Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Slide Climbing: Dix Mountain’s Buttress Slide

Upper Dihedral of the Buttress SlideA spectacular white scar snakes 900 vertical feet down into the rugged defile of Hunters Pass on the west side of Dix Mountain. The Buttress Slide, triggered in 2011 by Tropical Storm Irene, adds to the multitude of slides already decorating the High Peaks. This diverse backcountry challenge begins just below the crest of Dix’s southwest buttress and wishbones into dual tracks about halfway down to the pass. The debris reaches with a few hundred feet of the marked trail.

I dare say it is one of the Adirondack’s most adventurous and difficult slides, one that bridges the gap between scrambling and fifth class climbing. If you’re comfortable with rock climbing, enjoy bushwhacking and are drawn to remote locations, perhaps this slide is for you.

It’s important to plan ahead for this climb: get to know the surrounding terrain and expect to spend a full day on the approach, climb and exit. Protection and technical gear is highly recommended. This slide is “to die for”—just not literally! It is also wise to climb it after a period of rain-free weather; seepage can increase the difficulty of several areas especially as moss, lichen and algae grow over time.

The Approach

Climbers should note that the Dix Trail traverses private land until a few tenths of a mile before Slide Brook, so don’t deviate from the marked path. This segment is also closed during the big game hunting season (refer to the DEC website for specific dates).

Park at the public parking lot near the end of Elk Lake Road in North Hudson. Begin hiking along the Dix Trail toward Dix Pond. At 4.3 miles you’ll reach the Beckhorn Trail; pass by and continue up into Hunters Pass. After crossing East Inlet Brook, views of the North Fork and South Fork Slides may be seen high up on the flank of Dix. A bit farther along, the first views of the Buttress Slide first appear. Perspective makes it appear to be nearly vertical. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself thinking, “Am I sure about this?!”

Your next benchmark is the stream flowing down from Nippletop Mountain’s eastern cirque (about 1.25 miles from the Beckhorn Trail intersection). A striking view of the snaking white track of the Buttress Slide lies just moments up the trail. Walk a few hundred feet through the trees to the debris field and massive footwall—a nearly vertical cliff. Twin overhangs marking the northern slide path loom high above. Walk north along the cliff and bushwhack up through the woods to a small adjacent slide. This is the least exposed route around the great wall. Trek south to access the Buttress above the overhangs. Stay back from the edge; it’s covered with debris atop a nearly 100-foot drop.

The Slide Proper

The climb up the northern track is a bit more interesting than the track to the south. Both are low-angle scrambles. Start the climb by walking up beside a hulking knob of anorthosite amidst a sea of debris. Thereafter, the slab varies in slope as it ascends some 400 feet to the convergence of the tracks. Look for dikes (lines of differing stone), xenoliths (fragments of stone differing from that of the surrounding bedrock) and small deposits of red garnet and green diopsite. A seldom seen perspective of Nippletop Mountain stretches behind. Rugged ridges frame a rounded valley spotted with cliffs and a couple small slides as it reaches up toward the ridge-line.

Scrambling transitions into low to mid fifth class climbing above the lower tracks. If you’re exploring this without protection and rock-climbing experience, it’s time to turn back. The ascent is exposed with only a few short sections that decrease significantly in slope. Put plainly—if you fall unprotected, you’ll likely die.

An obvious, though dirty, crack dissects steep bulges of freshly exposed anorthosite on either side. Excellent traction and a plethora of climbing options riddle the area. The crack itself may appear tempting, but mud can complicate the issue if it sticks to the bottom of your climbing shoes. Keeping a small brush at hand may be helpful. A large platform of rock sits a bit over one hundred feet higher. It is the ideal place to take a break and appreciate the surroundings.

Above, the “Upper Dihedral”, a stunning corner with a finger-crack ascends steeply before transitioning to an exposed traverse–what I consider the crux of the slide. You can climb using only the slab on small holds or via the crack depending on your comfort and skill level. Take care not to get any sand or mud underfoot near the top as it is still a bit unclean from the initial debris-fall. A boulder below an overlap (about 100 feet up and surrounded by dirt) makes a good belay point. It feels like the adventure should wind down after the dihedral, but don’t lose your focus—it’s still on. Climbing up small overlaps and bulges continues as the width of the slide narrows.

The final pitch seems to end at what I call the “Capstone”, a thick ledge that forms a small roof over the slab. Pieces of the mountain to its right form a large mossy room-sized alcove while a final exposed traverse leads left to the final few feet of the Buttress Slide. Consider using the forest to exit if the traverse is wet. From the top, the landscape falls away dizzyingly with some segments occluded from view by the severity of the slopes.

The Exit

What goes up must come down. The exit is a navigational challenge and adventure unto itself.The most direct option, save rappelling down the slide proper, is to trek down via the woods to the south. This involves avoiding various sections of old-exposure slab, so pack a picture of Dix’ west face as reference.

From the top of the slide, attain the crest of the buttress and follow it down slightly before descending roughly westward. Expect to find mossy ledges, a steep grade and occasional slides. Take time to look below and to either side anytime there is a break in the canopy. Stay in the woods if possible as you find open rock. Continue to descend until the slope decreases, then angle back to the slab below the fifth-class slide section. Once on the slide, descend along the same route as the approach.

Dix Mountain Buttress Slide

Trip Notes

I first climbed the Buttress Slide in 2012 with friend Rich McKenna as the third link of a four-slide day-hike around Dix. Phil Brown, “NP” and I returned on this past July 13. Our sights were focused on exploring alternative routes around the footwall, on the slide proper and for the descent. There’s no beta regarding the Buttress Slide, so each step was unknown.

Exploring new ground and solving the natural climbing problems as they present themselves is incredibly satisfying!

Slide Profile

Round-trip distance: 12.25 miles
Total elevation gain: 2,700 feet
Distance to slide: Just over 5.5 miles
Length of slide: 1,450 feet
Elevation gain: 900 feet
Maximum Width: 130 feet
Exit: Descend through the woods to the south of the slide.

Photo above: Author climbing the “Upper Dihedral” (photo by NP Photography). Below, Approximate route of our exploration and mosaic of key points on the Buttress Slide (photo from Nippletop Mountain). 

Climbing slides is dangerous. A fall in the wrong place could result in serious injury or even death, and help may be hours away. Slide climbers should be familiar with off-trail navigation, comfortable with high-angle scrambling, and prepared for backcountry emergencies. Novices should be accompanied by a licensed guide or experienced slide climber.


Kevin "MudRat" MacKenzie

Kevin MacKenzie is an Adirondack writer and photographer, licensed to guide in NY state and is associate registrar at St. Lawrence University. He lives in the Lake Placid area with his wife, Deb (also a freelance photographer). His articles and photographs have been featured such magazines and journals as Adirondack Journal of Environmental Studies, Adirondac, Adirondack Life and Adirondack Outdoors. Many of Kevin and Deb's photographs are featured on the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge and Rehabilitation Center's website.

Kevin is an avid slide climber, rock/ice climber, winter forty-sixer and member of Climbing for Christ. His passion for slides and backcountry technical climbing takes him to some of the most remote backcountry areas in the High Peaks. Kevin has climbed over 100 of the area's slides during all seasons. His website and Summitpost forum page contain trip reports and photos from many of his explorations.




5 Responses

  1. Wende Carr says:

    NICE!!!

  2. Deep Forest says:

    Great attention to detail MudRat. I look forward to using your notes and trip report when I climb the buttress slide. It seems like the climb down can be more of a challenge than the climb up. Very appealing.

  3. Jeff Farbaniec Jeff says:

    Very cool, looks like just my cup of tea. Appreciate the details. Thanks for posting.

  4. Thanks to all…
    DeepForest: The descent is a challenge; there’s no easy way since it doesn’t lead to the summit. I crested the ridge and descended to the drainage of the North Fork Slide the first time I climbed this. The track along side the Buttress is a bit more efficient,but still quite the challenge.
    Jeff: My pleasure. Enjoy it if you give it a go!