Mount Colden (11)

10/14/2018

It was a month and a half into the semester and I really needed some solitude in the mountains to replenish my spirits, so I settled on heading out on Sunday to climb Colden Mountain. I woke up at 4am on a cold, dark morning and made it to the trailhead at the ADK Loj right at 7am. The lot was already about half full, and I was a little disappointed that I wouldn’t have the trails to myself, but that was to be expected. While I waited in a short line to sign in at the register I took a picture of this amazing sign instructing hikers to poop responsibly and took a super glamorous selfie of my drowsy face.

I headed down the path at 7:30am with a smile on my face, so happy to be spending a day in the woods. After 20 minutes, I arrived at the first junction in the trail. Whenever possible, I like to hike a loop instead of an out-and-back, so I chose to climb up from Lake Colden (the steeper path) and head down via Lake Arnold. With that in mind, I turned left at this junction to head toward Marcy Dam and Avalanche Lake.

About 30 minutes later I arrived at Marcy Dam, 2.2 miles from the trailhead. I took some photos of the rising sun’s rays on the surrounding mountains and took my obligatory 5 minute break at a rock on the other side of the dam at the “Marcy Dam Outpost” sign. I try to take a 5 minute break once every hour to stretch, drink water, and give my back a break from my pack.

At 8:30am, an hour after leaving the trailhead, I reached the next junction and continued to the right to head towards Avalanche Lake and Lake Colden. 30 minutes later I was at the next junction. I continued to the right, and took note that I would be returning on the path to the left toward Lake Arnold.

I was excited about the next portion of the trail, which is surrounded by large mossy boulders alongside the Avalanche Pass Slide.

I was having a heckin’ hard time with my camera today! Every time I brought it up to my eye, everything would fog up! With that in mind, I apologize for the “misty” images on this trip report 😅 I made it to Avalanche Lake at 9:40am, a little over 2 hours after leaving the trailhead. Avalanche Lake is one of my favorite spots in the high peaks. This 9-acre lake sits at over 2800′ in elevation right between the vertical cliffs of Mount Colden and Avalanche Mountain.

I started my way around the lake and stopped for second breakfast on a nice rock overlooking the lake. While sitting there, I passively noticed a boat on the other side of the lake…after several minutes, it occurred to me….How did that boat get there?! I assume it was helicoptered in, but I can’t help to imagine a person hauling it over their shoulders on the 5.2 mile trail in!

AFter a few minutes respite, I continued on the trail around the lake. Boy, I had forgotten how intense this trail is! Between the huge boulders to climb over and around, the ladders, and the hitch-up matilda’s along the way, it takes me a solid half-hour to traverse the lake.

At 10:20am I happily found myself at the other end of the lake. I snapped a few lousy pictures before continuing ahead toward Lake Colden.

The trail here because quite muddy, which pretty much set the stage for the trail conditions for the rest of the day. While I was trekking toward Lake Colden, I had an AMAZING moment where I was walking across some puncheon over a muddy bog while a Ranger was coming the opposite way on his patrol. OF COURSE I stepped on the end of a puncheon board and OF COURSE it wasn’t secured at the other end, so there I am flailing my arms while the board flies up in a comically dramatic teeter-totter fashion….AND OF COURSE I did the exact same thing at the OTHER END of the board…At the ONE MOMENT IN THAT LAST 4 MILES that someone else is on the trail.
My gracefulness is really astounding sometimes!

There were a few portions of the trail along Lake Colden that were completely submerged in the lake itself from all of the recent rain and snowmelt, so some bushwhacking was involved to make it across. Before long I had made it to the next junction at 11:00am. I turned left to leave the lake and head up to Colden.

The initial trail up was quite pleasant. It was never particularly steep or too muddy. I foolishly thought “Hey! Maybe it’s not as steep as everyone said it would be! This is nothing!”….Yeah, you all know where this is going. OF COURSE it was way more difficult, I just hadn’t gotten to that point yet. But in that brief moment of bliss, I happily traipsed along and let a large group of French Canadians pass me by.

After about a mile the conditions changed…a bit…(read: The trail amped up to a 10 to cruelly haze the unworthy). Thankfully some AMAZING trail crews had built ladders and steps to traverse the truly difficult sections.

At about this time, I kept catching up to the back end of the large group that I had let pass me. I was getting quite frustrated to have to keep stopping every time they stopped, so just as the trail started to get icy I opted to pass them all and hustle a bit to make sure they didn’t catch up again. (They were quite nice, it was just a large group and I didn’t want to hear voices behind me while I was hiking!) At this time, a couple were coming down the slick slides verrrry carefully and they informed me that there was a lot of ice up ahead. With that in mind, I trudged on.

Sure enough, they were not lying. And I am SO SMART that I, being the stubborn mule that I am, opted not to put on the microspikes that were conveniently strapped to the back of my pack for easy access.

I clawed my way up tooth and nail very carefully along Colden’s smooth rock slides until I reached another ladder, and I just KNEW that this one would bring me to the top.

I turned around at the top and let out a hearty laugh in awe at the views. Those views make everything worth it, every time.

I had really thought I was close to or at the summit, but, and I’m sure this comes as no surprise, I most definitely was not. So onward I went, but now I had some stunning views every step of the way.

I loved seeing the path that I had taken up there from the “almost summit” or whatever it was that I was on. And even better, I had a fantastic view of my favorite trio of peaks along the MacIntyre range.

I climbed up one final stretch to see a stunning view of a chilly Mt Marcy, with some supplied that may have been dropped in for some impending trail work.

I was a little bit confused, as I continued along the snowy trail and was unsure of exactly where the summit was. I came upon a sign designating where to leave a rock carried up from the trailhead, and wandered down a path to a rock in a small clearing. At 1pm, while I was standing on that rock, a couple of fellas came down and “tagged” the rock, at which point I shouted (or yelled and frightened them probably) “WAIT. Is this the SUMMIT?!?” and it was! How anticlimactic! So I snapped a picture of some circle on the rock (I’m so technical) and wandered back out of the clearing to find a nice spot to have lunch.

I enjoyed my lunch of a sandwich, babybel cheese, and some gherkin pickles (oddly delicious after a day of hiking) while looking out towards Algonquin. And can’t forget the victory chocolate!

Now, let’s talk again at how intelligent I am. AFTER I had passed over all of the steep icy sections of trail, while I was sitting at the summit, I thought, hey, it’d be such a great idea to put my spikes on now! So I did….and encountered no more ice along the trail. Ha! At least I tried. As I headed down the path toward Lake Arnold, the trail passed over a bare rocky outcropping, so I sat for a break and to take in the breathtaking sight of Mt Marcy right next door.

At about 2pm I left again for Lake Arnold. The trail down from Colden was quite tough. It was all mud and rockhopping. Almost immediately, my right knee began to ache, so I stopped frequently to stretch and roll out my IT band with my trekking pole. Who knew trekking poles were so versatile?

By the time I made it to the junction with Lake Arnold 45 minutes later, the twinges in my knee had ceased to subside and an old injury in my SI joint was starting to cause lightning-like spasms in my lower back. It’s so fun having a body that acts like it’s been bowled over by a steamroller with the slightest provocation! So I chose not to visit Lake Arnold but went left to keep slowly making my way down the mountain.

Along the way down, I met a couple coming up who seemed perturbed. They thought they were on the wrong trail coming down from Colden because it looked so different from the path they were on that morning. After looking at the map, I suggested that there was no other path down from the previous junction, and that the trail looked so different because all of the snowmelt was turning it into a veritable river. Still unconvinced, we all continued our way down. I passed them up, and about 30 minutes later I came to another junction which verified the path we were on was the correct one. It’s incredible how much water just a little bit of snow can create!

I didn’t take many photos after that. The pains in my knee and back were intense and it took all of my mental acuity to focus on getting down the mountain. Finally, at 4pm, I made it to the junction and lied down on this wooden bridge to stretch my legs and back.

After I probably freaked out a few passing hikers by lying there on that bridge, I continued my way back toward Marcy Dam.

And that’s the last picture I took of the day. The pain was relentless and I lulled myself into a trance-like state to focus through the pain. I continually reminded myself to take one step at a time, and that the worst was behind me. After continuing on like this for 3 more miles, I dragged my aching body out to my car just before 6pm and let out a frustrated huff as I sat down to drive home.

I’m so disappointed that these so-called “overuse” injuries are still plaguing me, considering I’ve been resting with minimal straining activity for 15 months. Back to the drawing boards, hopefully I’ll be back soon.

19 down, 27 left!

Mount Colden: Elevation – 4714′ Elevation Gain – 2535′

Round Trip Distance: ~14 miles

Total Duration: 10.5 hours

Colvin (39) and Blake (42) with Indian Head and Fish Hawk Cliffs

6/3/2017

Weather reports for this day had been spotty all week, with everything ranging from sun to clouds to rain to snow, but I had been set on hiking no matter what, and at least if weather wasn’t great, then the trails shouldn’t be very crowded. I got up at 4am, checked the weather again, and it looked promising! So I hopped in my car and headed to the St. Huberts parking lot off of Rt. 73 (technically on Ausable Club Rd.). I arrived at around 7am, the lot was already around half-full, and headed up the road alongside a very difficult looking golf course.

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Ausable Club

I met and chatted with a friendly couple from Ottawa along the way, and 10 minutes later I signed in at the register by the gate with a pep in my step.

Surprisingly, there were no bugs out yet, but I fully expected o be swarmed later in the day. At any rate, the walk along Lake Rd was a nice warm up before starting any climbing, and it follows a scenic brook along the way.

My initial plan for the day was to hit Indian Head first, because people are always talking about how amazing it is and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, then to hit Fish Hawk Cliffs, Colvin, Nippletop, then Dial, and I wanted to follow Gil Brook on the way up. So when I saw the first sign for Gil Brook, I followed that trail.

I absolutely have to recommend this trail to anyone and everyone looking to hike in this region, and I recommend going up it instead of down, because you can see all of the waterfalls as you come up to them. I spent soooo much time putzing around by the brook, but it was only 8am and I wanted to get to know my new camera (a mirrorless Sony a6000, much smaller and lighter than my big Canon, which was also in my pack of course)!

If at any point along a trail you encounter a sign with two arrows, one for an “easy” route and one for a “Scenic” route, take the scenic route!

There were two such signs along the path, and boy were they worth it. It wasn’t even a difficult traverse, and the waterfalls were stunning. What is it about waterfalls that makes me want to be standing under them?

Shortly after the last waterfall, I came upon a junction for Colvin/Indian Head/Elk Pass, and as I paused to snap a photo, another hiker approached from the trail I had just been on. We stopped to talk for a minute, and he suggested that I absolutely do not want to orphan out Blake Mountain, since the way to get to it is generally by climbing Colvin first.  So if I didn’t do it today, I’d have to come back and climb Colvin again to get it. So I said, Ok, this hike is getting really ambitious, but sure, I’ll add Blake to the list! He continued on, and I admired the Gil Brook for a moment more before continuing on.

About two minutes later, at 9am, I encountered the same hiker (shoutout to Josh) at another Junction sign. He was debating whether to climb Indian Head, but was hesitant because he hadn’t told anyone he would be going there. I said I was planning to climb it too, so together we set off up the path to Indian Head.

30 minutes later we arrived at the summit and our minds were blown. Honestly, I could have stayed there all day, it was so incredible. But, alas, I’m an aspiring 46er and didn’t want to miss the chance to bag some high peaks.

We stayed up there for almost 30 minutes enjoying the views and trying to figure out which mountains were around us. It was really nice having someone to hike with; not only did I have someone to talk to besides myself (I’d already caught myself mumbling to myself a few times that day, which was mildly concerning), but I had someone to take my picture! I had taken my tripod out of my pack that morning, so I wasn’t really planning on being in any photos.

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The peaks behind me are Colvin and Blake

Having enjoyed our fill of the beautiful landscape, we next set off for Fish Hawk Cliffs, and arrived there 15 minutes later at 10:15am. NOW I KNOW WHY IT’S CALLED INDIAN HEAD! I was really wondering about that on the climb up, and it was so freaking cool to see Indian Head from another angle.

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Indian Head, in the center

We didn’t linger long there, and began our descent down to the col between Colvin and Indian Head. Now, as I’ve mentioned before, I am SLOW when hiking steep terrain. I have very weak joints, and landing wrong could collapse my knees, so I go very slowly, using my arms a lot to lower myself down to avoid any injuries. My new hiking buddy, however, was much faster, so I encouraged him to go on at his own pace so I wouldn’t slow him down and, at some point along the way to Colvin, he did. This was fine with me, because now I could go exactly as slowly a I needed without feeling rushed. After reaching the col, the climb back up Colvin was a bit tricky and just never seemed to end. It was getting pretty muddy and slick, and more than once as I walked through a muddy patch I felt my boot sink in and schlurrrp as I pulled it back out. At least there were still, somehow, no bugs! At some point I started hearing people talking, and finally, 2 hours after leaving Fish Hawk Cliffs and about 5 hours from the trailhead, I made it to the summit!

The summit was a glorified rock with about 6 people already hanging out at the top. My hiking buddy and I reunited, and I immediately sat my butt down and ate food. And then ate some more food. And then a little more. I was really hungry, guys.

The summit was very windy, and it was about 52°F, which is probably why bugs weren’t an issue all day. While the views from the summit certainly weren’t 360°, it was incredible to be right in the middle of the Adirondacks and so close to the other high peaks.

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Looking back toward Indian Head
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Mt Marcy behind me, with snow still towards the summit

This was my 10th high peak, so I’m officially in double digits! Talking with the other people at the summit, it seemed the overall consensus was that Blake Mountain SUCKS. It’s a steep climb down from Colvin, and a steep climb  up to Blake, which has no views and isn’t even 4000ft, then back down Blake and up Colvin again. Now, on the climb up to Colvin, I had had my cap on and was looking down and completely missed BOTH junction signs just before the summit. Yikes. We left the summit at about 12:40pm and headed down towards Blake.

The descent didn’t start out too bad, albeit expectedly muddy, and 20 minutes later I had the first glimpse of Blake. Boy was that a demoralizing sight.

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Blake Mtn

As we headed down, things got STEEP. The mud made things very tricky and slick, and it was a bit intimidating. Luckily there were a few ladders to help with the worst spots.

Both of us decided to descend next to the ladder rather than actually using the rungs due to how steep and widely spaced the rungs were. Now, being the graceful moose that I am, I lost traction part of the way down, and slid down on my butt. On the way, my hiking pole got caught under my pack, which jammed the pole about a foot into the mud at the bottom of the slope. I had to laugh at myself, as Josh asked me “Is your pole stuck in the mud?” and I replied, “Sure is!”. I unearthed it, and we continued on down to the col.

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The hole from my pole, circled in red

As I’m writing this, I’m surprised because it felt like that descent took forever, but was apparently only 35 minutes. At 1:15pm, we reached the col between the mountains.

My hiking buddy went on ahead during the ascent up Blake, and another hiker or two passed me as well, looking tired and covered in mud, but still in good spirits. Everyone I met this day had been absolutely awesome, and I stopped to talk with many of them. I even met a group of students from my university coming down Blake, one of whom I’d actually taught before! Even though Blake is kind of a really awful mountain, the people I met along the way more than made up for it, probably because the only people who would be out there are people who just love hiking, like me. No matter how tough the hike, everyone is willing to meet one another and lend a hand.

As this climb was dragging on, I saw a man who had passed me earlier was now coming back down. When I asked him if the summit was anywhere close, I heard Josh yell up ahead “It’s right here! Keep going!” so with a last burst of energy, I scrambled up to the summit at 2:15pm, which was noted with a small pile of rocks and no view. Time from Colvin: 1.5hrs. Time from trailhead: 7hr 15min.

We both had some snacks and victory chocolate, and I gratefully let my heavy pack fall off of my shoulders.

While we were up there, another gentleman reached the summit with us, and the first word out of his mouth was an exasperated “F**k!”. We burst out laughing; that one expression completely summed up the hike to Blake. The three of us sat together for some time chatting and dreading the trip back to Colvin.

Nevertheless, at 2:45 we headed back the way we came. I was moving so incredibly slowly sown the steep, muddy rocky slopes, and was soon left behind by my hiking buddy, which was again fine with me. At least if I fell on my rear no one would be there to see it! Surprisingly, despite my lack of grace, I never did fall. I was so incredibly relieved when I made it back to the col to Colvin, because the worst of the descents for the whole trip were over. I made my way back up Colvin, and again the climb never seemed to end. Every time I though I must be close, it just kept going.

I sat once again upon the summit of Colvin at 3:50pm, alone this time, and enjoyed the most delicious fruit cup I’ve ever eaten in my life. At 4pm, I left my perch, now drained of any ambition to climb Nippletop and Dial. It was getting windier and the clouds were more forboding, and I didn’t want to be on a summit in the rain. As I headed down, I met another group of really fun people heading up for Colvin and Blake, and encouraged them to keep going because the summit was literally 2 minutes away. We talked for a few minutes, then parted ways. Climbing down from Colvin was tougher than I had anticipated, with lots of slick muddy rocks, steep descents, and rock hopping, and my knees soon started to ache and feel weak. I finally reached the junction after an hour of very careful descent.

The going was much easier after the junction, and I sped right along the Gil Brook trail, bypassing the scenic overlooks that I’d already seen. I made it back to Lake Rd at about 6pm. I hadn’t used a restroom since 7am, and the rushing water of Gil Brook alongside the road was not helping my bladder situation, so I really picked up my pace to make it back to the parking lot! Along the way, I rescued a small bright orange salamander from the middle of the road and chatted with a nice fellow from Montreal (shoutout to Maxim) while we walked back to the gate. I signed out, then practically ran back to the parking lot. I made it there at about 7pm, after 12 hours of hiking, and was SO HAPPY that I had a change of clothes, socks, and shoes waiting for me in the car.

I drove the two hours back home all with a stunning sunset in front of me. 11 down, 35 more to go! You’re next, Dial and Nippletop.

Colvin Mountain: 4057′

Blake Mountain: 3960′

Indian Head: 2700′

Fish Hawk Cliffs: 2600′

Total Duration: ~12 Hours

Round Trip Distance: ~15 miles

All images are property of adktrailtalesandtails and may only be used with express permission.