We did it! For years we’ve been talking about climbing Mt. Colden via the Trap Dike. We officially made it one of our goals for this summer and, well, we actually accomplished it. Go us!
The Trap Dike is one of those classic Adirondack routes that everyone talks up as being exceptionally steep and scary and long and exposed. And you know what? It was all of those things – but it was also not nearly as hard or as unnerving as we thought it would be. It helped tremendously that we had a great group of friends to show us how it’s done, but it’s also a hike that Dave and I should have felt completely confident tackling on our own for the first time. Lesson learned. We’re more competent than we think we are.
The hike starts from the ever-popular Adirondack Loj in the High Peaks, following the well-traveled Van Hoevenberg trail to Marcy Dam for the first 2.3 miles. From there, it’s another 3 miles or so up to Avalanche Lake and through Avalanche Pass. This is where the real fun begins.
Avalanche Lake is a thin, mile-long body of water that’s nestled at the bottom of Avalanche Pass, in between Mt. Colden to the east and Iroquois, Algonquin, and Wright Peaks to the west. It’s beautiful, and the hike along the west side of the lake through Avalanche Pass is one that everyone should experience.
The hike through the pass is full of fun little scrambles over and around a number of large boulders. There are also two “hitch-up Matildas” – wooden boardwalks – that are bolted into the cliffs along the side of the lake.
From the first set of Matildas you get a clear view of Adirondike, which is an obvious crack that also runs up Mt. Colden from Avalanche Lake – but that should not be confused with the Trap Dike. Ascending this would require technical skills and gear. One way to know you are looking at Adirondike is that the patch of land at its base is smaller and (I believe) only accessible by boat.
It’s on the second hitch-up Matilda that you get the first good glimpse of the Trap Dike and its neighboring slide. From here, it’s hard to imagine actually climbing up the mountain along this route, but we decided to trust our friends, who kept assuring us that we’d love it.
We worked our way around the lake to the base of the dike. It starts out as a big pile of rubble, but quickly gets steeper.
As you can see, I was super psyched to start the climb.
So was our friend Jay.
Dave, however, was all business.
In reality, we were ALL really excited to start the climb, despite the awkward moments caught on camera.
And so we climbed. At first it was like ascending a big, ancient stone staircase through a series of waterfalls.
Lots of big, blocky steps with water cascading by and gathering in small pools.
But it’s not long before the climbing gets steeper, bordering on technical. Here’s our friend Elly heading up.
On an unrelated note, she wore that damn sweatshirt all day long. It was sunny and 70 degrees. She’s obviously crazy.
And here’s Meg with a big smile on her face. We were all having SO MUCH FUN.
And Dave asking, “Is it my turn yet, guys? Guys?”
Special thanks to our friend, Jan, who played photographer for the day. He got some great shots. Hi, Jan!
About two thirds of the way up the dike we had a decision to make: to exit or not to exit? Perhaps the trickiest part about hiking the Trap Dike is knowing where to exit the dike and hop out onto the slide.
There are two common ways to exit out onto the slide: the “early exit,” which dumps you out onto a fairly steep – but fun! – section of the slide. And the “late exit,” which takes you up the dike a bit further to where the slide becomes less steep. However, if you exit too early you’ll find yourself face to face with an extremely steep slab climb … and if you exit too late, you’re faced with a hefty bushwhack to get to the summit. Unfortunately, these exits are not completely obvious. We’re told the late exit has a cairn, but I am not sure I would count on that being there.
We decided to split our party at the first exit point. Four of us – armed with rock shoes – took the early exit. And two of us decided to continue up the dike and pop out on the slide a bit higher up.
Dave, who is not a fan of slab climbing, was not thrilled with my enthusiasm to take the early exit. But he did it anyway, knowing that we had a rope with us in the event that anyone got sketched out and needed a belay.
I had a blast. I absolutely recommend bringing rock shoes if you have them. The climb is totally doable without them, but the sticky rubber makes it that much more fun.
We met up with Elly and Meg who had opted to take the later exit. From what they described, they had a bit of a hairy climb to make it out onto the slide. It’s tricky business knowing just where to exit the dike.
And then we began the long march up the slide to the summit. I took one for the team and volunteered to bring up the rear. I assure you, it had absolutely nothing to do with the utter fatigue I was experiencing at this point. Nope, nothing at all.
This part kind of sucked. The fun climb was over, and now it was just a leg-burner of a walk up to the top.
However, the view behind us was great – as you can see from this photo of our group taken from the summit by a friend who happened to also be on Mt. Colden, but who had no idea this was us at the time. Thanks for snapping a very cool photo, CJ!
Soon enough we were all standing on the summit of Colden. It was my first time and everyone else’s approximately 5th, 12th, 24th, 35th, and 52nd time – or something like that.
We enjoyed some time on the summit, soaking up the views and avoiding the crowds.
As far as we were concerned, our hike was over, so we cruised the descent – 6 miles down the east side of Colden, past Lake Arnold.
All told, we spent under 8 hours on the trail, covered a little over 12 miles, and spent a little less than two hours of that having the time of our lives climbing the dike and the slide. It goes down as one of the best – if not THE best – days in mountains we’ve ever had.
Elevation: 2,535 feet of elevation gain from the ADK Loj
Difficulty: Hard. This is a physically demanding hike/climb with class 4 scrambling.
Time: It took our group 8 hours. This will vary drastically depending on fitness level and summit time
Trail Markers: Yellow from ADK Loj to Avalanche Pass. There are no markers in the Trap Dike. Blue markers lead the way down Mt. Colden via the Lake Arnold Trail.
Mt. Colden is the 11th highest peak in the Adirondacks at an elevation of 4,715ft. It is sandwiched between Mt. Marcy to the Southeast, and Algonquin Mt, Wright Peak, and Iroquois Mt to the Northwest. It affords excellent views of all of them, as well as views over the entire High Peaks area.
The Trap Dike is considered an Adirondack mountaineering classic, and it can be a wonderful experience. Especially if you like some additional adventure, and some climbing – not to mention danger – mixed in with your day hike. But it should not be attempted lightly, and conditions must be accounted for. Hiking the dike in wet weather is not advised.
There are also two marked trails that lead to the summit of Mt. Colden, both of which are exceptional hikes.
From the South: Take the Adirondack Northway (I-87) to Exit 30. Turn left on Route 73 toward Keene and Lake Placid, continue on Route 73 for 26.5 miles. Turn left on Adirondack Loj Road (High Peaks Trailhead sign). It is five miles to the Loj.
From the North: Take the Adirondack Northway (I-87) to Exit 34, Keeseville. Follow Route 9N to Jay and Route 86 to Lake Placid. Turn left on Route 73 before going through Lake Placid. In three miles look for the High Peaks Trailhead sign and turn right on Adirondack Loj Road. It is five miles to the Loj.
From the West: Take Route 3 or Route 86 into Saranac Lake. Continue on Route 86 through Lake Placid. At the third traffic light, turn right on to Route 73 towards Keene. In three miles look for the High Peaks Trailhead sign and turn right onto the Adirondack Loj Road. It is five miles to the Loj.
* The Adirondack Loj Road borders a very large field. The open views of the MacIntyre Range and Mt. Colden seen here are only available from this spot on Rte 73.
Parking: There is parking for about 200 cars at a charge of $10 per day (ADK members pay $5 per day).
- Salomon XA Pro 3d Ultra GTX – Dave’s hiking shoe of preference
- Patagonia Women’s Drifter – The hiking shoe Jess wore
- Black Diamond Nitro day pack – A day pack that has received solid reviews, including from Backpacker Magazine. This was our first hike with it.
- Black Diamond Bullet – We used an older version of this climbing pack
- Black Diamond Bbee pack – A minimalist day pack that some in our party swear by
- Black Diamond hiking poles – Dave was the only one who used poles on this hike. Others chose to go without, mainly because it is hard to hold them while in the Dike.
- Platypus Hoser Reservoirs
- Five Ten Coyote Rock Shoes – A good all-round climbing shoes that is fairly comfortable, as far as rock climbing shoes go, making it a nice choice for the slide’s slab climbing.