Thursday, June 20, 2013

Colden Traverse (Trap Dike and Southeast Slide) 2013-06-20

Imagine two teams leaving Adirondak Loj, one headed for a double traverse of the MacIntyre Range and the other for a slide-traverse of Colden. That's what four of us did on a dry, sunny Thursday, the last day of spring. Neil and Bib tackled the MacIntyres while Brian (Pathgrinder) and I scrambled up the Trap Dike to Colden then descended via the Southeast Slide (more precisely, the "1990 Slide").

Bib, Neil, and I, car-pooling from Montreal, arrived at the Loj's parking lot shortly before 7:30 AM and spotted Brian preparing for the trip. Equipped with two-way radios, to allow our two teams to coordinate an exit time, we selected a channel and tested communications. A-OK.

This would be my first extended hike without coddled feet. Normally my tender feet are taped, greased (with Boudreaux's Butt Paste), swaddled in wool-blend socks, and shod in trail shoes. Today I was, comparatively-speaking, 'going barefoot' because I'd be wearing synthetic socks (DryMax) and trail-runners (La Sportiva Raptor). The experiment would prove to be a success.

Brian and I left the trail-head at 7:40 AM, ambled along a fairly dry Van Hoevenberg trail, and emerged, forty minutes later, at Marcy Dam. We immediately spied Hurricane Irene's gift to hikers, the Trap Dike Slide, high on Colden's western flank. We'd first have to ascend the Trap Dike to reach the slide and that brought back a few memories.

Objective: Highest visible slide on Colden.

My first ascent of the Trap Dike was in the early 80's. Whereas today one can use the Internet to find timely reports, photos, and videos of the Trap Dike, thirty years ago my buddy Bob and I approached it with the sole knowledge it was a cleft in the mountain, with waterfalls, that led to a slide (Colden Slide). We brought a climbing rope and wore heavy leather boots. We were prepared for a grand adventure into the unknown (unknown to us). The rope went unused and the boots weren't ideal but we had a safe and memorable trip as many, undoubtedly, had before us. I was eager to see the Trap Dike again, reshaped by Irene.

Trap Dike from Hitch-up Matilda.
After negotiating the obstacle course around Avalanche Lake, we swung around to the lake's eastern shore and proceeded along a rugged herd-path to the base of the Trap Dike. The broad field of rubble, bathed in morning's sunlight, would have made for a pleasant spot to pause if not for the black flies. In an instant we were transformed into "Joe Btfsplk", the eternally jinxed L'il Abner cartoon character sporting a permanent rain cloud over his head. In our case, the clouds were composed of black flies who actively sought out our eyes, ears, and throats. I buttoned up my shirt, applied DEET, and did my best to ignore the intrusions into my personal space. Fortunately, a bit of forward movement was sufficient to lose the clouds so we began our ascent in earnest.

The sun was positioned at the dike's exit and made it difficult to observe (and photograph) the length of the dike. However, the intense glare of sunshine made for very dramatic lighting. Nearly two years have passed since Irene's devastation and plants have returned to take root within the dike's cracks and sandy soil. The dike's high walls enclose an irregular staircase of rocks that leads one through several cascades to arrive at the base of the Trap Dike Slide. Devoid of trees, nothing obstructed our view of the rocks below us, Avalanche Lake and, as we rose higher, the peaks of the MacIntyre Range.
Heading skyward.

The second waterfall provided the greatest challenge of the ascent and earned its reputation as being a Class4 route. It did not intimidate me but did demand my full attention. Hand and footholds are abundant; one only needs to seek them out and move smoothly and confidently. Looking down from above the second waterfall, one can easily appreciate the consequences of a careless movement or misstep.
Brian at the second waterfall.
Beyond the second waterfall, we encountered a few more short vertical sections, including one that was best ascended via the cascade, and then the grade decreased. The height of the dike's walls diminished and soon we were near to the pre-Irene exit, namely the Colden Slide. It remains a viable option but lichen has mottled its weather-beaten surface whereas the Trap Dike Slide is pristine.

There is a field of debris, mostly twisted timber, demarcating the end of the Trap Dike and the beginning of the Trap Dike Slide. Actually, one could continue following the Trap Dike to it terminus in the col between Colden and its northern sub-summit. However, this portion is wooded and ceases to be a simple stroll over open rock.

The debris field demarcates the slide and dike.
From afar, the base of the Trap Dike Slide appears to be a broad and imposing "footwall" of white rock. Upon closer inspection, one discovers it is a steep slab whose surface is very coarse and pock-marked with golf-ball-sized depressions. Its surface is undulated and so, with a little route-finding, one can find something easy or, if one prefers, something challenging.

The base of the Trap Dike Slide.

Brian scaled the Trap Dike with great confidence and little apparent effort. It was gratifying to know I was with an eager and confident partner. Earlier in the day, he indicated he had never rock-climbed so I took a few moments to study the slab's surface and select a suitable route. While I was occupied, he stepped smartly onto the slab and began ascending directly up the fall-line. Seeing that he had no qualms, I ceased my search for the line-of-least-resistance and joined the fun.

Brian contemplates his next move.
Contemplating my next move.
The base of the slide proved to be, at least to me, the steepest and most interesting portion of the slide. Its coarse dimpled surface provided tremendous friction. My splayed fingers fit neatly into its many dimples. I joked it was like gripping a bowling ball.

Coarse, dimpled rock.
The balance of the slide was less steep and allowed us to walk upright. We paused a  few times to admire the views and to contact our friends on the MacIntyre Range. Although we could see them on the summit of Iroquois, they had difficulty spotting us on the slide.

What a backdrop!
As we neared the slide's head, we approached a stepped section with a horizontal band of loose earth at its base (the "Nitty Gritty Dirt Band"). I tread carefully because the material was treacherous underfoot; it readily gave way and the dislodged bits rolled freely down the slide. Once above the step, it was clear sailing to the end of the slide. The final few yards of rock were wet but not very slippery. The herd-path, through low scrub, led us directly to the trail and within a few yards of the summit. We agreed it was one of the most scenic routes to Colden!

We proceeded to the southern end of Colden and, with a commanding view of Lake Colden, paused for lunch. We hailed Neil and Bib and learned they were on Shepherd's Tooth and preparing for their descent into the Cold Brook Pass. We agreed on an exit time, 6:30 PM, wished each other well, and then turned off our radios.

The view from our "lunch room"!
We met only one other hiker on the summit, accompanied by his amiable dog Dino. After a brief chat, we proceeded to a vantage point with a view of Colden's eastern flank. We could see the old slides, and the brook far below, but the newest addition to the Southeast Slide, the "1990 Slide", was obscured by trees. I knew it started near the northern end of Colden's summit so we returned to the marked trail to explore our options.

Finding the herd-path to the head of the 1990 Slide proved to be a puzzler. Along the summit's trail we found three obvious side-trails, the southernmost one is across from the glacial erratic, the middle one leads to the summit rock, and the northernmost one appears to lead to a tiny clearing with its own herd-path that leads nowhere.

We continued northward, past the two massive boulders forming a tunnel, began losing elevation, and then stopped to check our bearings. I retrieved my camera and examined a photo taken of Colden, the previous week, from the summit of Gray. The 1990 Slide clearly starts at the north end of Colden's summit. We backtracked, confirmed we could identify only three side-trails, and selected the middle one, at the summit rock, for our departure point.

A few steps into the woods confirmed they were very dense. The trees knitted their branches into a barrier that seemed to push back as hard as we pushed forward. We emerged out of the trees and discovered we were above the older sections of the Southeast Slide but not the desired 1990 Slide. Our objective was several yards north of our position. Rather than trample sensitive alpine plants, we ducked back into the woods to regain the trail. We emerged at our starting point, the summit rock, with a greater appreciation of the effort needed to bushwhack through cripplebrush!

We moved north along the trail, ducked into the northernmost of the three side-trails, and started a new bushwhack. After another round of squeezing and pushing we emerged in view of the 1990 Slide. Unfortunately we were still south of it! However, we were tantalizingly close and chose to make a bee-line through more woods. We emerged on the slide about three yards from the established and very obvious herd-path!

Wanting to know where the herd-path intersected the trail, I followed it up the slope to its end. I discovered the intersection is quite subtle and not as obvious as the other three we had found. It lies about five yards south of a waist-high boulder and is marked by a foot-tall stump. I hurried back down the herd-path to rejoin Brian on the slide.

Trail-marker and waist-high boulder on the left; stump for herd-path on the right.
1990 Slide found; the descent begins!
Sections of the 1990 Slide seemed steeper than the Trap Dike Slide but that perception may be due to the fact we were descending it. I did my best to walk upright on the steepest sections (knees deeply bent) but eventually my creaky knees had me "crab-walking" backwards (technically speaking, we were "down-climbing"). I didn't care for crab-walking because it was substantially slower than walking upright but it relieved the stress on my knees.

Brian demonstrates "crab-walking" backwards.
Before long we were at the base of the open slide and being funneled into the brook. We stopped to draw water and admire the marvelous view of the Opalescent valley with Marcy and Gray towering high above. The brook's banks were speckled with the whites, blues, and pinks of fresh spring flowers. As to be expected, the black flies ensured our pauses remained brief. Before long, we found ourselves on level ground and, following a short bushwhack, back on a marked trail.

Pausing to admire the view of Marcy and Gray.

The route to Lake Arnold was in excellent condition albeit the ascent seemed a little more than anticipated. We emerged on the shore of Lake Arnold and paused for a snack and so did the black flies. I haven't visited Lake Arnold, outside of winter, for many years and it was a surprise to discover the quantity and quality of the bog-bridges in its vicinity.

At the junction with the "crossover trail" to Indian Falls, Brian agreed to extend our hike by visiting the falls. The crossover trail was in excellent condition. Nearing the falls, we followed a herd-path to its base. Rather than backtrack, we scaled the rocks and emerged atop Indian Falls and treated to one of the most memorable views of the MacIntyre Range. I turned on the radio and hailed our MacIntyre team but there was no reply.

The memorable view of the MacIntyres from Indian Falls.

We continued to Marcy Dam and chose to tour its shoreline. We paused at its inlet to photograph Colden and found several moose tracks in the soft earth. At the breached dam, we stopped to take one last look and then proceeded back to the Loj to end our day. At 5:40 PM we signed out and headed to Brian's car to clean up.

Moose tracks at Marcy Dam.
I tried contacting Neil and Bib but it appeared that they had left their radio off. By 6:10 PM I encouraged Brian to leave, since he had a four hour commute and there was no guarantee the others would arrive at 6:30 PM sharp. We said our goodbyes and Brian left, to return two days later for trail-work. I look forward to our next hiking adventure together.

Cleaned up and waiting for my ride home.
The next seventy minutes was spent lounging on the porch of the closed HPIC building. I performed a prolonged set of stretching exercises, helped a hiker rent a bear canister (go to the Loj when the HPIC is closed), and watched about two dozen hikers return from various trips.

Around 7:40 PM my two smiling friends emerged. Bib had overlooked to keep himself properly fueled and had 'bonked' during the ascent of Iroquois from Cold Brook Pass. He recovered sufficiently to complete the ambitious hike, only his second outing after a half-year's hiatus to strengthen his knees. Bib was in good spirits and happy to report his knees felt great.

Reunited, we piled into Neil's car and recounted our day's experiences during the ride home. No better way to spend a day in the mountains than with good friends.


See all photos.

Brian's Photos

Chapter 1: The Trap Dike
Chapter 2: Trap Dike Slide
Chapter 3: Colden Southeast Slide

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