Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Colden and Big Slide for Summer 46. 2014-09-10

July and August had me busy pursuing the completion of the New Hampshire Four Thousand Footers (NH48). However, I had not forgotten my other goal to finish hiking a summer round of the ADK46 as part of a quest to complete the Four Season Grid (hike the ADK46 in each of the four seasons). Winter and spring were done and Colden and Big Slide were the last two peaks on my summer list.  I had considered hiking a single route that included both peaks but it would've required arranging a car spot. With summer drawing to a close, I decided to head out and hike the two peaks separately. It would be a workman-like affair; Colden from Adirondak Loj and Big Slide from the Garden.

I had not bothered to tally the total mileage and ascent but I guessed it would be around 20 miles and over 5000 feet. I later calculated the distance to be 20.6 miles (guidebook data) and the elevation gain to be around 5700 feet (Google Earth data). I estimated a conservative figure of ten hours to complete the two so I left Montreal at 5:00 AM to ensure I had plenty of daylight for the hike.

The pre-dawn drive south along I-87 was relaxing; I was treated to a beautiful sunrise over the Green Mountains of Vermont. I rolled into the Loj's parking area at 7:30 AM and signed the logbook at 7:45 AM. The morning was cool and the peaks were partially shrouded in clouds. However, the forecast called for a warm and partly sunny day so I looked forward to good views from Colden.

Within a minute of leaving the trail-head I met two young women at the Mr. Van trail-junction. They asked which trail led to Marcy and I replied "Straight ahead". I added it would be a nice day for Marcy and wished them well. Unfortunately, the day's weather would prove me wrong and the tallest peaks would be in and out of the clouds (mostly in the clouds).

The trail to Marcy Dam was bone-dry and a brisk pace brought me to the dam in 35 minutes. The breached dam and its mud-flat of a reservoir no longer make for a very picturesque setting. Nevertheless, the view of Colden is still impressive and today it showed clouds scraping their bellies on Colden's summit.

The walk to Avalanche Camp was quiet and uneventful. At the Camp I met a couple toting helmets. I said "I guess those are for something challenging today?" to which they replied "We're climbing the Trap Dike." I explained I had climbed it the previous summer and that led to a brief discussion of the ins and outs of the route. I wished them good luck and we parted at the junction.

Before leaving the junction, I held up a lone Vibram sole and quipped "I'll bet that was inconvenient." I placed it on a rock to be retrieved upon my return. However, I had forgotten about it and later learned that its owner was camped nearby, heard our conversation, and collected the sole before his departure.

The trail to Lake Arnold was marked with wet footprints and I caught up to the authors at the junction with the (Indian Falls) Crossover trail. Several young women wearing bonnets and pioneer dresses were being led by a young man in more contemporary clothing. I greeted them and asked their destination to which the man replied "Marcy". I waved my hand in the direction of the Crossover and said "Well, that'll be the way. Have a good one!" and continued to Lake Arnold. I may be mistaken but I suspect the majority of people who head to Marcy by way of the Lake Arnold and Crossover trails do so out of error. It certainly can't be for the scenery.

The low water-levels of late summer have a way of ripening the odor of stagnant bodies of water, like Lake Arnold. Its outflow seeps across the start of the L. Morgan Porter trail and greets one's nostrils with a pungent perfume (ahem). The trail had been fairly dry up to the junction but was noticeably muddier beyond Lake Arnold. One or two spots required a little dancing across fallen timber but nothing to make me regret eschewing gaiters. I emerged on Colden's northern summit and, looking south, saw clouds grazing its true summit. To the east and west, Algonquin and Marcy were completely engulfed and I hoped, for the sake of the Marcy-bound hikers I had met, conditions would improve.

Clouds breaking over Colden.
Nearing the summit ridge, I passed under the cantilevered rock and kept my eyes open to spot the herd-path to the 1990 Slide (a.k.a. Southeast Slide). Finding this junction proved to be troublesome when Brian (Pathgrinder) and I had ascended Colden via the Trap Dike and elected to descend via the 1990 Slide. A stump approximately ten feet south of a chest-high boulder was what I had recalled and it proved to be correct. A series of bog-bridges spanned the muddiest sections of the ridge (new to me) and, within minutes, I stood astride the drill-hole marking the summit.

Does that say "PEAK" or "DEAK"?
The clouds had lifted higher than Colden but continued to sweep through Avalanche Pass and provide fleeting glimpses of Algonquin. Nothing was visible to the west. I explored the summit and discovered small stones had been used to delineate the boundaries of the alpine flora. A pile of small rocks lay at the head of the spur trail leading to the summit. A sign indicated one should drop one's contribution on the pile (I didn't get the memo so had none to offer).

Misty views of Lake Colden.
At least two of the spurs leading into the woods, including the one directly in front of the large erratic, had been brushed in and posted "Re-vegetation area. Keep out". I recall at least two winter ascents when we sought refuge from the bitter wind in the wooded oasis next to the erratic. I guess it's all for the best.

I spent about fifteen minutes on the summit, watching the clouds part to reveal views of the surrounding peaks and lakes. I peered into Avalanche Pass and wondered how the intrepid climbers were doing. Standing at the head of the Colden Slide, the white stripe of the Trap Dike Slide was clearly visible to the right. Were it not for another peak to hike the same day, a slide-ascent would've certainly made for a more interesting route to Colden.

Looking down the Colden Slide to Avalanche Lake.
Seeing that the clouds stubbornly refused to show me Marcy's summit, I headed north and began my descent to Lake Arnold. Nearing the cantilevered rock, I glimpsed a lone hiker on Colden's northern summit. The advantages of hiking mid-week are crowd-free trails and having a popular summit to yourself.

Colden, the Trap Dike Slide, and the Macs.
Upon reaching Marcy Dam, I chose to cross the brook at the base of the dam. The water level was low enough to expose rocks that permitted me to easily cross without wading. A short distance away, I approached a ranger (J. Giglinto) cutting deadfall with a chainsaw. I paused until he saw me and motioned it was safe to pass. I picked up my pace and arrived at the trail-head at 12:30 PM.

Colden and Avalanche peering over the remains of Marcy Dam.

Hike Stats: 12.6 miles, 2800', 4h 30m.

I stowed my gear and drove to the Garden trail-head in Keene Valley. At the head of the Loj road I paused to call my wife and let her know my status. I arrived at the Garden at 1:15 PM, paid the fee, changed into a fresh set of clothes and topped up my hydration bag (1 liter). The act of driving from one trail-head to another reminded me of hiking the Saranac Lake 6 Ultra. Another reminder was the stiffness in my calves! Sitting in a car between hikes has a way of causing my leg muscles to tighten. I signed in and left the trail-head at 1:25 PM.

The walk to First Brother loosened my calves. Unlike the morning's cloudy hike to Colden, the sun was peaking through and warming me as I wended my way up along the open rock of the Brothers. In other words, it had become rather warm and I grew a little concerned about my stingy water supply. I had also forgotten about the steep rock ledges leading to the two Brothers! My knees were a little achy and I wondered how they'd feel during the descent.

Being so close to one another, the views from Second and First Brother are nearly identical. I was disappointed to see that someone named "Tommy" had chosen to carve his name into the rock along with a tic-tac-toe grid. In the same vein, many hikers still don't know how to bury their toilet paper and feces. I wish I could say that the Brothers attract beginners who don't know better but piles of paper and poop can be found near most summits. Who knew burying your waste is such a big secret?

Along the trail over the Brothers.
Beyond Second Brother, the trail enters the woods and that had me back in the shade. I paused at a lookout which provided a view of Big Slide. I ascended through a birch forest to wooded Third Brother and then descended slightly through a spruce forest. I passed several hikers returning to the trail-head. Upon reaching the col, I found a trickle of water running over a mossy bed. I was no longer concerned about my water supply but made a mental note of its location.

The ascent to the junction with the Slide Brook trail was uneventful except for a strange little detour. I followed a herd-path that ran for about 50 yards and then ended back at the trail. I thought it might avoid some nasty blowdown on the main trail. Upon my return, I purposely avoided the herd-path and discovered the main trail is in fine shape and there's no reason for the herd-path!

The final 0.3 miles to the summit is the steepest stretch and includes a set of stair-like ladders. The topmost ladder is missing a few rungs and could use some maintenance. The summit was deserted which was no surprise being 3:30 PM on a Wednesday afternoon. I snapped a selfie holding up three fingers to indicate the completion of three seasons of the Four Season Grid. The cloud ceiling concealed Marcy's summit but otherwise all of the peaks of the Great Range were clearly visible.

Big Slide's eastern face and the Great Range.
I thought of descending the Slide Brook trail to the valley and following the Phelps trail back to the Garden. However, when it comes to scenic "bang-for-your-buck", returning via The Brothers is hard to beat. My knees were up to the task for the ledges and my descent to the trail-head was a little quicker (~90 minutes). I was back shortly after 5:00 PM. I ran the last third of a mile and passed a bearded hiker wearing an old-fashioned Adirondack packbasket. I imagine we made quite the contrasting pair.

I signed out at the trail-register and noted an entry for "". A young couple were hiking the ADK 46 in seven days to raise awareness and funds for Suicide Prevention Week. I wrote "Good Luck" in the margin and drew an arrow to their entry.

Hike Stats: 8 miles, 2875 feet, 3h 45m.

I stowed my gear, cleaned up a bit, switched into clean clothes, and drove to Stewart's in Keene to down a quart of fatfree milk and a large chili. At Ausable Forks (nearest location with AT&T service), I called my wife to let her know I was safe and my summer round was done. The drive home gave me time to think of the 18 autumn peaks remaining to complete the Four Seasons.


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