The six-hour drive home after hiking in the Adirondacks is sometimes harder than the hike itself. Not this hike.
My original plan was to hike the lower four in the Dix Range (~13 miles, ~4,000 vertical feet), the next morning Giant & Rocky Peak Ridge (~8.6 miles, ~4,600 vertical feet) and drive home. Rather than hike-then-drive, why not combine the two and have a relaxing day to get home?
So after a decent sleep, I was out the door by 5 and on the trail to the Dixes by 6:05 AM. My last trip was a counter-clockwise loop, so for this one I headed up the lovely Lillian Brook trail first. This trail (maintained by the 46ers) is soft and gradual at first, then becomes steep at the end, heading almost all the way to Hough.
Hough is a short but steep 0.3 miles from the col, with a perfect viewing ledge just shy of the summit overlooking Elk Lake. I ran into a couple of young guys who had started at 2 AM, missed the Slide Brook cairn (2.3 miles in) and went all the way around Hunter’s Pass to Dix (7.4 miles in). They were in a nice enough mood, considering. I even convinced them to do the rest of the range.
The trail back from 4,400-foot Hough (pronounced “huff”) involves a decent climb over Pough (“puff”, for obvious reasons) before the down-and-up to 4,060-foot South Dix. From there it is a relatively mild one mile out to 4,012-foot Grace Peak, returning back to South Dix for the final climb to 4,405-foot Macomb. It was still only 11:30 AM when I got to Macomb, so I decided to save my lunch for the Ausable Inn.
The descent off Macomb follows Slide Brook, so named for the slide near the top of the mountain. In the middle of the day I was glad to be going down instead of up, getting to the bottom of the slide in only 10 minutes. From there it’s a nice soft walk back out to the Dix trail, and I was back at my car and feeling great by 1:30 PM. Plenty of time for lunch and two more mountains.
Lunch at the Ausable Inn hit the spot (with a fantastic blueberry pie!) and by 3:50 PM I was headed up to Giant via the Ridge (a.k.a. Zander Scott) Trail. The Roaring Brook trail to Giant is softer, prettier, and shaded, but a bit longer and with about 400 more vertical feet; I thought the short-but-steep Ridge Trail was the better choice.
Mistake. What I had forgotten since our trip here in 2009 was that the Ridge trail is nothing but rocks, boulders, and slabs, with long pitches out in the open. With a cloudless sky and a seemingly windless summer it was simply baking. I got a lot of sorrowful looks from those descending, as I probably looked as exhausted as I was. I would become best friends with my altimeter watch, slowly watching the elevation tick higher.
When I finally reached 4,627-foot Giant’s summit, I was spent. I sent the requisite “I think I’m going to die!” text to my spouse and then was joined by a very nice young trail runner while laying on the bare rock. I would laze on the summit for 45 minutes before dragging myself on towards Rocky Peak Ridge. Every step downhill — steeply — I knew I’d have to come back up. Over the 1.3 miles the trail drops over 800 feet only to gain 600 of it back.
I made it to the beautiful Rocky Peak Ridge 15 minutes before sunset. It was glorious.
As soon as I headed back up those 800 lost feet from Giant I knew I was beyond exhausted. I had been hiking (with a break for lunch) for 14 hours. I was about to hit 8,000 vertical feet of climbing, and every step up was unsettling. I made it back to the junction and laid flat on my back again, so happy that the climbing was finally done. It took under an hour but felt like a million. It was 9:30 PM, and I still had almost 3 miles and 3,000 feet of descent to get to the car.
I took a plodding but steady pace, checking the altimeter every three minutes hoping for big chunks down. I tried breaking the descent up into 100-vertical foot chunks, but by this point it didn’t matter — I just persevered.
I signed out of the trailhead at 11:40 PM, 17 hours and 35 minutes after starting the day in the Dixes. Combined for the day I hiked 22 miles and 8,600 vertical feet. But at least I got to sleep in and drive home after a long breakfast.