Preparing for a two-week, 52 summit backpacking trip through the Adirondacks is a rather intriguing adventure all on its own. The trip will alternate between trailed and off-trail hiking, which adds a layer of complexity and difficulty that makes it even a bit daunting. Every time I step out into the woods now I’m thinking about how much my pack will weigh, how hard it will be to bushwhack uphill with the pack or how I will deal with rainy and chilly weather. Running through my mind are questions related to what gear to bring and what not to bring, what can go wrong with the re-supplies and how to back them up. I wonder which days are too hard as planned and require revision etc. etc.
A typical day on the hike, as I envision it, will start with a wake-up at around 4am and a very peaceful cup of hot coffee followed by a bowl of muesli. After quickly packing up, the first hour of hiking will be slow and easy. The pace will then increase and I’ll hike all day with very short breaks. I plan on stopping at least two hours before sunset. After setting up the tarp or laying my bag out in a lean-to I’ll have time to take care of myself, tend to my feet if necessary and wash some of my clothes and take a sponge bath. Dinner will be quick and easy since all I’ll have to do is bring my home-dried dinner to a boil and let it sit for a few minutes. Finally, I’ll get prepped for the next day and hit the sack around sunset.
With these thoughts in mind at 900 feet elevation I began an exploratory hike of my itinerary’s first day. I had excellent company in my friends Jean and Glen. After a one-hour walk up the old West Mill Road that is now used by hunters and bushwhackers we began our bushwhack to Macomb Mountain. Macomb at 4405 feet elevation stood 3500 feet above our starting point. The route followed a steep, cascading brook up to a spectacular waterfall that emerges from thick cedars and plunges vertically down a series of terraced cliffs. This feature had huge “wow value” and after our visit we headed NNW and ascended through sparse forests and across wide expanses of open rock. The views across the valley brought many peaks into view, near and far, including the highest peaks of Vermont State, across Lake Champlain.
At 3300 feet we arrived at a ridge that runs east-west. This ridge forms the southern arm of a huge bowl that forms the letter C on the map. The top or northern arm is comprised of Carson and Grace peaks. Macomb itself form the convex backbone of the letter. Our plan was to remain on contour and curve around the bowl until we were under the summit ridge of the mountain. The woods were a little tighter now with Red Spruce spreading their gnarly branches far from the trunks. Nevertheless there were enough open channels that we could move fairly quickly, if not in a straight line. There was an inch or two of fresh snow on the ground and we put our trail crampons on for traction.
By using the altimeter, the compass and the map all together we could follow our progress around the bowl because if we kept hiking at a constant elevation our direction of travel gradually shifted from west to north. When we crossed a stream we were able to pinpoint ourselves on the map (still at 3300 feet) and at that point we changed direction from North to NW and began to angle upwards to the summit ridge. We had 1100 feet to ascend and unfortunately the woods were very difficult to travel through. There was too much blowdown and the thickly growing conifers made it extremely difficult for us to progress. What progress we made came at the cost of tremendous physical effort and it was obvious that this route was a no-go for Project Full Deck, especially as I would be carrying a bigger and much heavier pack through it all. The final section after the open rock took us 2h30 minutes of hard work.
Once we were on the summit of Macomb and had taken a break in the sun to rest and eat we headed along the trail and visited each of the series of summits that make up the Dix Range. The trail was covered by a two-inch layer of ice that was topped with slush. We made rapid progress over the trails and in under four hours were on Dix, our fifth peak of the day and the highest in the Dix Range at 4850 feet. We took a short break and then hurried off down 1500 feet of very steep and icy trail, which we descended in 35 minutes. Ten minutes further down the trail we began another bushwhack in the direction of Dial Mountain. In twenty minutes we descended 300 feet to the North Fork of the Boquet River and crossed it at 2750 feet where 3 separate streams form a confluence. We had taken a compass bearing to the ridge just below Dial Mountain and now with tired legs we began the 1000 foot ascent at 7 PM in fading daylight. Fifty minutes later we were back on trail 200 feet below the summit of Dial. We took our final break on the summit and admired the sunset before putting our headlamps on and descending the icy trail from 4000 feet to the road at 1400 feet. In between we had two 300 foot ascents, which by that time, late into a long and demanding day, we really felt! We were in the parking lot where Glen and Jean had left their vehicles 14 hours after heading out.
My revised bushwhack hike to the top of Macomb from West Mill Brook will follow a much straighter route that I know from previous trips to be much easier. I expect it to take an hour or two less time and to burn a few less calories.