Sunday, April 19, 2015

Colden, Tabletop, and Phelps for Sixth Round. 2015-04-19

Sunday, April 19, 2015

I have about a dozen peaks remaining to complete my seventh round. However, Phelps was still needed to finish my sixth round. A quick check of my peakbagging spreadsheet indicated it was also needed for April's Grid so Sunday's hike to Phelps was a twofer.

I chose to combine Colden, Tabletop, with Phelps to close out my sixth round. I didn't realize it at the time but, by strange coincidence, it was the very same combination of peaks I had climbed to complete my fifth round.

Photogenic spot.
Whereas the trail from the Loj to Marcy Dam felt like spring (dirty ice and mud), the terrain above 3000 feet elevation retained its thick blanket of snow. Lake Arnold was still frozen over but it was evident it was thawing rapidly. I caught up to two hikers also bound for Colden. I would meet them again, late in the afternoon, near Marcy Dam.

Lake Arnold losing its winter blanket.
The L. Morgan Porter trail was in beautiful condition. A deep snowpack smoothed out the irregularities and provided improved views during the ascent. By remaining dead-center on the "monorail" (the central spine of snow compacted by a winter's worth of hikers), I was able to ascend in Trail Crampons without post-holing. My snowshoes enjoyed the piggyback ride to the summit where I was certain I'd need them.

The view from Colden's northern false-summit was spellbinding. The blend of color and texture, white snow, green spruce, and blue sky, was sublime. It was my eighth hike to Colden and yet today it seemed like one of the finest views of the bunch.

Off to Colden.
A few hundred yards below the summit, I found a GPS receiver lying on the trail. It was in good condition and appeared to have been dropped as opposed to thawed out of the snow. I stowed it in my pack and continued to the summit. At the end of my hike I inquired at the Loj if anyone had reported a lost GPS. They indicated their file  contained no such report. The following day I contacted Garmin and supplied them with the device's serial number. They forwarded my email address to the registered owner. They rewarded my honesty with a 20% discount on future purchases from their online store. A day later, the owner contacted me and thanked me for attempting to return the GPS. However, he had already ordered a replacement and suggested I keep the old unit. He also mailed me the device's battery charger and accessories.

Colden's summit remained sheathed in a substantial snowpack that, to my surprise, was very solid. I was able to walk past the cantilevered rock and directly through the stand of trees to the true summit. The tree tops stood a mere 4-5 feet above the dense snowpack and I didn't spring a single 'spruce-trap'. The snowpack had remodeled the summit so it took me a moment to confirm I was standing in the 'right spot'.

Snow, snow everywhere
The trees on Colden's summit normally obscure views to the east but today I had a 360 degree view. I spent a little time roaming around the summit to take photos then began my descent. The conditions were excellent for glissading but, unlike the snowpack on the summit, you had to stay dead-center on the monorail or end up knee-deep off-trail.

I met the two hikers again below the false-summit and wished them well. I glissaded down the trail and met at least ten other hikers ascending to Colden. I'd see no one else until I paused at Indian Falls. The Crossover trail to Indian Falls was in a curious state. Someone wearing snowshoes had created post-holes on both sides of the monorail. I couldn't understand why they had difficulty staying in the center of the trail. It was especially surprising given that today's conditions, despite the warm temperature (in the 40's rising to 50's), made it very difficult to post-hole the monorail in boots.

I paused at Indian Falls for a snack and then pushed on to Tabletop. The trail-signs at the junction didn't survive the winter unscathed. One has fallen and lies propped against a tree and the other has been relocated in a hasty manner. Several hundred yards in on the herd-path, I stopped to stash my snowshoes and the inoperative GPS receiver. Despite having a western exposure, tabletop's herd-path was in excellent condition. The monorail was solid and only one sunlit section had exposed some rock and mud. I tagged the summit sign, now edited to indicate "ABLETOP", and continued to the lookout which was completely barren of snow.

During the descent I met two dogs who couldn't decide if they should stand their ground or return to their owners. Their owners caught up to them and settled the issue. I retrieved my gear and continued on to Phelps. Travel on the Van Hoevenberg trail was easy-breezy.

The trail up Phelps was in the most advanced state of 'spring decay'. The first third was a mix of dirty ice, mud and running water. I found a fallen tree and hid my excess gear. The remainder of the trail still had decent snow cover and I just trudged up along the monorail.

I arrived on the summit shortly after 2:00 PM. The two people on the summit kindly agreed to take my picture. I spent about 20 minutes chatting with them. After they departed, I remained for a few minutes to enjoy the warm sunshine and the great view of the two other peaks I had hiked. It felt good to close out the sixth round on such a spectacular day.

Phelps for my sixth 46er round.
I passed the couple during my descent and then stopped just before the junction to retrieve my hidden gear. The stretch of trail to Marcy Dam was paved in dirty ice and made for easy walking. Although it was running fast, I was still able to cross Phelps Brook by rock-hopping; the few patches of ice did not look solid. I arrived at Marcy Dam where sunlit areas had transformed into runny ice cream with chocolate sauce. The trail next to the trail-register had semi-frozen ground which had been distorted by frost-heave. Post-holes in the soil revealed fascinating columns of ice.

Fascinating frost-heave at Marcy Dam.
About a quarter mile past Marcy Dam, the trail had developed long swaths of chocolate pudding. I paused to remove my Trail Crampons and save their points from needless wear and tear. The balance of the trail was an easy walk through mud and I arrived at the trail-head at 4:00 PM. After a quick change into clean clothes I was off to Stewart's for a snack. It had been a very good day in the mountains.


See all photos.


5300 feet, 17.4 miles, 8h 7m.


  1. Hi!
    I know it’s been a while since you posted this. But I was hoping you might still see my comment.

    We are going to be hiking Colden, Phelps, Tabletop in October... and I was hoping to find some info on how hard it is to find the Indian Falls cutoff and make it over to Tabletop?
    Should I be worried about getting lost or is it pretty straightforward?
    Thanks in advance!

    1. I admit to being lazy about keeping my blog up to date. I have a backlog of over two dozen reports to share! Over the past two years I've been focused on mapping the High Peaks region in OpenStreetMap.

      The junction you're looking for is easy to spot. It has a trail sign and begins by fording brook. Actually, you can normally just rock-hop across the brook without getting your feet wet. It is located right here in OpenStreetMap:

      You'll pass it on your way to Colden. Upon your return from Colden, the trail will descend along the east side of a brook, cross over to the west side, and then keep your eyes peeled for the junction on your righthand side. The trail passes right beside the brook (and junction), like 2 feet from the brook, then veers away from it.

      The "Indian Falls - Lake Arnold Crossover Trail" (or just "Crossover Trail") will initially pass through a wet area (there are stepping stones and rotting bog bridges). Then it makes a very sharp righthand turn and begins to ascend to Indian Falls along drier ground.

      Before you reach its terminus (at the Van Hoevenberg Trail) there's an unmarked spur-trail that descends to the base of Indian Falls.
      It's worth the side-trip; very few people stop to see the base of the falls.

      Before you continue to Tabletop, be sure to stop at the top of Indian Falls (where everyone does) because it offers an iconic view of the MacIntyre Range.

      Good luck and enjoy your trip!