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Dix Range Dilemma 1/8/2013

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  • Dix Range Dilemma 1/8/2013

    Dix Range Dilemma 1/8/2013

    I will try to make this as understandable as possible. I will try to be as unbiased as possible, although much of this is from my point of view. I am new to the forum, not new to hiking, winter travel, or the outdoors. Our trip was set, months in advanced, for the 3 of us to spend a week in the Adirondacks. The plan was to do a winter backpacking trip in the Dixes. Hike in Monday (1/7) from Clear Pond, make camp at Slide Brook lean-to. Hike Macomb, South, East, and Hough Tuesday (1/8) with daypacks then back to camp. Hike Dix via the Beckhorn on Wednesday (1/9) or hike what we failed to summit on Tuesday, then pick up our bigger packs at the lean-to and hike out to the Clear Pond Trailhead where we parked.

    To make this simple and also because I do not want to mention names I will be calling my hiking partners A and B. I should note that we have all hiked together numerous times in both summer and winter conditions. We have all done summer and winter high peaks in the Catskills, Adirondacks, and White Mountains. I should also note that hiker A has less experience than myself and hiker B. We also had a long discussion about possible problems arising in the backcountry. We all agreed that if one of us was not feeling well physically, they would speak up and turn back before a larger problem occurred. We agreed that unless someone was obviously hurt or could not get down on their own, they would rely on themselves to make it back to camp. We all had a map, compass, and headlamp.

    Everything was going to plan, we hiked in Monday, set up camp, made dinner and planned for an early start Tuesday. Woke up early, made breakfast, packed our daypacks and started hiking around 7:30am. We did not know exactly where the approach trail to the Macomb slide started but found it after a few minutes. The approach trail was broken out but blow-down made our pace a little slower than normal. We stopped before the Macomb slide to eat and drink. Hiker A and myself put on our helmets for the slide. The slide showed traces of recent travel, how recent I do not know because the tracks up and the ski tracks down were wind blown. We took turns breaking the drifted snow. The trail from the slide to the summit of Macomb was not bad. We reached the summit of Macomb around 11:30am. Hiker A was showing signs of fatigue at the summit. Myself and hiker B told hiker A that the easiest way out from here was down the slide and the approach trail, as it leads almost directly to the lean-to. Hiker A insisted on going forward to the Dixes. The trail coming down the backside seemed tracked out. About 500 feet down, hiker A was complaining of cold hands. I took my gloves off and the gloves of hiker A. I held hiker As hands until they warmed up and hiker B administered chemical hand warmers. Seeing that hiker A was clearly fatigued at this point, along with the hand situation, myself and hiker B insisted that hiker A turn around and head for camp. (It has become apparent that hiker A has poor circulation in both hands and feet as this is not the first time they have had issues in the cold). Hiker A agreed that he should turn around. I believe at this point hiker B gave hiker A their SPOT personal locating beacon. I do not use a PLB, I am a firm believer in self reliance. After hiker A left for camp, hiker B and myself headed northeast for South Dix. Shortly after we lost the beaten trail. We looked for a few minutes but could not find it. I knew the general direction so I broke trail all the way to the Col between Macomb and South Dix. At this point navigation was easy because of the exposed western ridge of South Dix. We could possibly see faint tracks that we figured were blown over. Broke the trail to South Dix and summited around 1:40pm.

    This is apparently the turning point in the story, no pun intended. At the summit of South Dix hiker B stated concerns of making it to East Dix. I could tell hiker B was tired, hiker B stated they were tired. At this point I was feeling a little fatigued from breaking trail from Macomb to South Dix, but I was in no way done. I trained for this trip, I was in good physical condition. The guidebook said an easy go from South to East. I wanted to push on. I also expressed my concerns to hiker B that it may be a good idea to turn back if they were exhausted. I stressed the fact that hiker B was in no way obligated to come with me. At this point hiker B decided to push on as well. Shortly after breaking trail coming off of South Dix hiker B decided to turn back. I told them it was the right decision, because it was going to be a tough go if the trail from South to East was completely unbroken. Hiker B was concerned about the amount of daylight left for my return. I told them that worst case scenario, If I were to get lost or become too fatigued to go on, I would bivouac. I always carry a small emergency bivy on my day hikes and I had a snow shovel, headlamp with extra batteries, 50 of 7mm climbing rope, full down jacket, first aid kit, and enough food and water. I was comfortable, feeling good, warm, and hydrated. Hiker B asked about the return route. I told him from here go back over South Dix and when near the col between South and Macomb look for the trail going to Lillian Brook on the right. I think we both knew there was a good chance the trail was not broken, I said from the col go right and head west. If you head downhill and west from there you are bound to hit the trail (trail 119). Hiker B stressed concerns about me, I told him I was fine, feeling good, and not to worry about me. On a last note, I told hiker B not to worry if I did not make it back to camp that night. Give me until about noon the next day to make it back, if that were to happen (worst case scenario). At this point it was around 2:30pm when we split ways. From here I was on my own, breaking trail to East Dix. I had no idea at the time it was going to take me so long. I could not find any tracks going to East Dix. Broke the trail the whole way, 2 feet of snow with many many spruce traps. Navigation was not hard as I just headed northeast. The exposed western ridge on East Dix was similar to South. I summited around twilight, at 4:30pm. I was tired at this point but I knew following my tracks back would only be half as difficult as breaking them the first time. I took a lot of breaks, to hydrate, eat, and rest (both mentally and physically). I honestly did not know at this point if I would have to bivy or not. I did not plan on it, but I also did not plan on taking this long to do East Dix. I do not even know what time I got back to South Dix. I saw hiker Bs snowshoe tracks and followed them to the col between South and Macomb. At this point I was looking for the tracks to head toward Lillian Brook, they did not. They headed back over Macomb. At the time I was upset I had to hike Macomb again and down the slide in the dark but n hindsight it was better than breaking trail to Lillian Brook and hiking back to Slide Brook lean-to. I ran out of water at the top of Macomb. I glissaded down most of the slide and made it back to camp around 9:30pm. It was a long day for me, I was tired, at times I was nauseous, but I was not stumbling. My hiking partners were happy to see me and I was happy to see them. In all honesty I was more worried about them than I was about myself. Apparently hiker A got back to camp around 3:45pm and hiker B around 4:00pm. We decided to hike out the next day without going for Dix, we were all pretty beat.

    So here is the dilemma. Apparently my friend and hiking partner, hiker B is extremely mad at me for heading to East Dix. They feel that I made a wrong decision to keep going and I jeopardized the safety of hiker A and hiker B. I can not see their point of view because both hiker A and hiker B had willingly made their own decision to turn back. They were exhausted and I feel they made the right decision. They were both willingly on their own. I was comfortable being on my own, I was feeling good, and I was prepared. I made my decision to go forward. I did not however, think it would take me so long to hike to East Dix. In hindsight, had I known it would take me twice the length of time I originally thought, I may have turned back. Hiker B, my friend, is at the point of not hiking with me again because of my decision. I would honestly hate to lose a good friend because of this, but I stand by my decision knowing what I knew at the time. I feel that you must be self reliant in the outdoors. I feel that if you are not comfortable being alone in the backcountry, you should not be there.

    So I question the community, have you ever been in a similar situation? How do your group logistics work? If one turns back, do you all turn back? Have you ever been forced to bivouac in the backcountry? Have you ever come close? Have you ever been so tired you feel nauseous? Please feel free to question and comment on my situation.

    Thank you for reading.
    Catskill 3.5K: 35/35
    Adirondack 4K: 30/46
    White Mountains 4K: 34/48
    Colorado 14K: 16/54

    Appalachian Trail thru-hike
    Sherwin NOBO 2013

  • #2
    Wow that was a riveting read.
    Thank you for sharing your story.

    I am glad that you all made it back to camp and out.
    I am not going to comment on your decisions as I was not there and do not know any of you. I do think it was smart of both of you not to try Lillian Brook solo, but to instead retrace your steps as you knew that would bring you back to your starting point.
    Think box required !


    • #3
      we hike as a group of 3

      We either all finish or we all turn back. It isn't an easy decision at times but that is the promise we made to each other . We will choose safety over getting the summit .

      Thanks for sharing your story
      Not all those who wander are lost....JRR Tolkien


      • #4
        Get your popcorn ready!!
        Shut your eyes and think of somewhere
        Somewhere cold and caked in snow.......


        • #5
          Originally posted by adkdremn View Post
          Get your popcorn ready!!
          (We really need a "like" button...)


          • #6
            I will leave this to Trail Boss judgement but I think this trip report could use a few more paragraph breaks.

            There is an old saying, "blood is thicker than water", so I do not care to get between you and your hiking partners. Let me say this, a couple of winters ago a hiking companion asked me to do a winter peak with him and a friend of his. During said hike two incidents occured which disturbed me. A few days later I called my hiking companion and expressed my concerns regarding the incidents. As a matter of fact one of the incidents was separating on our way out.

            Next, if something goes wrong it takes a lot of time to organize a rescue. In winter time in relation to cold can be very costly.

            Finally, years ago while I was working on my winter 46, a person joined me on a hike to McComb, So. Dix, and E. Dix. On the way up the slide of McComb this person develop cramps and decided not to continue. After a discussion I pushed on with the group while the person work their way back to Clear Pond. To be truthful, to this day I am sorry I did not turn back. I should have never let this guy return to Clear Pond by himself. Thank God nothing happen to him. The bottom line, I let my desire to bag the peaks endanger another humans life.
            What lies behind us, and what lies before us, are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.

            Ralph Waldo Emerson


            • #7
              Wow much that needs to be addressed....I'll take only one issue, that of splitting up or 'not'....I've learned from those that I hike with in winter that splitting up is not a good thing... especially if one is totally exhausted or hurting...the mts. will always be there and you can come back to them...your friends- not so much- you always hike at the slowest pace, or hike solo-not recommended- but done by many....if you are the strongest, then you are responsible for the safety of all...even as warm as last year was, conditions had me turning back 4 different times ..or changing plans....that being said...glad you are all OK and the choices to retrace your trail was probably best....


              • #8
                I'd say I have pretty similar experience as you. I often have 3 in a group as well, with occasionally one who is not as strong a hiker. He has turned around in the past and we continued on as well. We have turned around when we reach a predetermined turn around time, rather than push it.

                I only offer this as you asked for feedback, I think your friend may have felt an obligation to not leave you in a position to hurt yourself. I would have called it quits rather than headon to Carson with the mindset I may have to bivy. Just my personal thoughts. Thanks for the TR.


                • #9
                  Welcome to the forum. Sorry, but if the prior discussion among you and your hiking partners is as you describe it—that is, if you were perfectly clear about, and all agreed upon, returning alone in case of fatigue, then I don't see that there is any dilemma. It sounds like you kept to the letter and spirit of the agreement. Moreover, you probably all made a smart decision in not attempting to break out the Lillian Brook Trail. Somehow, though, I suspect your partners, particularly B, don't find the case so air tight as it sounds in your report.

                  Some will no doubt argue from general principles that breaking up a group like you guys did is not an optimal strategy from the point of view of safety. After all, we just read the rangers' reports for September and October, in which about ten parties were admonished for mishaps relating to just such split groups. You guys were apparently up for the challenge and agreed to and prepared for this strategy, so, no foul in my book.

                  Edit: Just read Rik's comments: Smart man!


                  • #10
                    In winter a group is co-dependent on each other if something goes wrong. Pick your team carefully. **** happens - be careful. The mountain will always be there.


                    • #11
                      The title says it all, what a dilemma. Many of the events in this story happen all the time on group hikes, though not usually with this kind of outcome.

                      I've been in similar situations on winter dayhikes with 3 in the group and myself having more ambitious plans than the others and going on while they have turned back. It has never been cause for hard feelings or for us not to hike together again on future big trips though.

                      I can only surmise that when, "Hiker B stressed concerns about me", Hiker B must have really been concerned about you and felt he made a strong case for why it was a bad decision to continue. Maybe they were not really well articulated arguments, but Hiker B believed them to be. Despite the pre-agreed upon strategy to break the group apart as needed, I believe Hiker B feels there was some betrayal and trust has been lost between the two of you when the decision to separate was made.

                      Time will heal many wounds and hopefully this story will have a happy ending. Thanks for sharing your story.


                      • #12
                        I would want to here from each of your friends before responding to your question.
                        As Greg points out, this is the crux:

                        We agreed that unless someone was obviously hurt or could not get down on their own, they would rely on themselves to make it back to camp.
                        Maybe Hiker B found that the conditions at hand in the Dix Range were quite different from those that prevailed at the time and location where you made your agreement about turning back.


                        • #13
                          It's very difficult for me to separate my opinions on the terms under which you were all hiking together (something I would never agree to) and how it played out. It seems you all did live up to how you planned the hike, but hiker B realized that he didn't agree with those terms. It make sense that since he doesn't see eye to eye with the every man for himself philosophy, he doesn't want to hike with you any more.
                          "I saw a squirrel!" - GIR


                          • #14
                            Ok, so I looked my GPS data from last January's attempt of Macomb, South and Hough. We left the car at 7:43 a.m., made it to the junction for Macomb at 9:24 a.m and were on top of Macomb by 11:14 a.m. and continued on to do South (@ 11:46) and then on to Hough, and back out to the car by 4 p.m., after breaking trail down Lillian Brook.

                            My husband and I believe that if it took you four hours to make it to the top of Macomb, this should have been a red flag that either your group was not up to the challenge or the conditions weren't going to allow to complete your goals for the day.

                            On any given day, any mountain is climbeable or unclimbeable given the conditions. Take what the mountan will give you and turn around as a group. You still had two more days to make more ascents.

                            The fact that hiker As hands were cold at the summit leads me to believe you were traveling slowly as climbing usually generates a lot of heat. If you needed to reheat his hands at that point I would, as the "strongest", be very concerned about safety. And as it turned out, it took him another four hours to make it back to the lean-to. Eight hours round trip to make Macomb from the lean-to is scary.

                            When we climb together or with others, we stay together. That being said, I do quite a bit of solo climbing and the people I meet along the way are always welcome to come with me or may invite me along, but we recognize that I am out there by myself and will make my own decisions, period. If you want to take these risks, IMHO, go alone.

                            Kettle corn anyone?
                            #8335W, Solo Winter 46
                            ADK Grid 309/552
                            Catskill 35 (SSW) #1235
                            ADK Quest #119
                            NE 111 113/115

                            One list may be done, but the journey is far from over...
                            Half Dome, 2009


                            • #15
                              It's hard to sit back and say if your decisions were correct or not without being there and without knowing the ability of your fellow hikers. Obviously hiker A did not have the experience or stamina for a long day of winter peaks. The decision for him to turn around early is a good one. Now, reading how you had to give directions for hiker B to make it back did somewhat worry me. I thought the story would end in him lost. If he's exhausted and isn't completely sure of the way back to camp, I don't think it was the best decision to let him go on his own. Think of the worst case, he got lost, wasn't prepared to sleep in the bush and hypothermia set in. Think how you would feel with the guilt just to bag a peak. I've been guilty of td he need to check a box on a list, we all have. I pushed on a hike knowing my inexperienced wife and son had to turn back because I NEEDED t o go on. In the end, the decision comes down to having a comfortable feeling your hiking companions experience will keep them safe or not in the given conditions. If this story was a summer trip I would say they are bring drama queens. But we all know winter and summer are two different things. I'm not going to judge, as I don't know the other hikers abilities or the conditions of that day. If it were me, I wouldn't feel right letting my exhausted friend try to make his walmart back unsure of directions. As someone else said, the mountain will always be there another day.
                              ADK 46er #9204, 14/46 W