We wanted to get out on our Canada-day long weekend. Our upcoming trip to Italy was fast approaching, and we needed some leg-pounding exercise. We wanted to get out and do something; something close by, something different, something challenging. How about a route up and down an Adirondack peak, avoiding trails on both the ascent and descent? Mount Colden offered us just that, via The south-east slide and the trap dike slide.
The south-east slide, formed in 1990, is a long and narrow strip of bare rock that reaches from the very base of Colden along the Lake Arnold trail, all the way almost to the very tip-top of Mount Colden. It is a route I've never done before, and so for that reason alone it held appeal for me. Combined with this new ascent would be a new way to cover some more familiar ground: a descent of the trap dike route, something I'd only ever previously done in ascent. This would be quite a challenging way of tackling mount Colden, going up one steep slide route and down another. Just the thing to train for bigger and badder mountains, too.
We chose July 1 (happy Canada Day) as the day to head for Mount Colden. Although there was oodles of clear sky and sun on the way down, there seemed to be a dark cluster of low clouds enveloping the high peaks. Gloomy was the name of the game as we started out from Adirondak Loj. There was a relatively low chance of rain, which we didn't want while scrambling on steep slabs of rock.
To get to the start of the Southeast slide, our ascent route, we had to trudge all the way up to 3900 feet at the height of land on the Lake Arnold trail, and then back down another 400 or 500 feet along the Lake Arnold trail, before reaching the point where the base of the slide (almost) intersects the trail. Let me tell you, the Lake Arnold trail is one of my least favorite trails in the Adirondacks... no, make that anywhere. It is unceasingly uneven, awkward and bouldery for most of its length, with very few sections that are actually nice walking track. Tiring and unpleasant.
At about the 3400 to 3500-foot level on the Lake Arnold trail (southwest of Lake Arnold), one reaches the point where the base of the South-east slide comes very close to the trail. If you are looking up at the right time, you'll see an open space through the trees. From this point, it is a short bushwack over about 50 to 100 feet of terrain to get into the open base of the slide. Consult the waypoint on my trackmap on the last page of this image gallery for a specific GPS co-ordinate.
The lower part of the slide consists of a lot of gravel and boulders, presumably deposited there by the 1990 event that formed this slide. The terrain is fairly open at this point, and it is a simple matter to chart a reasonable course up the slide. If you look up, way, way up, you'll see the very top of the slide, which looks impossibly steep from this point. It isn't impossible, of course, but it is steep!
The slide continues up, becoming less gravelly and more solid bedrock, with short vertical blocky steps that are easily scrambleable. Above this, the slide narrows and becomes partially filled with moderate vegetation. You may even think the slide has ended, but it has not. Just keep heading up what feels like a regular streambed, and soon it will start to widen out a little into a bit of a shallow gorge.
The shallow gorge has one mossy steep step, and then above that slide starts to open out even more. It must have rained a lot over the past few days, because there was a lot of damp rock and seeping water, making our ascent up these steps a little more difficult.
Looking up, we are now much closer to the headwall part of the slide, which is still looking mighty steep. The rock is clean slab at this point, and it is achilles-tendon stretching exercise from here to the top of the slide.
Although we have complete cloud cover, the cloud deck has risen to a reasonable 5000 feet, so we can see most of the peaks around us. Only the summit knob of Mount Marcy, which is very nearby above us, pokes into the cloud base.
Tackling the steep headwall
It gets quite steep near the top, and requires confidence in your boots' ability to grip the coarse and grippy anorthosite. At one point near the top, I get a bit spooked by one 15-foot section of slightly steeper slab, and I choose to detour for that portion through a nearby nearly impenetrable bit of Adirondack mountain tangle. The damp day means the vegetation is full of water, and I emerge soaked and annoyed at myself for not being able to get my head around a fairly straightforward bit of slab scrambling. Jenn, on the other hand, bounds right up the steep slab. The surefooted and confidence award goes to Jenn.
View down from steep slabs