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Colden's Trap Dike and S.E. 90's Slide
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Colden's Trap Dike and S.E. 90's Slide

Colden\'s Trap Dike and S.E. 90\'s Slide

Page Type: Trip Report

Location: New York, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 44.12654°N / 73.96082°W

Object Title: Colden's Trap Dike and S.E. 90's Slide

Date Climbed/Hiked: Aug 27, 2007

Activities: Mixed

Season: Summer


Page By: MudRat

Created/Edited: Sep 25, 2007 / Sep 25, 2007

Object ID: 340641

Hits: 3866 

Page Score: 74.01%  - 4 Votes 

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Forward: From a Geologic Perspective

The following was written by a geologist friend of mine...

“The trap dike on Mount Colden occurs as the floor of a distinct linear notch starting near the remnants of the winter (2006-2007) and earlier landslides on the eastern shoreline of Avalanche Lake. Its dip is near vertical and it strikes approximately east-southeastward (112o) extending north of the summit of Mount Colden. The dike sharply intrudes the wall rock consisting of massif anorthosite dominated by coarse-grained (up to 20 cm), blue-gray plagioclase crystals. The dike itself is a fine to medium-grained intermediate to mafic rock with a distinct ophitic texture. The texture consists of white plagioclase laths, often several millimeters or more in length with crystals of black pyroxene (augite?) and oxide minerals in the interstices. Garnet occurs as red grain aggregates often rimming the mafic minerals. Xenoliths and well-developed chill margins were not observed; however, in several areas slickensides occur, indicating differential movement between the dike and the host rock. Widely spaced, darker stripes in the rock, up to a centimeter in width or more, appear to represent the late growth of hornblende and other mafic minerals along planar features and may be related to the deformation of the dike near the contact where it becomes amphibolitic. The contact with the anorthosite is knife-sharp and planar on both sides of the dike. The dike itself is up to 20 m or more in width.

It occupies a discrete notch that in some places cuts one hundred or more feet into the anorthosite host rock. Well-developed sets of joints, at approximately right angles, combine to produce a stepped pattern and the hand and footholds required to climb the dike. It is likely that the freeze and thaw action within these joint sets has allowed the development of the deep notch on the northwestern shoulder of Mt. Colden since the last ice advance. The notch serves as a natural funnel for runoff and mass wasting, and several waterfalls are developed. One can imagine that a strong flow of water would greatly complicate the ascent up the dike.

The trap dike is best described as a metamorphosed diabase or garnetiferous metagabbro. Trap rock is a term that applies to any fine-grained, dark-colored igneous rock and is not technically applicable here. The dike rock at this location is actually relatively light colored on the weathered surface and has between 35-50% mafic minerals (including garnet). However, the name “trap” aptly applies to the occurrence in another way because essentially once you start climbing the dike, you are trapped within the steep anorthositic side walls with no way to go but up.

What do these observations tell us about the dike and its origin? The cross-cutting relationship with the anorthosite clearly shows that the dike is younger, but by how much? The dike could conceivably be related to any number of events that occurred after the crystallization of the anorthosite nearly 1.16 billion years ago, perhaps even the opening of the Atlantic Ocean. A famous example of this event, the rifting apart of North African and North America, is the Palisades sill exposed in the lower Hudson River Valley. However, the presence of abundant garnet in the Mount Colden dike rock suggests that it must have been intruded before the last major metamorphic event to affect the Central Adirondacks, nearly 1.05 billion years ago. Garnet is, with few exceptions, a medium to high-grade metamorphic mineral. The garnet in the dike has many similarities to similar garnet development in the surrounding anorthosite, suggesting both rocks experienced the pressure and temperatures conditions required to form the garnet. Despite the growth of garnet in the rock, the dike clearly retains its original igneous texture, as do the surrounding anorthositic rocks, suggesting despite the high-grade metamorphic conditions that occurred in the Central Adirondacks 1.05 billion years ago, the rocks were protected from any deformation accompanying the metamorphic event, perhaps by the strength of anorthosite massif itself which may have served as a rigid buttress about which less competent rocks were highly deformed. The margins of the anorthosite massif, for example at the top of Whiteface Moutnain, often show signs of deformation and destruction of their primary igneous textures.

The features described above suggest that the dike was intruded during the Precambrian, likely within a few tens of millions of years after the anorthosite. Numerous smaller, garnet-bearing mafic dikes are known from many of the High Peaks and the surrounding region, suggesting that the Mount Colden trap dike is not unique, aside from its prominence and topographic expression, size, and continuity. Chemical analyses will help determine if the dike is related to a number of interesting gabbroic bodies, observed along the southern edge of the anorthosite massif near Newcomb, less than ten miles distinct. These small, round gabbroic bodies known as coronitic metagabbros, because of their beautiful concentric metamorphic mineral growth patterns, are thought to have intruded shortly after the anorthosite and experienced the same high-grade metamorphic event. Because of their mineralogy, including olivine, and coarse grain-size the alteration of their texture is much more pronounced than seen in the trap dike. Some workers feel that these gabbros represent the parental magma to the anorthosite which itself formed by the crystallization, accumulation, separation, and ascent of plagioclase crystals leaving behind a residuum of heavier, mafic minerals. It is interesting to speculate that the Mount Colden trap dike, although technically younger than the anorthosite, may be a sample of the magma from which it was formed! Talk about an interesting twist on the folk classic “I’m my own grandpa”.

A classic reference on the trap dike is given below:

Jaffe, H. W., 1946. Postanorthosite gabbro near Avalanche Lake in Essex County, New York. Journal of Geology, v. 54, p. 105-116.”


This hike marked my second ascent up the Trap Dike/Great Slide on Mount Colden with a return route down the S.E. 90’s slide. The first hike in 2005 was inspiring, though very unnerving for me and my uninitiated fear of heights. My return on this date found me feeling in control and leading several others up the precipitous route that inspired me two years prior. I think my final words of that day in 2005 were, “I don’t know if I’d hike the Trap Dike again.” I suppose I now know the answer. The first part of this report is, in part, a comparison of personal hiking growth. It also includes pictures from both 2005 and 2007. Numbers and elevations are approximations based on both topographical and GPS data.

The day’s original group started with myself, a geologist friend (J.) and a coworker and Winter 46r named Mark. Mark’s friend, Gary, joined us for the first leg of the journey to the Avalanche Lean-to area, about four miles into the trip where he veered to ascend Colden via Lake Arnold. A man from Ontario, Scott, joined us at the base of the dike and a family (son, mother, uncle) joined us on top of “the crux”. Their stories will be told in turn.

The Hike Past Avalanche Lake

7:15 a.m.: The first leg of the journey began at a comfortable pace…thankfully slightly slower than my norm. A temperature in the high 50’s felt perfect as the sun awoke the forest. Fog still hovered above most bodies of water. I led for a bit and injected a little hiking humor by walking past an obvious turnoff to Marcy Dam. I figured I’d see how long it would take for someone to catch on. Less then a hundred feet later there were a few confused comments. I laughed and said, “Just trying to instill confidence as the trip ‘leader’”. That was the first of multiple amusing comments and incidents. We arrived at Marcy Dam within the hour and grabbed a quick snack. I began to wake a bit as we exchanged more humor.

In 2005 at this location, a hiker approached our group and asked if we’d lost a rope…our climbing rope. Rico (WalksWithBlackflies) gave me a sideways glance since I was the one who was “assigned” to carry his rope, but didn’t securely attach it to my pack. It was really just a precaution anyway and we never really needed it. I was glad they returned it since was expensive and more importantly snagged incessantly on the cripplebrush which made Rico’s bushwhack much harder that year : ) .

The lighting at the dam was near perfect for photos and a survey of our day’s route hopeful goal. The Trap Dike is not viewable from the Dam, but the upper portion of the Great Slide of Mount Colden can be viewed from an oblique perspective. It looks faintly green, thin and less than impressive from the Dam. Inversely, Marcy Dam looks like a stick in front of a puddle from the slide.

The one mile hike to the Avalanche Camp area was uneventful and our comrade who was working on the last few mountains of his “46” departed to the left and Lake Arnold while we continued toward Avalanche Lake, a favorite spot of mine defined by the looming cliffs of Mt. Colden’s on the east and Avalanche Mountain to the west. The lake looked a bit low which coincided with my estimation of the Cascade Lakes earlier. It had been dry and this worked to our advantage for our hike up the dike which can become dangerously slippery as the water content increases. I took several beautiful photos, so I thought. I’ve a fairly new digital SLR and discovered that my camera was on manual and the aperture was set incorrectly resulting in several over-exposed pictures.

The boulder hop around the edge of the lake was beautiful as always and gave us some good views of the fresh debris from this past winter’s avalanche at the base of the dike. Several trees floated near the hitch-up-matildas. The Great Slide loomed impressively above the lake and adjacent to the dike. I looked forward to the upcoming views and exposure.

The Trap Dike and Great Slide

We met an Ontario man named Scott at the south end of the lake. He’d spent the previous night nervously awaiting bears that never came and contemplating a solo hike of the Trap Dike. He admitted later that he was working up the nerve/waiting for an invite from someone like us who had similar goals. We asked him along and found each other great company with similar humor. There are several herd paths along the lake. The one along the shoreline is, perhaps, the easiest though I led us into the evergreens a bit higher. I viewed it as pre-trap dike exit training. The push through the thicket was over quickly as we exited into the avalanche debris and, in short order, ate a snack in the aperture of the dike. J. explained that he needed a sample of the oldest type of rock in the dike for research.

In a jest regarding our upcoming climb, I said, “On my epitaph, let it be read...” J. finished the rhyme without forethought, “I tried to climb and ended up dead!” I only remembered this exchange when watching the video J. took with his digital recorder.

I was amazed at the mere trickle of water that traversed the dike. It freezes solid in winter, becomes a torrential waterfall with spring’s melt until May or June and varies thereafter depending on rainfall until the cycle renews. Our timing was perfect. I don’t think I wet my feet more than twice as opposed to my