September 2016 - HIKING
Hiking Dix Mountain
A Scenic Trail with Expansive Lookouts
By Bill Ingersoll
This trail is arguably the most scenic approach to Dix Mountain, the sixth highest peak in the High Peaks. Although it is nearly seven miles long, there are several attractive landmarks to enjoy along the way: Round Pond, the North Fork Boquet and its lean-to, and the brief traverse of Dix’s northern slide. Although Bob Marshall and other hikers in the 1920s found cause for complaint in the condition of the trail after the twin fires of 1903 and 1913, many of those sins have been erased by the passage of time. The one fault that remains is the steepness that exists on the uppermost portion of the trail, above the slide.
The blue-marked foot trail begins on NY Route 73 in Chapel Pond Pass, on the southwest side of the highway 3.1 miles north of the “spaghetti intersection” of US Route 9 and Route 73, and 5.2 miles from Northway Exit 30. The small parking area is located 90 feet to the north of where the trail begins. The mountain is located roughly on the boundary between the towns of North Hudson and Keene.
From the parking area, follow the shoulder of the road to the start of the trail, which promptly begins climbing southeast up the shoulder of what was once known as Stony Hill. It reaches a saddle almost 200 feet above the road and then descends slightly to a junction within sight of Round Pond at 0.6-mile. The unmarked path left, south, leads in 0.1-mile to the only designated camping area on the pond. While the entire pond is scenic, the views of Giant Mountain from that location are quite good. By all means, make the short side trip if you have the time. If you are planning to linger, note that Round Pond has been stocked with brook trout.
The main trail bears right at the junction and circles through the birch forest to Round’s northern shore. Of all the Round Ponds in the Adirondack Park, this is one of the few in which the name is almost geometrically appropriate. The trail passes close around the shore, with numerous opportunities to enjoy the view. Spotted Mountain and Grace Peak are the distant summits to the south.
Eventually the trail pulls away from the pond’s west end and begins a 0.8-mile, 550-foot climb to a saddle south of Round Mountain. Most of the forest on these slopes consists of hardwoods, and when the leaves are down there are decent glimpses back toward Rocky Peak Ridge. A level traverse then brings you to Noonmark Junction at 2.3 miles, a little more than an hour from the start. This is a four-way intersection located next to a small stream. To the right is the Old Dix Trail, which leads to Saint Huberts. Straight ahead leads to the summit of Noonmark.
The trail to Dix bears left, southwest, and leads within a few minutes to your first view of the North Fork Boquet. The next two miles of trail have no hills of note, just several little dips and rises. It is a very pleasant walk through the valley of the North Fork, with a forest cover that is more varied than what you’ve encountered so far. At times you are on a bank high above the small river, with views of the surrounding slopes. There is one long detour to the northwest where the trail has been well-routed around a large wetland. You cross the two branches of Gravestone Brook at about 3.7 and 3.8 miles, and then rejoin the North Fork at 4.2 miles, at nearly the same point that the outlet of Dial Pond flows in. Dial Pond itself lies 0.1-mile north of west, out of sight of the trail.
You reach the Boquet Lean-to 4.4 miles from Route 73. This shelter has an attractive location beside the river; because this is the Dix Mountain Wilderness, campfires are perfectly legal. However, there is no privacy here. The shelter stands right beside the trail in full view of every passerby, so if you prefer some amount of solitude in your camping experience you may prefer to seek out a designated campsite on the nearby hill.
To find the continuing trail, you must descend the bank beside the lean-to and hop across the North Fork. Although the Boquet is more of a creek than a river at this point, the crossing could still be an obstacle in early spring. The trail crosses a small tributary and then parallels the main stream, passing above a small cascade that you can hear but not see from the trail. Then the climbing resumes, with a corresponding increase in ruggedness.
At 5.8 miles, the woods open up to reveal a long and massive slide stretching up Dix’s northern slopes. Bear right here to the foot of the slide, and then follow cairns uphill for about 200 feet. The exposed rock may be slippery when wet, but it offers an outstanding view back toward the rocky summit of Noonmark, with Giant standing guard to the right. The slide is not new, but it has grown larger over the years. At an elevation of about 3,240 feet, you still face nearly 1,600 feet of climbing ahead of you. Therefore sit down, relax, and enjoy this early view for a moment or two.
As you look up the slide, the trail reenters the woods on the right about 200 feet from the bottom. Here begins the most tiring portion of the ascent, with nearly 1,100 feet gained in the next 0.7-mile alone. This is an old trail; routed straight up the mountain, and eroded by decades of use. Watch for rooty staircases and wet rocks – even the muddy handholds are greasy! Depending on your stamina, it could take an hour to get through this section. Spruce, balsam, and cedar trees cover the trail well, so there are few views to distract you from the steady climbing.
At 6.5 miles you reach the junction with the trail to Hunters Pass. Turn left at the junction to reach the summit. The steepest part of the climb is now behind you, but you still face a 500-foot ascent. The trees beside the trail shrink and the views expand, and eventually you reach the ridge. The summit of Dix, which you reach 6.9 miles from Route 73, is long and narrow, and the actual highpoint can be easy to miss. In the summer, look for the rock to the left with the benchmark and a view toward Grace Peak, and the rock to the right with the views toward Elk Lake and the heart of the High Peaks region. Should you miss these landmarks, you may notice instead that the scant trail markers have changed from blue to yellow, signifying that you are now on the trail to Elk Lake via the Beckhorn – but in winter, deep drifts of snow may conceal all of these features.
The views are not completely unrestricted, but they are quite expansive. To the west of Nippletop you see Allen, with Santanoni on the horizon. Moving around to your right you see Skylight, Haystack almost blending in with neighboring Marcy, Basin, then Saddleback and a wonderful view of Gothics. At the highest parts of the mountain you can find mountain blueberry, laurel and Labrador tea. The summit rocks can only accommodate a few people at a time, but the long ridgeline contains numerous lookouts where you can find your own spot for a lunch break.
Bill Ingersoll of Barneveld is publisher of the Discover the Adirondack’s guidebook series (hiketheadirondacks.com). For more on this region, consult Discover the Adirondack High Peaks.