Hurricane Irene's effects on the Adirondack High Peaks region, back in August of 2011, were widespread: bridge and road washouts, extensive flooding, and - in the mountains - many new landslides. Mount Colden - a peak already streaked with many landslide scars, received a few more as a result of this extended storm. One in particular was extra interesting, because it modified a well-known climb of the Adirondacks - the Trap Dike. A classic mountaineering route, I've climbed up the Trap Dike many times, and I'd been curious about re-visiting it in its new state for some time.
My friend Roland had been wanting to introduce his partner Stephanie to something a bit more extended in terms of snow and ice mountaineering, and decided that the Trap Dike would be the place to do it. He invited Jenn and I along for the climb, and on Sunday, April 6, with appropriate snow conditions and a good forecast, we decided to do it.
Trap Dike's new slide
As you probably guessed from the last paragraph, the climb today was to be a snow and ice climb. It was still early spring, after all. Combine that with a very cold winter and a substantial snowpack, and the conditions in the Dike were sure to includes lots of the white stuff. Which, in fact, was what we wanted: a moderate snow climb with a few spots of ice climbing thrown in. Good practice stuff.
Early morning cheeriness
We last climbed the Dike in winter back in January of 2008
. We got started rather late on that outing, and combined with relatively slow climbing progress, made for a very late and dark finish. We were determined to avoid that - and also hopefully avoid the chance of late-day snow instability, so this time we made sure to arrive bright and early at the Adirondack High Peaks visitor center parking lot, and were ready to start out at 6:45 am. Unfortunately, Jenn was in the middle of renewing her passport and unable to join us. As a result, we only numbered three: myself, Stephanie, and Roland.
The air was calm and the temperatures were somewhat below freezing. The trailbed was very solid, and we elected to start off bare-boot. A rapid clip got us from the trailhead to Marcy Dam in a short 55 minutes.
Scattered low clouds had already started to clear by the time we arrived at Marcy Dam. The forecast was for morning clearing and then a solidly sunny day, with temperatures a handful of degrees above freezing. This seemed perfect to us: the hard snowpack should soften nicely - but not too excessively - by the time we were climbing in the dike. I didn't relish a repeat of the soggy and soft conditions we had just five days before on our Gothics-Armstrong-Upper Wolfjaw hike
Continuing on a trajectory towards Avalanche Pass, we decided to shortcut across Marcy Dam Pond. A bit of tentative testing revealed that the snowpack was so firm, we could bare-boot off trail! Taking advantage of this quite unusual state of affairs was most enjoyable. We simply strolled right across the hard, white surface of the pond, continuing up some distance in the bed of Marcy Brook before finally re-merging with the trail to Avalanche Junction. Another few short tens of minutes and we were there: Avalanche Junction, and the beginning of the "lollipop" part of the day's route (meaning we'd head up one way from this point and come down a different way to re-join at this point).
In the interest of extra grip and in anticipation of a softening-up of the snowpack, we donned our snowshoes here. We then continued on, climbing the now-steeper trail up to Avalanche Pass. A scenic bit of further hiking beneath the slides and cliffs of the pass brought us to the always-impressive upper end of Avalanche Lake, flanked by the big, austere walls of Mt Colden and Avalanche Mtn.
Below Avalanche Mtn Cliffs
The high cliffs bordering Avalanche Lake meant we were still entirely in shadow, even though it was by now nearly 9 a.m. The temperature was definitely still below freezing and there was no sign of a warm spring day's melting and warmth. It felt distinctly winter-like, in fact.
Towards the Dike
We clomped down the hard and icy surface of Avalanche Lake, headed directly towards the fan-shaped sloped that marked the lower end of the Trap Dike. Upon arrival, we noted two two-person climbing groups ahead of us. Not an unreasonable thing to see on a beautiful weekend day.
With a chilly breeze at our backs, we hiked up a little closer to the Dike's mouth and found a spot to begin doing a bit of gear setup. The climb starts pretty much from here - at lake level - and continues unbroken, all the way to the top of Mt Colden.
We fumbled about in the cold morning air, getting the rope, harnesses, protection, helmets, axes, and other climbing paraphernalia out. Crampons were a must, for in addition to a couple of short ice-climbing bits, the snowpack was rock hard and had an icy sheen on it. We needed the grip afforded by twelve sharp metal points.