August 26, 2017
Weather: sunny & dry (& dry all week prior)
**PLEASE NOTE: This hike is not for everyone. If you are new to hiking, are uncomfortable with rock scrambling, exposure…hold off on trying this hike! You can’t really turn back halfway. Also, I recommend doing it with a friend 🙂 It can be very nice to have someone helping you plot your route and spotting you in difficult spots.**
We all met up: Dad, Greg, my brother Mark, his girlfriend Kaitlin, and me, and took some time in the HPIC parking lot to get ourselves organized. My dad had brought some of his old climbing gear, and we spread that and the food out amongst ourselves. My brother carried a 150 foot rope, I carried the glacier goggles. Safety first! We finally got ourselves signed in and started out at 8:08am.
It took about 45 minutes to reach Marcy Dam, we were a couple minutes slower than usual – not sure if it was the people, the detour, or our bodies subconsciously trying to slow us down and keep us alive. We only stopped for a picture or two before taking off toward Colden.
The trail quickly becomes a bouldery steady climb. My dad started telling a story about someone who had fallen in the Trap Dike and Kaitlin and I decided to take off and run away from hearing about it. Just hearing him say that made my stomach turn. I had already heard enough scariness about this hike! The ADK employee at the HPIC had apparently cautioned against doing it, I’d heard about not exiting the Dike too soon, or too late, I’d heard about waterfalls and steep scrambles… By the way, in case you want to do this hike and the aforementioned didn’t help: pick a good day (after a week that hasn’t been raining every day), bring a rope in case, be aware of your surroundings as you pick your route, and don’t let everyone else freak you out. It’s not impossible, it’s just good to be extra careful.
After a safe amount of time, we let the other half of our group catch up and pressed on together. We stopped briefly at the Avalanche Pass/Lake Arnold junction and chatted with a couple who were doing Colden via Lake Arnold while the (newly installed?) privy was taken advantage of.
Soon, our feet were marching along puncheon and we realized we had entered Avalanche Pass. (Still can’t get over how much work has been done here!) After just under two hours, we reached the start of Avalanche Lake.
We stopped for a quick snack break and looked out over the lake, my brother was of course trying to see if there was some way of going around the left (east) side of the lake, contemplating swimming, and regretting that he had not brought a boat because it seemed so inconvenient to have to wrap alll the way around the lake. Unfortunately, the cliffs on the left were most definitely impassable by normal humans, so we followed the regular trail.
We scrambled up and down around the lake over the rocks, several of which had ladders conveniently placed to aid the process. We were very excited when we reached the newly minted Hitch-up Matildas! The trail had only just reopened and we were excited to be among the first to try them out.
I will say that staring at the Trap Dike from across Avalanche Lake was quite daunting. I had passed it a couple times, the first time (my first hike) had me asking my dad who in the world would willingly go up it, and now here I was about to do it.
Just after 10:30, we reached the other side of the lake, and then excitedly started out onto the almost hidden herd path around the other side. We were surprised by how overgrown the trail was, but we had no trouble knowing where to go. In ten minutes, we were staring up at the Trap Dike from its base.
For the first little section, we could pretty much go anywhere. Greg and Kaitlin went up the wetter route, Mark went a bit through bushes, and my dad and I took a route somewhere in between. I thought I would get scared at this point, but I quickly realized that this was fun! We carefully found the right spots to place our feet and hands, and it proved to be a good warmup for higher up.
For about half an hour, and what we thought must be “the first waterfall,” it was just rock scrambles and easily avoiding the water. The most challenging part came at what we thought must be “the second waterfall.” (I put these in quotations because we heard a lot about the first and second, but since water is falling throughout the whole thing, it’s difficult to know where one ends and another begins) This one section took each of us a few minutes to tackle. My brother had gone up along the right and totally skipped it, but that required a sketchy little jump that none of the rest of us were inclined to do. To the left was running water that Greg had tried to climb but slipped. To the right was running water that I had tried to climb but the water was running into your eyes when you looked up. So we were stuck with this route. Basically, it involved getting your left foot up a considerable height, while standing on a small foothold, with very little assistance from your arms. While Greg spotted, we each found our own way up: Kaitlin using her knee, my dad finding a small handhold around the side of the rock, and I used the wall and got my bum up onto it. Once the three of us were up, Greg and his long legs had no trouble taking one big step up and joining us.
Having been there on a dry day, this short little section was the hardest part for us. And none of us had had any doubt that we would make it, we just each took our time getting psyched up and ready for it.
As we continued scrambling up, we took little breaks to turn around and enjoy the views of the MacIntyre Range, and to see the Hitch-up Matildas shrinking below us.
The walls of the Dike itself seemed to be growing smaller as well, but we could see the slide on our right and definitely knew we didn’t want to be on it yet. Two slides sort of “drop into” the Trap Dike. The first one is an older one, it is a darker grey and the vegetation is really starting to grow back on it. Don’t take this slide! It is more slippery and more inclined.
We walked almost right until the end of the Trap Dike, the rock next to us was a white-ish colour. Of course, we hadn’t looked at any picture beforehand, we had only read reports, so we hadn’t realized that this change in colour was a good sign. Our logic was that we e were about 50 feet away from the very clear end of the Trap Dike. There was grass and bushes just up ahead, and thick vegetation behind it. So, we deduced that it was time to exit the Dike. It had taken us about 1 hour 40 minutes from the bottom to this point.
We all found our own route up the mini cliff side onto the Irene slide. Kaitlin and Mark sort of just went up the rock face, my dad and I followed a crack, and Greg actually walked farther up and ended up coming out onto the slide way ahead of us. It was quite steep getting up, but with the dike below us, I wasn’t really nervous. Then we got out onto the slide.
There was a string of profanity running through my head each time I tried to move. At first, I was sticking with my dad, but he was doing slow switchbacks and going slowly only freaked me out. I ended up doing little spider monkey spurts and then waiting a little higher up for him. My feet either needed to be moving quickly enough that I didn’t have time to think, or they needed to be firmly planted. I was also using my hands to walk to feel safer.
Basically, when you looked down, the slide just stretched out below you, perfectly smooth but definitely not flat, and then dropped off into nothingness. Thank goodness, it was this spiky rock, so I never actually even slipped once. The time I freaked out the most was when I, thinking I was sooo clever and trying to save my eczema hands, put on thin gloves…well my gloves stuck to the rock but my hands were slipping out of them…my heart was literally pounding and my stomach was turning. Luckily, all I had to do was bite them off and I just carried them into my mouth until I caught up with Greg and stuffed them in his pack.
We did find this sort of flat crack type place, where we all sat down for lunch. We were careful not to drop anything, since that would have been the end of it.
The slide seemed to stretch on forever, it did get less steep (I think, it could just be my brain adjusted), but I was able to walk without using my hands after the first stretch. Good thing too since they were burning and a little cut up.
The last challenge came right at the end: getting from the slide to the herd path. This was the only section that was wet, and it reaffirms (again) that it is good to stay away from the old slide. (How did people do it before Irene??) The spiky rock was the only thing that saved us as we had to to do this 10 foot wet section and then traverse a few feet over to the path. We would have celebrated for a second here, but there wasn’t really room. Fortunately, and little to my knowledge, we were right at the summit already.
We walked out onto the main trail feeling quite accomplished!! Now that I was safely planted on the ground, I could look back and say: wow that was freakin’ awesome!!! I am totally afraid of heights and if someone had warned me what that slide was like, I might not have done it, but I am so happy I did! Of course, we went to tag the top, before going to the shelves to enjoy some victory chocolate. Time since Adirondak Loj: 5:50
After about half an hour, we realized it was 2:30 and we still had to get down so we should probably get going. As we headed down toward Lake Arnold, I realized how tense I must have been because my knees were really hurting. We squeezed past some upbound traffic, descended the nice ladders, climbed a bit, and came out onto Colden’s false summit after about 20 minutes.
The descent to Lake Arnold took longer than we had expected. The trail is a little rugged and messy, lots of roots and boulders on a very skinny trail. Finally, after about an hour of walking, we were crossing the familiar mud puddles.
We stopped for a few minutes at the pond/lake, and then followed a father-daughter duo with huge overnight packs down the stream/trail. We chatted with them as we walked and it made the time pass. It took us about 20 minutes to get to the Indian Falls junction, where we waited a minute for Mark and Kaitlin (who had hung out longer at Lake Arnold because we slow, they fast).
We all had our poles out at this point, the trail was rocky and my knees were screaming with every heavy step. It did ease off a bit as we walked along the water, and I serenaded everyone with a couple of my country favourites.
At 5pm, we reached Marcy Dam, and we paused to enjoy the view. It’s going to be weird when they remove it! My joints were hurting (how old am I?) and Kaitlin was itching to get going so we took off ahead of the boys. We dutifully waited for them at the Algonquin junction, but then took off as soon as they arrived. (We girls were hoping to make use of the flushing toilets – guys who can just use trees just don’t get it)
I finally sorted through the 8 pages of 26/08 sign-ins to find our names and checked us out. Time since departure: 9:50
Mount Colden: elevation: 4,714 feet, elevation gain: ~2,535 feet
Round trip: ~12 miles