Aborted Attempt of Dix and Hough
I almost didn’t write a blog post for this hike, but figured what the heck – I wrote about my first failed attempt of Big Slide so I might as well be consistent. My friend and I arrived at the Elk Lake trailhead on Wednesday morning. I was pumped to finish off the Dix range and end my vacation at 30 peaks climbed. We headed out on the trail toward Hunter’s Pass, passing the Macomb and Lillian Brook herd paths. Our planned route was up the Beckhorn trail, an extremely steep way up to the summit that takes you over the Beckhorn, a rock formation that protrudes out from just under the Dix summit. From there, we would make our way over to Hough, and back down the LB path. I have a foray into the Santanoni range coming up and thought the Beckhorn trail would be good training, not to mention that I’ve heard it compared to the Santa express trail many times in terms of steepness.
The trail was beautiful and steep. For most of the way up you could see light through the trees – like you were almost on a ridge line but not quite. We made our way up, slow and steady, and eventually we started having some spots where we’d break out of the trees and admire the gorgeous views, and scramble up a rockface or two.
Our destination, the Dix summit, had been 6.3 miles from the trailhead. At about 6.0 we were perplexed to encounter a very tricky rockface. It was a large, smooth boulder at a nearly vertical pitch, at least a foot taller than me, with no option to bushwhack around. Behind the tiny dirt trail I stood on, sizing up the rocks, was a steep slope and an expansive view in 3 directions. I had a slight panic attack, reminiscent of only two other hiking experiences – descending Basin’s steep rocks just before the ladder, and the “leap of faith” moment on the Gothics cable route. I didn’t think there was any way I could get myself up. Certainly if I’d been alone I would have had to turn around, because I needed to drop my pack in order to even consider it – it felt like the pack on my back would have surely pulled me backward. With the pack dropped, I hugged the large rock and put my hand on some moss as I tried to propel myself upwards. The moss made it feel like I had a handhold, even though it was just an illusion. I swung my right leg around and managed to inch my way up, and miraculously I was able to crawl onto the flat top. My heart was beating out of my chest – definite adrenaline rush.
My hiking partner and I struggled to get my pack up, but finally I was able to hoist it up from her reach. When it was her turn, she chose to go up a different part of the boulder, and when she made it to the top we both had to sit for a minute and calm down before we could go on.
Very shortly thereafter we arrived at the bottom of the Beckhorn. Some very large boulders provided another sizable challenge, and I sat down, suddenly feeling a sense of ominous foreboding. My friend started scouting a way up, though we were both feeling beaten down and unsure about continuing. My biggest concern was not finding some way to get myself up over those boulders – if we’d put effort into it, we’d have found a way. My fear was the knowledge of the final challenge that loomed ahead, just below the Dix summit – the steep boulders that one had to crabwalk up to reach the final destination. I’d recently read a trip report where someone compared looking down that section from the Dix summit with looking down an elevator shaft, and it had me on edge.
At that point I was afraid of getting myself to a point where I was afraid to go up or down. In all honestly, I was already feeling that way – I couldn’t imagine how I was going to get back down that section that had me so stressed out on the way up. My hiking partner and I made a mutual decision to abort the hike. This was a bummer on many levels – we now had to descend the steepest trail, and by the end of the day we would be peakless despite the 12+ miles of hiking.
Surprisingly going down those boulders was easier than going up. I don’t often find that to be the case, but it was easier to let myself drop down in a controlled way than it was for me to find the leverage to hoist myself up. We both descended safely and began the return trip.
Somewhere on that walk down to the car I made peace with the situation. The Beckhorn trail is so pretty, and I’m glad I got to experience it the other day. The steep hike we endured that day was great training for me. And hiking in the Adirondacks on a sunny spring Wednesday beats most other things I could be doing, hands down. I’m not sure that I’ll rush back out to finish the Dix Range, but I’ll get there eventually – most likely via the Lillian Brook herd path and Hunter’s Pass trail.