the look in my eyes, he knew we'd be descending it.
The top part of the slide was comprised of a series of benches, most of which had vertical drop-offs (Class 5). We were forced into the surrounding cripplebrush on numerous occasions on this section. I finally decided to traverse to the middle finger of the slide, while MudRat continued down the left finger. The middle finger had a much easier grade, but MudRat reached the main slide first.
Below the fingers, the slide was spectacular. The top of a large bowl appeared to our right. I ventured over to it, but turned back when I began to feel uneasy about the looming emptiness below. It was here that I changed into my rock shoes. They had better grip than my trail running shoes, but my toes were taking a lot of punishment on the steep slab. We were able to avoid a descent of the bowl by skirting to our left and descending down a series of cracked slabs. Although this may be the easy route, it is still extremely steep and exposed.
WWBF descending the slab adjacent to the bowl
A small, tannin-stained pool is located at the bottom of the bowl. Descending below the pool, I noticed that it was created by a landslide that blocked the natural drainage path.
After about an hour (total) of steep to very steep toe-jamming descent, we reached a vertical 30-foot waterfall. We could not find an acceptable way down the cliff-face, so we hiked up the slide a bit until we found a good entrance into the woods and bushwhacked our way down. We found the slide again about 50 vertical feet below the falls. I hiked back up to take a photo of the falls, and realized that all we needed to do was climb over one rock at the top of the falls (to our left when we were heading down) and easily descend 25 feet down a nice gentle butress to the base of the falls. Oh well.
The final portion of the slide was comprised of a loose scree and debris field. After two minutes of hiking on this debris field, we reached the drainage coming from Hunters Pass. A downed birch tree "bridge" provided easy access to the trail on the other side.
In several hundred yards I crossed the stream via a dead birch and stood on the trail as WWBF did the same. In short order, we passed our entry zone off the path to the “V” slide and began the 2.5 hour march to our cars. It was a long hike that only emphasized the ups and downs that I failed to notice earlier. Time moves slower in the evening…
The hike out was uneventful, but seemed to go on forever... especially the section between the Lillian Brook and Slide Brook lean-tos. However, I was psyched that we had just climbed two excellent slides, especially the Hunter Slide which was a wonderful bonus. I can't wait to go back and ascend
the Hunter Slide.