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Dial and Nippletop, an Adirondack Day Hike

This is a kick-ass (and ass-kicking) hike.

The end.

Oh, you want pictures?

Once again, this hike starts out from the Ausable Club property. We seem to be spending a lot of time there lately. This is a loop hike that takes you up a long and steep ascent over Bear Den Mt., up Dial, over to Nippletop, and down a shorter and steeper descent through Elk Pass. It’s a really varied and interesting hike that wanders through new growth forest, up and over two summits with fantastic views, and past a sun-dappled pond and numerous waterfalls. At 14 miles it’s a long and strenuous day hike, but it’s worth every step.

Unfortunately, there’s also a decent amount of roadwalking involved in this hike – a little more than a mile at the start of the loop, and just over 3 miles at the end. The road begins just after the AMR gate on the Ausable Club grounds.

Once you enter the woods, the trail gets right down to business, climbing pretty steeply for about a mile. After you cross over into state land, the trail levels out and winds through an interesting section of fire-damaged land on the shoulder of Noonmark. The sparse, new growth allows for lots of open views.

I can’t even begin to tell you how happy this tree made me. Bright red bark and new green leaves against the brilliant blue sky. They don’t make ’em like this anymore.

The trail then climbs up and over Bear Den Mt, which has a wooded, viewless summit. And then dips down before reaching the col between Bear Den and Dial. Then comes the final push up Dial.

When we arrived at the summit there was another couple already well into a game of “Name That Peak.” I joined in for a round and promptly lost. I suck at that game.

We chatted and fueled up on the summit and then began the two miles over to Nippletop. It was a pleasant couple of miles and before we knew it Nippletop appeared right in front of us.

What a great summit! The views of Colvin and Elk Lake can’t be beat.

We watched the birds flit about and chase each other. And simply sat and enjoyed being rewarded for our efforts.

But we couldn’t hang out forever, we still had almost 7 miles ahead of us.

The descent via Elk Pass was interesting, at best. It’s very steep and the trail is overflowing with debris, but we made it without incident. Dave declared, however, that it had been the “worst hour of his life.”

Thankfully, not 10 minutes later, we happened upon a beautiful sun-dappled pond. We sat down to enjoy the sunshine and THEN he declared, “I love being out here, everything about it is awesome.” Really? Just 10 minutes ago you were saying that… Oh, nevermind. He’s a man of extremes, that’s for sure.

The next few miles took us by several beautiful waterfalls along the Gill Brook Trail.

Unfortunately, we were in no mood to stop and enjoy them. All we could focus on was, “Where’s the road? Seriously, where is it? Shouldn’t we be on the road by now? Ok, this isn’t funny. SHOW ME THE ROAD.”

And then we got to the road. And all was right in our world. Except not because we still had 3.5 miles to walk.

The end.

Where: The Adirondack Park, near St. Huberts in the High Peaks

Directions from Lake Placid: Take Rt. 73 south. The parking area is a ways past the center of Keene Valley off of Ausable Road across from the Giant Mtn/Roaring Brook Falls parking area. To get to the start of the trail, head up the road towards the Ausable Club and hang a left onto Lake Road. You’ll have to pass between two tennis courts. Don’t make eye contact.

Difficulty: A strenuous day hike. A 14 mile loop over three summits (2 high peaks and 1 lesser peak).

Summary: This is a classic Adirondack loop that reaches two beautiful summits. The most popular direction is to ascend up and over Bear Den via the H.G. Leach trail, reaching Dial first, and descend through Elk Pass and the Gill Brook trail. In icy conditions, however, it is recommended to ascend via the Gill Brook trail and Elk Pass since the terrain is much steeper.

Gear Used

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  1. CJ

    Hey Jess and Dave,

    Looks like you had a great day despite the ups and downs…
    I did it the other direction. I prefer the steep going up, rather than down (Nippletop via Elk Pass).
    The area after Bear Den Mtn is awesome though, isn’t it?!

    I’m headed down to Keene Valley for 3 days starting on Tuesday. I’m doing Lower Wolf Jaw, then on Wed I’m rock climbing by Chapel Pond, and on Wednesday I’m doing Colvin and Blake.

    Have you two done C and B yet? Interested in a mid-week hike with company?

    This is CJ aka: Chris from the Ausable Inn a couple of weeks ago.

    Take care (but climb hard),

    • Dave

      CJ, it definitely was a great day! This hike was fantastic, one of the overall nicer day hikes I’ve been on in awhile. Even with the road walk and the hour of annoyance that was coming down Elk Pass. I think I agree with you, going up really steep sections is a lot easier (and more enjoyable) than coming down them.

      Glad to hear you will be back down in the area. We haven’t done Colvin or Blake yet, and would love to bust them out, but unfortunately this week is a bad one for us. Combination of puppy and work obligations.

      We won’t be able to get away for a hike, but we should have a night free to grab a beer. I’ll send ya a text.

  2. Jannette Chamberlain
    Jannette Chamberlain06-19-2012

    This sounds interesting… wondering if you think it would make a good 2 day hike for first time backpackers? Is there a lean-to along the way? or a good spot to camp? Is there any way of base camping and only taking the minimal gear to the tops of t he mountains and then coming back down to a base camp? The waterfall looks wonderful… and would great to enjoy if we weren’t dead after a terribly long day of hiking. What say you?? Thanks!

    • Dave

      Jannette, there are no obvious lean-tos (that I know of) along this hike, but there are several designated camping areas along the Gill Brook trail and Elk Pass. In our trip report above, those are the trails we returned on, after summiting the two peaks (trails 40 and 41, if you have the ADK guidebook).

      So if you go the way we did, you could camp there on your way out. Although, if I had to do this hike again, I might do it in reverse… so that I was hitting Nippletop first, Dial second. Reason for that is, as Jess mentioned above, I was miserable on the Elk Pass descent. It was so steep, and I would have preferred to go up it, instead of down it. If you go that way, you could camp out at those designated areas before peak day.

      Either way, I think a two day trip is doable, and this is a wonderful area to spend a night in. Enjoy your hike!

  3. Chuck

    I was just doing a little research regarding doing Nippletop and Dial and stumbled across this. I just hiked Colvin and Blake yesterday and was planning on doing N and D in a couple weeks. I laughed right out loud at the “Seriously, where is the road!?” Because I was doing the same thing yesterday when returning via Gil Brook. The consensus is to go up Gil Brook and loop around and come down via Bear Den? Trying to plan. Thanks and happy hiking!

  4. Ilana Brett
    Ilana Brett08-01-2012

    Sounds like a great hike. Does the 14 miles include the time on the road or is that in addition??? And those that have done Colvin and Blake……..what can you tell me about that as a day hike??? Thanks…….

    • Dave

      Ilana, so sorry it took me this long to respond! Somehow I didn’t see your comment till just now.

      The 14 miles does include the road walk – from the parking lot to summit and back.

      Colvin -Blake is another wonderful two peak day hike right in that same general area. I just took a look and was surprised that we don’t have a trip report up on that one, we will have to remedy that soon. But if my memory recalls, I think I might have actually enjoyed Colvin and Blake even a bit more than Dial – Nippletop. Really can’t go wrong with either though, they are both a lot of fun with fantastic views.

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