Thursday, March 31, 2011

Colden 2011-03-31

Early in the week, Thursday promised to be a beautiful day and the plan was to hike to Skylight and bushwhack to Redfield. Unfortunately, by Wednesday, Thursday's weather forecast soured. I had considered cancelling but, given I'd issued a 'come one, come all' invitation, I thought it'd be poor form to be a no-show.

I left Montreal on Wednesday afternoon, had supper at the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery, and spent an enjoyable evening talking with David, the genial host of Tmax and Topo's hostel. Given the strong possibility of a lousy day, and combined with a 4 hour drive, my hiking partner opted out late Wednesday evening. 

I arrived at the Loj at 7:15 AM. My cattle-call failed to produce any recruits, the weather was unstable (a winter storm watch had been issued for Thursday evening through Friday), so I decided against an ambitious solo bushwhack and chose to hike Colden. 

Colden and Algonquin.

It was a quiet morning at Adirondack Loj. I was the first to sign in at the (Van Hoevenberg) trail register; I left at 7:35 AM.

About a quarter-mile out of the Loj, the trail crosses a boggy area on wooden walkways. The walkways are mostly snow-free and in danger of being inundated due to beaver activity. Just south of the bog, the trail has a very thin cover of snow and will probably become the first stretch of mud before long.

The trails are covered in hard-packed snow with a few slick sections owing to the 'ironing' effect caused by skis. I bare-booted all the way to Lake Arnold and then switched to snowshoes.

Someone recently remarked that, with all the hiking I've done, I must be in pretty good shape. I replied I was mostly sore all the time. True to form, all sorts of aches and pains developed during the ascent to Lake Arnold. Despite their protests, I arrived on Colden's summit at 10:50 AM (3h 15m).

VIDEO: Colden's summit. Western panorama.

Snow showers threatened to spoil the views but they came and went. The sun even peeked through the clouds a few times. Overall, the weather was much better than expected but I was still satisfied with my decision to skip the Skylight/Redfield bushwhack.

I considered bushwhacking down Colden's eastern slide and spent some time viewing a suitable route. Ultimately, I chose to descend to Lake Colden via the red trail. I hadn't hiked though Avalanche Pass this season and I figured I'd best cross Avalanche Lake now, before it begins to thaw.

The upper portion of the red trail, on Colden's southern face, has lost its snow cover. The exposed rock, displaying its yellow paint-markers, presents a hazard for snowshoes. Fortunately, the rock can be avoided by detouring through the cripplebrush over an ample snowpack.

The red trail descends steeply and allowed me to do some butt-sliding. It took less than 45 minutes to descend to Lake Colden. I continued northwards and stopped at the Lake Colden/Avalanche Pass trail register and put on dry socks.

It was a unique experience to cross Avalanche Lake's frozen surface. What a pleasure compared to the ups and downs of the summer route skirting the lake. I followed next to the existing ski tracks and stayed away from the lake's edges. I probed the surface for weaknesses, looking for slush and listening for tell-tale cracking, but the ice was bomb-proof.

It was a great opportunity to photograph the western side of Avalanche Pass, including Hitchup Matilda and the wooden staircase. While photographing the Trap Dike I saw four hikers, making their way up, just before they exited the top of the Dike. The route had a few exposed rocky patches but, overall, it seemed like crampons would be the right tool for the ascent.

Four hardy hikers ascending the Trap Dike.
After crossing the lake, I continued on through Avalanche Pass and saw something completely unexpected: a mosquito! Dodging the falling snowflakes was a hardy little harbinger of itching and scratching to come. I dismissed it as an anomaly until I saw another one followed later by yet another. It was a strange experience to see snowflakes and mosquitoes! Who'd believe that I'd seen mosquitoes in March? With a clap of my hands, I dispatched one and then took a photo of the snow-hardy mosquito.

March 31st: Dispatched my first mosquito of the season.
Before long, I arrived at Avalanche Camp where, many years ago, I had slept in one of its lean-to's (now gone). It's a pretty spot, a clearing nestled amidst paper birches and conifers, and as I looked back at Colden the sun peeked through the clouds and illuminated the glade. Farewell Colden!

The remainder of the hike was a leisurely walk with plenty of pauses to observe the handiwork of early spring, especially the thawing brooks and streams. Before reaching Marcy Dam I met Ranger Joe Giglinto skiing up the trail. Aside from the four hikers high atop the trap Dike, he was the first and only person I met all day. 

Rorschach test! Fried eggs? Oysters on the half shell?
I arrived at the Loj's parking lot, now a sodden mess of melting ice and muddy soil, at 2:40 PM. Five hikers signed in after me plus Ranger Giglinto. Effectively, I had the place to myself!


See all photos.