DetailsDuration:15 hours; 8:00 am – 11:00 pm
Bushwhack begins at cirque drainage: 10:30 a.m., Slide Bottom: 3:00 p.m., Summit: 5:45
N. Fork Boquet herd path - Dix East Face drainage - Beckhorn Slide (Irene 2011 Tributary) - Summit - Trail to Round Pond
Total Mileage/Vertical Ascent:
Approximately 11 mi. / 4200'
2" packed - 24" snow with deeper drifts.
30's - teens
2 eggs, protein drink, a dozen or so starburst, piece banana break, 2 powerbars, 2 e-gel packs, 3 liter of water
about 30-35 lbs.
Introduction & Approach
I knew this was a steep climb from the account of friends in the area. We planned to follow the primary drainage westward, counting the streams entering from each to keep our bearings.
NP and I had been discussing the climb in winter for several months. He'd been watching the conditions since November to see if the ice was 'in'. I finally had a break from work, so we took the first opportunity to make the climb. The mild winter weather would be a bonus for the long approach. In hindsight, I can hardly imagine doing this in historic winter weather. We knew it would be a long day, but didn't fully grasp how grueling it would be. It may not look like winter below about 1000' in elevation, but it's full-on winter above about 3000'.
NP awoke at 4:00 a.m. and drove to the Round Pond Trailhead where we met. We then left a car and drove to the North Fork Boquet parking area. We began hiking at 8:00 a.m. The stream in my yard was running high the night before so I expected the river to be up slightly. This could and would affect the crossing. Warmer temps kept the river from freezing over and each of the rocks forming the route to the other side was capped with a bit of crusty snow and ice. A 5 foot gap channeling the main flow necessitated a little creativity. I should have know the day would be 'interesting' when I had to leap across to a large flat rock. I landed on my belly with knees bent so my feet didn't get wet. I think I heard NP snickering behind me. He was hold a log that I'd pulled partway across the river and handed the end to me. We set it in place as a bridge for him to use in lieu of a leap. As he said, "A fall in the river would end the day." The trail was broken for the next segment, roughly three miles to the confluence with Dix' Eastern Cirque drainage.
The confluence with the Boquet is strewn with boulders and obvious, but a bit deceptive in that it parallels the South Fork Boquet before veering off to the right. The route along the main branch then climbs roughly west for a couple miles to the base of the slide. This all sounds easy, but various streams enter from both sides as well as the maze of drainages closer to the slide.
Due to the several inches of snow covered by a thin crust we decided to follow along the top of the right-hand side rather than in the stream. It's a beautiful area with a the wide stream flowing some 100 feet below the level of our route atop its banks. Open hardwoods including beach and striped maple made the gentle climb delightful. As I said, there wasn't much snow on the ground but punching through the crust became wearisome over time so we switched leads every 10 minutes or so. Up and to our right, open rock sat like so many sentinels overlooking the gateway to Dix.
It took well over an hour to reach the first stream that entered the drainage from the NW. Like below, it paralleled the primary flow before breaking off to the right. Beyond, the terrain became a bit more tiresome, steeper with more glacial erratics and obstacles. Pine trees became more abundant along with the depth of the snow, now 8-10 inches in depth. This should have been a sign of things to come...
NP noted our slow rate of progress and I silently considered how much longer it might take at our pace. It was now snowing which hindered line-of-sight navigation. Only the ridge to our left, over which sat Grace, was visible. Every step took us into more conifers, each encased by skirt of snow. We were post-holing to a depth of about mid-shin by this point. NP relieved me when needed and visa-versa. Such was our progress for hours on end...a difficult winter bushwhack however atypical the weather has been.
NP rattled off the time once again...about 2 p.m. We were within 1/2 mile of the base and we knew the trek would only get more arduous. The drainage stream became more recessed with significantly steeper banks and the trees grew more tightly together the closer we got. On NP's suggestion, we tried climbing via the drainage. This was a good call and the area harbored some slab under the snow. We were fighting 18"-20" of snow and plunging deeper on occasion. We were also in an area of intertwining stream beds, some leading to smaller slides to either side. A few hundred feet up the wrong one I caught another glimpse of the Beckhorn (we'd seen it earlier). It was close at hand as the crow flies...some 500 linear feet away. The view disappeared after a few steps, but we knew how to change our direction.
An area with less snow in the drainage below the slide.
I led us back into the woods and over to a narrow boulder-ridden drainage. Plunging to my waist once or twice, I became exhausted and muttered that we needed the protection and sure footing of the forest even if it was tightly knit. This worked for a bit before entering yet another drainage. I kept breaking trail while NP put on some gortex pants. Stopping to catch my breath, I waited and contemplating our choices. We needed to be of one mind to keep safe. Realistically, how tired were each of us? Did we need to retreat? Only 400' stood between our object...followed by a climb of over 700 vertical feet. "Summit fever" can't dictate a decision this far into the day. Had I been solo, I'd have turned back and followed my tracks out in the dark, but I drew confidence from NP. He re-enforced what I believed - the fastest way to a path was upward. A few minutes later, we exited the forest at the bottom of the Beckhorn Slide...7 hours after leaving the car and 4 hours after leaving the herd path to Grace. It was 3:00 p.m., in the 20's, snowing and gusting from the east.
It took about 30 minutes to rest, eat and ready our gear: crampons, harnesses, ice screws, rope etc. Some would likely not be necessary, but it all needed to be at the ready. NP groaned while assessing the snow on the slide. We'd stay near the left-hand edge since the possibility of an avalanche was of concern. The first pitch is less steep than the upper one and vacillated between crusty snow and ice. Crampons caught on the underlying ice well in some sections while others amounted to "trail breaking" on an incline. Icy bulges and ledges clothed in icicles loomed above. NP led the way and I felt my strength return with the thrill of the climb. The numerous slides riddling the cirque surrounded us behind a gray blanket of snow and gusting spindrift.
NP readied the rope once we reached the ledges. I followed and comfortably ascended the tiers; it looked like the rope wouldn't be needed. We were now standing on a wide snowfield below the line leading directly to the Beckhorn and had to traverse over to the 2011 tributary. Again NP led. Instead of following his tracks, I walked slightly higher on a parallel track..."whump...". The snow settled and I felt a chill run up my spine. Nothing further occurred, but my awareness was certainly heightened. Soon after, we were standing among a bit of slide debris below the 2011 tributary. Relaxing slightly, I enjoyed the views; the slide track below, the east ridge slides, the nearby ledges and ice laden trees.
NP climbing the central ledges.
Our pace slowed as the snow depth increased between the debris. Progress was made mere feet at a time...kick-stepping upward and using the axes for further leverage. Photography became my excuse for each rest. This became challenging as it was now after sunset. The camera shutter slowed more and more as our light disappeared while climbing the next several hundred vertical feet. Neither of us feared the dark even on the slide. I enjoyed the change from gray to steel blue sky and the pictures it produced. We also knew our way...up through the frozen krumholz to the summit path.
Now leading, I looked at the snow, debris and features and stayed to the right where the field of snow was most narrow. I hoped to avoid any more hollow thuds under foot. That wasn't to be; another four or five"whumps" later, we found an icier section near the top. A single rime covered boulder sat on the slab near the ledge leading to the release point. Darkness fell as I reached the stone. My camera flash caught the blowing snowflakes, penetrating beyond to NP. I waited for him in the small gully adjacent to a ledge at the top. We 'only' had to bushwhack to the ridge path just down from the summit proper.
Kevin to the right in the snowfield.
This seemingly simple bushwhack drained my already strained reserves. The trees were ice laden and the crust underfoot didn't hold weight. Ten feet of progress took nearly as many minutes. I looked at the adjacent ledge and cut through the crust with my axe. I saw blueberry bushes and knew the axe would bite. I gained the leverage I needed to front-point up to the top and wait for NP. A dozen feet later we were sitting on the ridge path gasping for breath. It was 5:30 p.m. and I was knackered.
NP nearing the top as night falls.
Exit & Summary
The path, just a short way from the summit was unbroken. I desperately needed food and water since I'd neglected both while on the slide...an issue that made the rest of the exit arduous. It's difficult to recover from low blood sugar. I'd overlooked my golden rule; eat and hydrate. Atop Dix, the wind-chill was around zero. The temperature had been slowly retreating throughout the day and the gale atop the mountain encrusted my mustache with rime nearly blowing me over twice. A bit beyond the summit, we found the tracks of hikers we'd seen at the trailhead earlier. They'd broken the trail which was much to my relief. In the sheltering warmth of the trees a couple hundred vertical feet lower, we re-nourished and prepared to walk the remaining miles. I regained a portion of my normal demeanor, though the sense of accomplishment usually associated with a great outing was buried far below the sensations of sore muscles and a tired mind.
Memorable moments of the remaining 5 hour hike to the trailhead included crossing the Finger Slides. Moonlight illuminated the snow as the wind howled on the ridge from whence we came. The moon relaxed me while the sound of the wind chilled me to the bone. 9:00 p.m. found us at the N.Fork Boquet Lean-to...a welcome respite that allowed us to eat and take care of other necessities. We took numerous breaks along the way, too tired to walk continuously. The path felt incredibly comfortable as I laid down each time! 10:40 p.m. found us at Round Pond, it's white surface glowing brightly under the moon. We were both beyond words at this point and just happy to be near the car. The trailhead was underfoot at 11:00 p.m., 15 hours after beginning our day. NP drove me back to my car where we spent 10 minutes trying to push it back onto the road...rather NP pushed and I worked the gas pedal. ...never a dull moment.
I described how tired I/we felt in detail because it just doesn't look very complex on paper (or google earth). The mileage and vertical gain are fairly tame as well. This is one of the single hardest treks I've done mostly due to the conditions. It would be very easy to get in over one's head.
The theme of this day was teamwork and trust, from the crossing of the river to the bushwhack to the climbing of the slide. It always makes the day more fulfilling when you're climbing with someone who you respect and know has your back. Discussing the outing, each of us knows that we couldn't have done this as a solo attempt under the described conditions. ...until next time!
Mosaic of the Slide
First of all, I wish to all of you a nice holiday season and a happy , healthy 2013.
This route turn out in an aggregation of unexpected.
First of all, now I have a tendency, to think that winter is not with us....., it is still there, if you make the effort to reach it.....
I have ask Mudrat about how long he tought it would take for us to reach the base of the route, he told me 5 hours, then in my mind I have corrected the figure to 6 hours.
Human nature tend to be optimistic (this is good!), the first surprise came at the first crossing of the North fork of the Boquet, well let just say that I was leading it, until I was confronted with the leap I will have to make to get across the next stone.
Water was flowing down, way too high for my personal liking.
Then Mudrat found a wooden log, that we tried to place, it got stuck, we had to push it back, then he told me to move a bit, and soon after he was standing on the same rock as me.
Now, the event of the day, it would surely have made a million hits on youtube, if I had film it. Ho yes I have tried to put back the log to use it as a makeshift bridge, but did not work to my liking.
So Mudrat just went with a DIVE toward the next rock landing on his belly. He put the log securely and I just had to use it.
A real gentleman. In fact this has probably saved the day, since I would still be looking at the rock for at this moment.... There was no way I would have jump on that.
The following walk was easy and peaceful in glorious weather until we reach the illegal campground area.
After a rest to take some food, we continue along the drainage that led to our objective.
After more and more efforts, we finally reach the 14:00 tick mark in my head, which was supposed to mean, we have reach the base of our objective, well not so.
We already have seen the face in 2 or 3 occasions, but at that point it was nowhere to be seen, and we were in deep woods.
This was the moment were I realized the full commitment of the whole affair, dont get me wrong I knew before getting on this outing, that it was not going to be your next walk in the park affair.
But if we did not make it to the base of the face, we will have either to return following our steps, ultimately having to cross the river of fortune in the dark.....
That was unacceptable to me, the other solution would have been to reach the summit trail of DIX by any available means, in other words an horrible BW.
So from now on it was very clear in my mind that we had to find the slide.
As it turn out my partner did focus on the same issue, not very far ahead in time.
When we reach the base of the route, we were tired, it was around 15:00, temps were dropping and night was just around the corner.
To make a more complete picture of the whole situation, the slope was covered with deep snow....., that was a big surprise to me, I did not expect it at all, thinking the overall steepness would make the snow slough down.
Well that was not the case and that bring to me a big concern, AVY danger, I was right about this one though.
So I told Mudrat, no time to take pics this time, we have to find the safest way on this BIG slope and pretty quickly too.
As it turn out, the lower slopes was mostly a mix of deep snow, hard snow crust and ice and we were able to move fairly quickly on it.
Then we start the traverse toward the 2011 tributary, here snow got deeper and us more tired....
Mudrat ask me to take a pic of himself with his camera. I am sure he was concerned about not getting any pic of him on this whole affair.
So I stopped and took a couple of pics, for myself at that point safety was my primary concern, and speed is safety in the mountain. But I happily obliged.
So after that we finally reach the upper slopes, and then we heard a couple of whoompf...., the snowpack was unstable, great, so we decided to move to the side, there the snow was even deeper, we were getting more and more tired, at one point our upward progress, was a crawl on all fours.
I decided to try something less physically taxing and found about 10 feet to my left a hard crust with some ice, which I followed.
Mudrat at this point finally reach the top of the slope, while I was back to my snail pace.
Finally, I reach the top of the slope, but just before took a sit on a well place rock that was sitting there just like a bench. Catch my breath and now the CRUX (another fine example of British humour) the BW to the ridge.
Let just say this imagine acrobatics, where your ice axes get caught in the tree , were your feet suddenly loose their footings, where you are too tired to pull yourself, where you stem, and you loose your footing, well you got the picture.
I am now standing on the summit ridge, it is 17:30, the longest time I have ever took to climb DIX (well almost, we did not reach the summit yet) in my life.
The summit area was unreal, the snow crystal flying horizontally in the air, the darkness and all that magnificiently lighted by our headlamps, It felt great really to be there.
After a quick lunch, the rest of the whole affair turn out to be a gruesome affair, where every steps was an adventure in itself, at 11 PM we reached the TH.
I did not drive back home, I found a little place to bivy and spend the night out.
On the way up north on I-87 on the morrow, suddenly I saw it reflected in my mirror, the Beckhorn, at that moment a huge sense of satisfaction entered my mind.