The Trap DikeOn Sunday, July 15, 2012, a number of us from a hiking group gathered at Adirondack Loj to attempt Mount Colden via the Trap Dike. Everything went pretty much to plan and the whole group reached the summit without incident!
The group: Adam, Caysey, Chris, Dahman, Eric, Erika, Ihab, Janine, Jesse (me), Joe, Justin, Nick, Scott, Sora, and Yuna. (a bystander we only knew as “Z” joined us at Avalanche Lake)
Arrival & Ranger Danger:
I arrived first a little before 8, followed by Adam & Erika, then Chris & Janine. As we talked, a ranger greeted us asking us our destination. When we told him Colden he continued by asking which route we intended to take, listing off the two on-trail options available from this point. The ranger was a fairly young skinny guy with shaggy red hair and facial hair who talked with a typical half-mountaineer, half-surfer voice. I wasn’t sure how to answer in case the Trap Dike was generally considered off-limits, but our group leader chimed in and said “We’re going to try the Trap Dike.”
When the ranger then asked how many people we were expecting, we immediately knew where this was going. After our leader said, “About 10-12,” the ranger said something like, “Ok, because there’s rumors of a group of 30+ trying the Trap Dike today. Maximum group size is 15, so 30+ isn’t ok.” We just nodded in agreement with everything he was saying. He then proceeded by making the route sound more harrowing than it is to try to scare us off, then moved on.
The ranger continued car-to-car greeting hikers, undoubtedly hoping someone would slip up and spill the fact that we were the huge group he was looking for. We were indeed that group, but between last-minute back-outs and eventual no-shows, we usually get about half. To ease any further suspicions, the leader decided that we should head to Marcy Dam in multiple smaller groups.
The Hike In:
Adam, Dahman, Ihab, and I departed first for Marcy Dam at about 8:20am and expected that Nick and Yuna were going to trail run shortly behind us. When we got to the dam, we waited only 10 minutes or so to discover from Yuna that the entire group was about to arrive and in fact came in legal at 15 members.
We set off for Avalanche Lake and after being close to the front of the group for the first mile and a half, I fell about 2-3 minutes behind (according to backpackers in the other direction) the entire group on the uphill portion to Avalanche Pass. Despite the hot humid day, the descent from Avalanche Pass to Avalanche Lake was remarkably cold and refreshing. I have never seen anything in the northeast that rivals the wilderness in this area.
Once at Avalanche Lake I started to catch up to some group members who were refilling water or preparing to swim. Ihab and Justin swam from the northern tip of the lake to the base of the Trap Dike – an impressive feat. The trail along the western edge of Avalanche Lake was a fun jumble of ladders, rock steps, logs, bridges, and boardwalks.
At the southern tip of the lake, I finally caught up with the full group which was recharging with food and water before heading in. Since I was among the last few people to arrive, it was a very short wolfing-down of a Clif bar, some trail mix, and Gatorade. Next came the least fun portion of the day – the bushwhack from the southern tip of the lake to the base of the Trap Dike. This was a snarly path through dense hemlocks that was slow going and often hit impassable roadblocks that required brief back-tracks.
The Trap Dike:
Most of the group just jumped right in but about 4-5 of us hung around for pictures and to watch them start. Apparently by this point, Z joined up after a conversation near Avalanche Lake. Unlike most trips to the Trap Dike, there was scarcely a drop of water coming down through what are usually roaring waterfalls. Most of the beginning consisted of fairly straightforward rock scrambles with pronounced ledges to rest upon. At trickier sections, such as what is otherwise the second waterfall, bottlenecks formed. These queues became a little troublesome as those of us below were often stuck in semi-precarious spots waiting for those above.
A little ways past the second waterfall, we did an altitude check to discover we were at 3300 feet. Avalanche Lake is at 2885, the presumed exit from the Trap Dike to the rock slab is around 3800, and the summit is 4715. At this point, Yuna and Caysey were long gone above. Adam, Chris, Dahman, Janine, Joe, and perhaps one or two others were taking alternate routes off the right just for the fun of it.
The remainder of the Trap Dike was nice and social and uneventful. I did an elevation check to find we were at 3700 feet and time to start paying attention to the right side for a suitable exit. A few more rock steps up, the so-called “new slide” or “Irene slide” started to come into view up and to the right, as well as thicker trees a little farther up in the Trap Dike. A deep sense of “uh oh” started to come over me. I did another GPS check and saw 3800, at or above the presumed exit point.
I actually get to take a little credit for route-finding on this one. Finding the right exit was a point of nervousness for me going into the day. An early exit puts you on a 5.2-5.4 difficult portion of the slab that you are forced to do un-roped because there’s no way back into the Trap Dike without rappelling gear. A late exit puts you on the Irene slide which is steeper and less featured (more slippery) than the classic slide. Looking right, I saw what looked like a well-trampled path that went through some short trees. Erika and I shouted to everyone in our general area that we think we found the exit. A few people came down from above (practically the trees just past the new slide) and others came up to our location.
Crossing from the left edge of the Trap Dike to the herd path proved to be the most harrowing part of the climb. This rock slab was a downward-reaching appendage of the new slide. It was steep, featureless, prickly, and tough to get purchase upon. Eric was the first into the herd path, which he called “A very herdy path.” It wiggled mildly uphill and diagonally through the vegetation to until we emerged on the classic slide. At this point, Caysey and Yuna were far ahead (more on them later). Adam, Eric, Erika, Ihab, Nick, Scott, and Sora were in my general area on the slab. Presumably, the other six (Chris, Dahman, Janine, Joe, Justin, and Z) were still below practicing their crux moves.
The Classic Slide:
The rock slab, as advertised, was an extreme leg burner. It was a consistent 30-45 degree uphill, but with great shoe-to-rock grip. While not as cool as the Trap Dike, the breeze kept us refreshed and we recognized the fact that if it wasn’t for the cloud-cover, this portion would be brutally hot. Ihab, Nick picked up their pace and got solidly ahead of the rest of us. Joe caught up from below about a quarter of the way up the slab and continued well ahead with Erika close behind. As for Adam, Eric, Scott, Sora and I, it became a work-horse cadence of 8-10 steps, then stop, 8-10 steps, then stop, 8-10 steps, then stop – then sit. At one point, sitting to rest on the slab was the only spot where my otherwise overwhelming vertigo kicked in. I just said, “I’m going to keep moving to avoid freaking out.” Shortly thereafter, Joe passed us on his way down. He was on his way back into Trap Dike because he intentionally left his pack there to lighten his climb.
The five of us remained more-or-less together on the upper part of the slab. After a few more 8-steps, I looked up to see a few people I didn’t know standing there. Apparently we had just achieved the ridgeline! A few steps to the left and we were on the summit boulders. I dropped my pack and wandered around the ridgeline taking pictures and found the true summit on a slanted rock back in the trees.
Yuna, the first to summit, had apparently remained in the Trap Dike well into the heavily forested portion and bushwhacked her way to the ridgeline to approach the summit from the other side. Caysey, the second one up, unintentionally wound up on the new slide, and said he kind of realized it a little ways up.
After a short wait for the eleven of us, Chris, Dahman, and Janine arrived after taking a much more challenging line up the right side of the Trap Dike, a difficult early exit up the Dike’s wall, and a climb up the lower steeper portion of the slide. Justin and Z were nowhere to be seen. Most of us went back over to the true summit for a quick “yay” and returned to the boulders for a break. A few minutes later, some figures came into view on the new slide. When one of them was identified as Justin, we moved off the summit.
The Hike Out:
The descent was a scenic but uneventful hike gradually downhill. The fourteen of us were more or less together for most of the first few miles until the blue-yellow split a ways below Lake Arnold. Here the group started to fan out significantly after a short break. Most of my hike out was with Adam and Caysey. Eric and Erika were a few minutes ahead – Scott and Sona were a few minutes behind. It started to rain a little before Marcy Dam. Thunderstorms were a concern that drove us off of the summit rather quickly, but rain held off until this point and lightning held off altogether. Even the heavier rain was mostly absorbed by the leaves so it remained a pleasant hike out, until the rain finally stopped just as we arrived at the parking area.
This was certainly the best mountain experience I’ve ever had to this point. A month of preparation by hiking downstate and reading up on the Trap Dike really paid off. It was also a great group for something like this. Everyone was capable, and while there were certainly varying paces, no one was ever more than a few minutes apart until the second half of the hike out. Hoping to return in October for the Great Range traverse!