For my first Adirondack trip with the express intent of peakbagging some of the 46 Peaks, I chose to visit the Dix Mountain Wilderness Area. Five of the 46 High Peaks can be found there, and all can be climbed in one day. If you are up to the challenge.
Dix Mountain is the 6th highest peak in the Adirondacks High Peaks Region at 4,840 feet and is neighbor to four other High Peaks; Hough, South Dix (now known as Carson Peak), Grace Peak (which used to be called East Dix) and Macomb Peak. All five peaks can be reached via a network of unmarked “herd paths” which connect them all in a loop.
Note: The bold dashed lines are maintained/marked trails. The lighter lines are unmarked “herd paths”. More on that later
I, like many who do this route, chose to drive to the Elk Lake trail-head and hike to the Slide Brook lean-to on Friday, complete the hike on Saturday and return home on Sunday. In my case, June 8-10 of 2018.
Any research you do about this route will tell you to get to the trail-head parking lot early and they are all correct. The parking lot is a relatively small patch of State owned land in the middle of a private tract owned by the Elk Lake Lodge (The whole drive up to the lot you will see no trespassing signs on almost every tree on both sides of the road reminding you who owns most of the property in that area). If the lot is full you have to backtrack two miles to the overflow lot and tag that mileage onto the 2.3 mile hump to the campsite. If you park anywhere else along the road you will be subject to a parking ticket. Don’t ask me how much the fine is, but it must be significant because nobody took a chance at it while I was there.
Fortunately, we managed to find a parking spot and had a relatively easy hike to the Slide Brook Lean-To campsite. The site has (of course) one lean-to, an outhouse, and several tent pitching areas with established fire rings. Yes, you can build campfires in this corner of the Adirondack Park and Bear Cans…while recommended…are not required. Slide Brook provides any water you may need.
Get Moving…follow the herd.
If you plan to do all five peaks in one trip you kind of need to decide which direction you want to go. Clockwise or counterclockwise. Counterclockwise takes you up Macomb Mountain first. Looking at the elevation profile that’s the way I decided to go. While the Macomb approach appeared steeper, it looked like a “get it over with quick” climb vs a long “where the @#$& is the top” slog up Dix. In the end I think I was right.
A “herd path” is an unmarked trail that is the result of many people taking the same route year after year. The paths we used were unmarked except for the occasional stone cairn, but for the most part were easy to follow once we found them. Muddy footprints and stones scratched by numerous trekking poles are evidence that you are going the right way (for the most part). Most of this five peak route is via these trails.
From Camp to Macomb
Apparently, finding the path toward Macomb from Slide Brook can be an issue for some folks. Two groups of hikers told me that they either changed plans entirely and went towards Mt. Dix or walked up Slide Brook itself (which is a nightmare of running water, tumbled boulders and dead-fall trees). My trail partner and I took advantage of our early Friday arrival to locate the herd path and walked it for about a quarter mile so we would be confident which way to go on Saturday.
As you walk into the Slide Brook Campsite you cross over Slide Brook on a wooden footbridge. Once you cross over look to your right and you should see a stone cairn and a path to a campsite with a fire ring. On the far side of this campsite you should see two additional cairns that mark the start of the herd path. From my personal experience (and numerous online comments I’ve seen), it appears that folks think the cairn next to the bridge indicates that the brook itself is the trail. Don’t be one of them.
This photo is from the Slide Brook Campsite looking back towards the trail-head. The stone cairn is slightly behind me to the left.
There’s the cairn you want! Follow that yellow marker to another set of cairn’s that mark the start of the herd path to Macomb.
From Slide Brook Camp it’s about 1.8 miles to the peak of Macomb. The herd path is pretty obvious (once you find the start) and continues uphill along Slide Brook. It’s a fairly easy hike until you come out of the trees and see the Macomb Slide. The Slide is a steep slope of dirt, loose rock, larger boulders and slabs of stone. You have to get up this to find the peak.
That photo has a bit of a tilt to it. This video is not mine but gives you and idea of what you will be facing.
Follow the cairns which track to the right side of the Slide then cross back to the left at the top where you will find the herd path again. Trekking Poles helped me immensely.
Once you get past the slide it’s a fairly smooth walk to the peak where you can find the survey marker and some fantastic views.
Macomb to South Dix/Carson Peak
The next destination is Carson Peak, which used to be named South Dix (and many maps still label it as such). A quick down and up brings you to a wooded peak with limited views. The marker for the peak is a round yellow disk nailed pretty high up on a scrubby pine tree and is easy to miss. A path leads out onto a rocky shoulder where you can get a look around.
From here look for a stone cairn. It marks the point where the path splits east towards Grace Peak (used to be East Dix) and north towards Hough Peak.
Carson to Grace…and back again
Since you’re here you might as well run the 1.1 miles out to Grace Peak (then 1.1 miles back). The herd path runs fairly level/flat/downward along a ridge then dips down into a saddle then up to the peak.
Tip: Once you dip down into that saddle between Carson and Grace the herd path may lead you astray. Ahead you will see a steep ladder of tree roots and to the left a path leading down. Don’t go left. For a moment we couldn’t determine if the path went left, then around, then up to the summit, so I scouted ahead for 20-50 yards. This path obviously continued down a secondary herd path approach to Grace Peak. Climb up and over those tree roots and pick up the path that leads to the top.
Once you bag that peak, return by the same path back to Carson.
Carson to Hough
Now that you are back on Carson, find the cairn and head .9 miles north to Hough Peak. You will descend sharply then start back up a pretty steep wooded slope that will get your heart pumping.
This was the gentle part of the slope up Hough.
The peak is marked with the ubiquitous yellow disk with marker written letters. You get some stellar views and a look at whats coming next, the approach to Mt. Dix.
Mt Dix in the upper left….
Hough to Dix…over The Beckhorn
You’re almost to the last peak of the day. 1.3 miles to the summit of Mt. Dix. At this point it’s the usual….you have to come down off of one peak if you want to go up another. This one wasn’t as strenuous as the Carson/Hough ascent but it ends up (at least the way we did it) at a bouldering problem.
Just before the peak of Mt. Dix is a ridge of large boulders called The Beckhorn. The path we took led to a large boulder with a sloping crack leading up. Based on the trekking pole marks on either side of this crack it’s obvious people go up and down it. I couldn’t see a way I could walk up it so I packed away the poles and knocked off some of the rock climbing rust and climbed up and over. Some fantastic views can be had from here but the summit of Dix is just a short and easy hike over a shallow saddle and the view is just as good from there.
On the summit of Dix you will start to see dashed lines of paint on the rock. That means you are back on the marked trail. After admiring the views and contemplating just how small and insignificant we all are, we took the 3.6 mile Hunters Pass Trail back to Slide Brook Lean-To. Man was it a long and steep descent! But in the end I still think it was better than a descent of Macomb Slide would have been if we had gone the other direction.
Pack plenty of water. Once you go up either Dix or Macomb you are not going to find any. I ran out of water on top of Mt. Dix and it wasn’t until we hit the end of the descent that I found one of the Dix Pond tributaries to filter some more into my Camelback. After that and some food, there was nothing left but to hump it back to camp.
Back at Camp
Back at camp, it was time to get the shoes off and take a nap! When we woke up for dinner we socialized with one of our campsite companions. He was there with a group of friends and his two dogs. He had difficulty finding that Macomb herd path I mentioned earlier and decided to reverse course and go up Dix first. One of his dogs was having difficulty (being older) getting around as well as she used to, so he headed back while the rest of his crew soldiered on. Once it started getting dark and they hadn’t returned, he started to get concerned. Somewhere around 2130 hrs we heard what sounded like joyous celebratory cheering coming through the woods. His companions had returned.
After scrambling down Macomb slide at dusk, the darkness descended and they couldn’t find the herd path back to camp. They wound up walking Slide Brook all the way back through that nightmare of running water, fallen trees and tumbled boulders. In the dark…with hand held flashlights and head lamps. Battered, bruised and soaked they thought that they were going to have to huddle together and pass the night in the ravine. Fortunately, they heard voices from some folks who camped just off the heard path and they were able to talk them out of the Brook and back to their tents.
I went “minimalist” with the footgear this time. At first it was great..exceedingly light, could feel foot placement easily, enough rubber on the sole for traction and protection.
Until the descent from Mt Dix to camp. The pounding on the feet from all the jumping and landing on rock/boulders was rough. I was dragging ass that last 3 miles cause my dogs were getting sensitive. Maybe this wasn’t the best idea for such a long day, maybe my feet just need toughening. In the end though I did it and the dogs don’t feel any worse for wear right now. I’ll have to consider what I want to do the next time I head out.
We woke up early Sunday morning and packed up. After another 2.3 mile hike back to the parking lot we headed off for a hot breakfast before the long drive home.
Five peaks in 12 hours. Macomb, South Dix (Carson Peak), Hough, Grace, Dix.
14.3 miles (including the hike in and out of the trail-head). 5000 foot elevation change.
Memories with a friend that will last forever.