Mark and I spent some time earlier in the month figuring out a plan that would get us leveled up with our summit lists AND hit our ADK 46er 1/2 way point by Labor Day. This weekend’s plan was to hit Dial and Nippletop – repeats for Mark, but numbers 12 and 13 in my journey. The original idea was to head out from the Ausable Mountain Reserve, down Lake Rd out to visit Indian Head, then up Elk Pass to Nippletop, and off to Dial and Bear Den on the way back out. This was an excellent plan because it visited Indian Head early enough to avoid potential crowds, and it got a lot of the super steep climbing (Elk Pass) done early in the day.
As it turns out, this was not the right plan for us.
We really enjoy having Daisy on the hikes with us — she’s a super friendly puppy, and she does a great job on the trails. AMR, however, doesn’t allow dogs on their private lands. So, on Thursday we decided on a different approach to these two mountains so Daisy could come along on the adventure. We parked the Jeep at the Round Pond parking area on Route 73, and took the Dix trail out to Gravestone Brook. From there, it was a mile and a half bushwhack up to the Leach trail to go up to Dial, and then over to Nippletop. Unfortunately, this meant that we’d have to climb up and over Dial again before the day was through.
The day started like many others — an early meet-up and drive up the Northway into the Adirondack High Peaks region. Since Mark and I had never hiked out of the Round Pond trailhead, we kept a close eye out for signs on the side of Rt. 73. Turns out, the parking area was pretty well marked and easy to find. Unfortunately, what we both missed was that the parking area was a couple hundred feet up the road from the actual trailhead. Once we strapped on our gear and started out, we realized that the little “trails” leading away from the parking lot weren’t really trails, but more likely paths of other confused folks. We decided to check a little further up Rt. 73, but didn’t find anything. After a few more minutes of discussion and trying to find a path out of the parking area, we saw a blue trail marker leading down Rt. 73 away from the parking area. Since we were so focused on finding the right place to park, we didn’t even notice the DEC trailhead sign that marked the actual beginning of the Dix Trail through Round Pond.
We signed in and started the trek into the Dix Wilderness. We passed a small group of hikers coming out from an overnight at Round Pond — they looked like they had a lot of fun, and were in pretty high spirits. After a quick chat, it was a fairly short walk until we came to Round Pond, where the trail splits – off to the left is the trail to the lean-to and off to the right was the Dix Trail. Knowing that we had a long day ahead of us, we opted to skip visiting the lean-to and continue on towards Gravestone Brook. The next “landmark” we were slated to find was the junction to for the Noonmark trail. I’d really like to hit this trail up on another outing to this area — Noonmark Mountain is one of the more popular non-High Peaks hikes in the ADKs.
A little more than a mile past the Noonmark Trail junction, Mark and I started questioning each and every brook we crossed. We came across one brook that seemed to be at the correct distance and heading off in the right direction, so we started making our way through the woods. After about 50′ I decided to head back down to the trail to build a small cairn to denote where the trail and the bushwhack met up. I’m grateful for that decision, because as I was getting rocks together, a group of three hikers came down the trail towards me. After a quick greeting, we found out that they had bushwhacked up to Dial from the Dix Trail on the previous day, and that we were “really close” to Gravestone Brook. With that information, we continued further down the Dix Trail. A tenth of mile down the trail, we were at another brook and met up with a couple of guys coming out from the Boquet River lean-to. We asked them if they had crossed any larger brooks very recently and they couldn’t remember one, so Mark and I decided to head up from here.
The bushwhack begins!
I’ve never been on a full bushwhack before. Smaller little “oops, we missed the trail for a bit” adventures, but nothing where I’ve purposely left the marked trail without even a herd path to follow. So this was a very exciting trip for me. We set our bearing heading west and made our way through the brush and trees. After ~10 minutes of the ‘whack, Mark and I were convinced that we were not at the correct brook. We felt that, based on the map and a previous look at Google Earth, Gravestone Brook was much more defined than what we were following. We stopped to chat, and in a lull in the conversation, I heard rushing water off to our left. We cut a direct route to the sound, and sure enough, we were met with a large brook with tons of flowing water and great slabs of rock. Gravestone Brook at last …
Part of the 1.5 mile bushwhack was as simple as following the brook — in fact, we walked along the rocks in the brook for a bit because it was easier than trying to find a path through the trees and brush. After a bit, the water was moving too fast, or was too deep, so into the woods we went. We mostly followed the right side of the brook up the mountain. With branches and fallen trees taking their toll on our arms, legs, heads, and almost eyes, we forged up the eastern side of Bear Den Mountain through the thick Dix Wilderness.
Overall, it took us 2 hours to bushwhack from the Dix Trail to the Leach Trail. Mark and I are not speed hikers, by any stretch of the imagination – including breaks and rests on the peaks, we typically average ~1 mph for a full day hiking, so the bushwhack didn’t really slow us down very much, and it was a very cool experience. I’m feeling a lot better about my orienteering skills and I can’t wait to go on another bushwhack.
Once we reached the Leach Trail that would bring us to Dial and Nippletop, we took a small breather, and I tied a bright yellow cord around a tree to indicate where we should start the ‘whack back down to the Dix Trail on our return. We popped out onto the trail in the col between Bear Den Mountain and Dial, so we needed to head south on the trail. From this point, we were going to make up approximately 800’ in elevation within ~1/2 mile — a decent leg-burner, to be sure.
Once we reached the top of Dial (#12 on my list), we dropped our packs, and relaxed for a bit while taking in the amazing views of the Great Range just across the valley. While we were eating lunch, a pair of hikers joined us. They had camped out near Gill Brook the night before, so they came up Elk Pass, bagged Nippletop, and from Dial were heading back towards Nippletop to go back down Elk Pass to return to camp. Yet another hiker ended up reaching Dial’s summit while we were relaxing. He had come up the Leach Trail from AMR and was going to be heading down Elk Pass after grabbing Nippletop. He mentioned that he saw my bright yellow tree tie and was wondering what it was — thankfully he left it alone 😉
We stayed on the summit of Dial for 30 minutes – the other 3 hikers hung out for much less time – and decided to get a move on with the rest of the day’s plan. Two miles to our next stop – Nippletop – but first, a series of false summits to get us warmed up. Seriously, there were 4 or 5 different points on the trail between Dial and Nippletop where we legitimately thought that we were at the highest point on the range. These false summits have a strange effect on the brain, and motivation sometimes takes a dive. At one point, Mark laid down on a rock and said that he was going to nap. The benefit of having a hiking partner is that you have someone there to pick you up when you need it, so we moved forward — one foot in front of the other.
On the up-and-down between Dial and Nippletop, we were lucky enough to have some really nice views of the Dix Range to the East — with the Dix Mountain slides and the Beckhorn so close it looked like we could reach out and touch them. We also ran into a small section of snow that was hidden from the Spring sun. On the way up, we passed by, but on the way back down, we decided to dig into it for a quick frozen treat — cold and delicious! After a 2 hour trek (again, within our average pace), we reached the top of the 13th tallest point in New York State — Nippletop Mountain. Coincidentally, Nippletop was also the 13th High Peak on my trek to becoming a 46er!
From the summit, we were treated with another amazing view of the Great Range, a nice clear view of the remaining mountains in the Colvin Range (Colvin and Blake), and a peek of Elk Lake. With a gorgeous backdrop, Mark and I took another break to enjoy the day and a small snack. We also cracked out the GoPro to take some test video before our upcoming Cranberry Lake 50 hike. It turns out that the waterproof case makes it hard to hear the audio, but the video is nice and clear, so I put some nice Celtic music behind it and posted it. I think I’m going to start doing that more often so I have some video documentation of our adventures.
With the clock ticking, and the knowledge that we had roughly 8 miles back to the truck, we began the trek back down off of Nippletop, up-and-over the multiple false summits, back over Dial Mountain, and finally down to our yellow cord marked tree. We stopped for a moment, got our bearings, and started our descent East through the woods towards Gravestone Brook, and ultimately the Dix Trail. After we found the brook, we stopped and refilled with some cold and refreshing water, then continued down to the trail all the while getting snagged and scraped up on the trees and bushes as we walked through them. At one point, Daisy stopped, looked off into the thick woods, and growled. Knowing that we didn’t have the time or energy to chase after her if she decided to pursue whatever she smelled, Mark and I quickly refocused her, and moved further down along the brook.
The bushwhack down was a little quicker, and when we reached the Dix Trail, we only stopped briefly for some jerky and to put on our headlamps. With tired legs and feet, we hoofed it 3.5 miles back to the Jeep through the rain and dark. It took 2 hours, and when we finally make it back to the parking area, we split a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a banana, and downed some cold water. We started the trip back home at 11:06pm, and knowing that we both had to work in the morning, we decided to forego the traditional post-hike food stop in favor of getting hot showers and sleep.
This turned out to be a long day, but it was another amazing adventure in the Adirondack wilderness. Regardless of how sleep deprived or how much pain we’re in, being out in the ADKs is one of the best feelings I’m fortunate enough to be able to experience.