Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Slide Climbing: Dix Mountain Ring Slide (Central)

Dix Mountain Ring SlideThe northern cirque of Dix Mountain hosts one of the region’s best slide climbing destinations with numerous tracks of quality rock. Even if you’re not an adventurer, it’s difficult not to appreciate the artistry and power of nature while driving from Keene to Keene Valley on Route 73.

Collectively known as the Finger slides, the array is arranged from southwest to northeast spanning ½ mile beginning with the Thumb slide and ending with the Pinky (Per Drew Haas’ Slide Guide). Multiple slides sometimes make up one finger.

Though several slides existed prior to the cloudburst, they were recreated in their current incarnation during the second week of August in 1993; Adirondacks Alive by Olaf Sööt and Don Mellor shows an excellent photo of the fresh slides. Not surprisingly, climbers began exploring soon thereafter. A few years later the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) reported that a scrambler was injured by a falling rock; a reminder of the inherent danger of slide climbing. While the approach is fairly long, it’s via a scenic trail that passes Round Pond and traverses along the North Fork Boquet River.

In September of 2010, I camped at the Boquet River Lean-to, about four miles past Round Pond. This placed me a mile and a half from the bottom of the array—perfect for an early start. My planned route led me up and down the tracks of 9 slides, 1 being a mossy remnant. The day began in a light rain under dense cloud cover. The wet slides created uncertain footing, but moderate winds, the tacky surface (sharp andesine feldspar crystals in the anorthosite) and rock climbing shoes saved the day. By the time I’d progressed over to the Ring slides (see photo below), they were dry save a few easily avoidable areas.

Clouds blowing up from the river valley intermittently obscured visibility and hung on the ridge. During these periods, the expansive views and dizzying heights were instantly obscured. I often found myself route-finding with only a few body lengths of visibility. The setting was dramatic, but as a photographer trying to document the slides, I found it equally annoying. I returned in 2012 with long-time friend Rich McKenna and again on June 9, 2014 with Christina Nash and a squadron of blackflies. Both times I was reminded that a fulfilling day of climbing is often complemented by great partners.

Dix Mountain Ring SlideCentral Ring Slide Description*

Round-trip distance 13.75 miles
Total elevation gain: 3,950 feet
Distance to slides: 6.2 miles
Length of slide: 1,200 feet
Elevation gain: 700 feet
Maximum Width:  275 feet


Park at the Round Pond trailhead on Route 73 southeast of Chapel Pond. Follow the trail to the Boquet River Lean-to. Cross the river and continue for another 1.5 miles to the Wrist, a hundred foot wide run of slab that cuts across the trail just before it ascends Dix’ north ridge. This swath leads directly to the base of the Thumb, Index and Middle Finger slides.

The Wrist adds a substantial amount of slab time to the outing, 1/3 of a mile to be precise. Follow the mildly sloped stone up amongst a variety of small cascades and flumes. At 3,500 feet in elevation, follow the central run through the tree islands and expect to hike through some rubble. Ahead, the upper pitches of the Thumb and Index slides appear like the gigantic horns reaching toward the ridgeline.  These along with the Middle finger (get ready with the jokes) are part of a gently convex cirque, therefore, each has a slightly different aspect varying from north to northwest.

The southwest, central and northeast Ring slides can be approached by traversing a short distance to the climber’s left at the top of the Wrist. Alternately, they can be accessed by following a smaller adjacent drainage that intersects the trail a couple hundred ground feet below the start of the Wrist. As a point of reference, the Pinky slide is offset ¼ mile northeast of the Ring slide.

Dix Mountain Finger Slide MosaicSlide Proper

The central Ring slide is the widest and, in my opinion, most interesting of the Finger slides. Since it shares a common face with the northeast and southwest Ring slides, it bears many similarities including a dominant ledge near the top.

Beginning with a field of rubble and sand, the slab gets right to business on textured anorthosite. Scrambling on the left avoids the vertical footwall to the climber’s right. Beyond, there’s no lack of scrambling options on a strip of stone that’s 250 feet wide. The surface remains free of debris with long lines of friction slab, small rising ramps, fractures and countless overlaps. If you’re accustomed to exposure, there are plenty of features for a comfortable ascent.

Steep scrambling intermittently decreases after cresting each anorthositic bulge. The dominant landmarks of this slide begin as you approach about 4,100 feet in elevation on a steep slope. A ledge extends halfway across the slide from the right-hand side. Here, much of the face has been shattered into large flakes. The broken pieces have shifted down about 12 inches creating a series of narrow crevasses. Explore the width of the slide if you’re a photographer—it’s worth the time. If you’re observant, you’ll also find a variety of mineral intrusions including garnet.

What I consider the crux sits near the top at 4,200 feet in elevation—a 45+ degree pitch leading to 6 foot high deeply weathered ledge. A shelf of balsams near the center of the slide provides a bit of natural protection below. The final scramble remains clean of debris as it narrows and ends after approximately 150 feet.

Once at the top, sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor. The slope falls away over rolling pitches of stone to the Boquet River Valley while the distant panorama includes the Great Range, Noonmark and Giant’s west cirque.

Dix Mountain Ring Slide CruxExit

Bushwhack to the top of the ridge. Expect to encounter bare ledges en route. Once on the ridge, the tree growth is pleasantly loose for much of the 1/3 mile ascent along an intermittent herdpath. The Beckhorn Slide on Dix’ east cirque is positioned to the left as you bushwhack southwest and intersect the trail north of the Dix’ summit. From the top, you may close the loop by descending north to Round Pond, traverse to Elk Lake or tackle the rest of the Dix Range!

NOTE: Slide climbing is dangerous. A fall can 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 climb with an experienced slide climber or licensed guide.

Click HERE for the complete photo set including a variety from the Pinky and Ring (NE) slides.

Photos: All photos by author unless otherwise noted. Aerial taken in autumn of 2013. Top, Christina Nash taking a break 600 feet up the slide atop the crux friction slab pitch. Second, Scrambling up the lower slab. Mosaic, Insets include photos from each of the primary Finger slides (click to enlarge). Climbers include the author, Richard McKenna and Christina Nash. Below, Christina Nash contemplates the upper ledge on the central Ring slide.



*NE, central and southwest are included for reference rather than part of the Ring slide name.


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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 Climbing, Adirondack Journal of Environmental Studies, Adirondac, Adirondack LifePeeks, 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, board member of the Adirondack Climbers Coalition and member of Climbing for Christ. His passion for climbing slides and pioneering new backcountry technical ice and rock routes takes him to some of the most remote areas in the High Peaks. His website and Summitpost forum page contain trip reports, photos and video from many of his explorations.

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