SpecificsDuration: hours; 9:30 a.m. –5:30 p.m.
Route: ADK Loj – Avalanche Lake – Avalanche Pass Slide and Back to Loj
Total Mileage/Vertical Ascent: 9.5 miles/1200’
Trail Conditions: Dry
Temperature: 55-70 F
Partners: Parents (Lois & Mac)
Diet: Optimum Bar, MRE, Protein Bar, 2 liter water
Clothing: Hiking pants, techwick
This hike purpose was to introduce my parents to Marcy Dam or if they were able, to Avalanche Lake. It turned into an inspirational hike for me. I grew up in the Adirondacks on vacations with my parents. We’d go for short hikes over a few miles without much vertical ascent compared to my current standard. My age served as one limitation (which really isn’t much of a limitation when I see some kids on the trail). My father’s diabetes, which he’s had since the age of 11, was another. A lot of exercise meant much juice/food was necessary during and subsequent to the exercise. The after affects of strenuous activity were also a heavy price sometimes. It’s by no mean kept him inactive or stopped him from hunting trips, fishing or anything else he aspired to try, however. It did keep him from embarking on the more epic treks that I consider “normal”. Five miles with about 1000’ vertical feet was about the most we’d done in a day that I can remember.
Marcy Dam, Trail Humor and Avalanche Lake
I started leading them from the Loj with the above thoughts in mind. The walk brought recollections of my first time in the area as well. Their comments were reminiscent of my own years ago: the beautiful terrain; tall pines; eroded path; easy grade and, as we got closer to the dam, the sound of Marcy Brook. The pace was comfortable, quite the step down from my normal march and quite an enjoyable change. It was one that led us to the dam in about one hour and ten minutes. We took the normal break and I rattled off the various peaks in view as well as attempted to point to the hidden trap dike that I hike annually.
Several minutes later my mother stated that her hip felt fine (it was bothering her) and she’d give it a go to Avalanche Lake. My father wanted to see the area I’ve been prattling on about for so many years. On the way to Marcy Brook, I glanced at Wright’s northern slide and got the spontaneous idea to climb Avalanche Pass Slide if time allowed. I suggested that I might do this and my father smirked an, “I knew it,” type grin. They, in turn, were scoping Marcy Brook for good fishing holes since my Dad had a rod in tow.
The pace slowed a bit during the climb up Avalanche Mountain’s ridge. This gave my father and I time to play off of my mother’s fear of meeting a bear in the woods. ‘Tis truly amazing how much a stone cast into the woods sounds like a bear in the leaves…not! In her mind, however, she alone was being stalked by the one and only killer bear of the Adirondacks…one that dines on human female flesh. The fact that Dad and I were calmly looking around at leaves up high in the trees went unnoticed. Anyway, several stones and apologies (which, out of necessity, continued throughout the day, week etc.) later we continued on our way. We’d inadvertently created our own bear, in reality, and she wasn’t stalking from the woods!
By the time we reached Avalanche Pass Slide, we were accepted back into the graces of verbal communication with my mother and I showed them both what I hoped to climb after visiting the lake if time allowed. The destruction piled deep in the pass served as a remarkable testament to the power of nature. The debris slid nearly 1000 feet and vaulted off the small cliff at the bottom to bury the path and choke the pass with birch, mud and rock. Another route had subsequently been cut through the mess.
My parents were feeling the duration in their legs by the time we began the gentle descent to Avalanche Lake. We looked forward to a respite and lunch as I continued to talk about the pass and such things as the Trap Dike and times I’d been through the area. At long last we did reach the northern edge of the lake along with most of the population of NY apparently. I checked the log book at the day’s end and nearly 200 GROUPS of people signed in at the Marcy Trailhead alone. Many were here.
We ate in imagined solitude while sightseeing planes flew overhead at various intervals. As it got quiet for the first time a creak-creak emerged from down the lake. Things like, oh, rusty ROWBOAT OARS echo loudly on a lake with sheer anorthosite walls on each side. The boat passed by in humorously slow fashion. We rolled our eyes. It was about that time that two gentlemen walked onto the boulders that make up the path from the hitch-up matildas, just to the south. There was a blur of motion as we watch one fall headfirst along the ladder to crash onto his thigh after a flip. I ran over, but he was blessedly unharmed save a charlie-horse. Afterward, we packed up and went back to the slides base where my father was soon to be dizzy watching the ascent.
Avalanche Pass Slide
Avalanche Pass Slide begins at the path to Avalanche Lake and runs almost due south; with a side slide that takes a more southeasterly direction. It is undeniably one of the easiest slides to find. I chose to walk on top of the great pile of rubble (mainly birch) for my approach. I wouldn’t recommend doing the same since there’s always a risk of falling through, but I wasn’t alone and it easily placed me on the ledges just below the drainage. Four others men were exiting the slide and continued to the ground at the bottom of the ledges. They jokingly noted the sorry shape of my hiking shoes…completely torn apart. A stepped approach led up to the north side drainage (a cliff makes the southern side difficult to approach in comparison. The steps continued up the drainage to some rolling slab which led to small tree growth and the beginning slope of the main slab. A side spur intersected the main slide low and ascended at a 45 degree angle north to what, from a distance, appeared to be a nearly vertical cliff.
The rock was sharp, pitted and crystalline in many areas. Cracks and divots offered hand and footholds. The average incline seemed to be about 35 to 40 degrees. I didn’t have my preferable friction climbing shoes, but the Golite trail runners were a close second in grip and worked well. They allowed me to walk straight up all but the steepest pitches on this slide rather than switch-backing fault lines. Most of the slide was clean with little rubble or dirt to interfere with climbing and I felt as stable as a mountain goat.
Every slide has a certain personality, if you will. Avalanche Pass Slide lent itself to numerous unique photographs due to the combination of stunning views and on-slide features. Once upon the slide, a dominant vertical edge ran up much of the center. This edge stood as much as three feet above the adjacent slab before tapering off hundreds of feet higher. Rough edges offered numerous handholds along the “railing” which were not necessary as I climbed alongside the feature out of interest rather than safety. The slab was exposed and wide…a feature that I loved! Layering was yet another distraction of interest, especially near the top of the slab, including the final headwall. This consisted of a slightly more inclined layer which was most easily approached from the northeast or left hand-side if facing it.
My traverse upward and back down was a rushed event. I didn’t want my parents to have to wait too long. While at Avalanche Lake I vocally estimated my ascent at twenty minutes with a down climb of about ten. I beat each by one minute. The exertion and heat reflected by the stone did nothing to help a migraine that had flared up even before Marcy Dam. I might never have made a special trip to this slide since I considered it small compared with so many others. I changed my mind and would climb it again anytime with a certain diversion up the northeast channel.
We hiked out without incident as the sun crept lower in the sky. My parents were at their physical limit and I was ready to relax as well. Both enjoyed the experience thoroughly (so they told me). They’d been coming to the ‘Daks since the 60’s and never been in as remote an area. The insulin pump that my father began using within the last year is truly a miracle for him and many others, I’m sure. With careful blood sugar monitoring and getting to know how it reacts, it has opened a whole new world to him that I’m thrilled he can enjoy. Who knows, maybe next time, I’ll drag them up the trap dike…