It all started with the August edition of “Adirondack Life” and a tantalizing article about climbing the Trap Dike on the back side of 4,715-foot Mount Colden.
My first teaching job was in Indian Lake, so I was definitely familiar with the High Peaks of the Adirondacks and had summited a handful of them over the years. Surprisingly, I had never heard of the Trap Dike.
After a month or so of research, planning and scheming, I finally convinced my wife that it was “safe enough” to climb. So, one Friday afternoon, we drove the four hours to Indian Lake where I tossed and turned all night, rehearsing the stages of the climb in my mind … over and over again. People have died up there and I am not as young as I used to be.
The alarm went off at 4 a.m. I rubbed my sleep-deprived eyes and rolled out of bed. I quickly dressed in layers, picked up Israel, my climbing partner, and headed up the Northway toward Lake Placid, in the dark. The sun struggled up over the horizon and the clouds glowed fluorescent pink as we took the last left turn onto Adirondack Loj Road.
We made good time up the two-and-a-half-mile fire road to Marcy Dam which was partially washed away by Irene in 2011. Israel and I munched on trail mix and string cheese, and that first bottle of water went down so easy. It was a cool, cloudy and breezy September morning with the threat of an afternoon shower. We continued our trek toward Avalanche Lake, which is a smallish body of water resting peacefully between two mammoth mountains. After crossing the catwalks, fastened to the rock cliffs, we abandoned the marked trail and bush-whacked our way back to the base of the Trap Dike.
The Trap Dike is long jagged ravine carved between two mountains by a cascading waterfall. If it hasn’t rained for several days, it is a challenging climb. If it is wet, it becomes a death-wish. Israel and I stood at the base of the rock-strewn dike and just gazed up, up up. With the swirling clouds and fog it looked like a primeval “stairway to heaven.” Just then a ranger rowed over to us and suggested, “If you’re gonna climb, you better get started … there’s a storm moving in pretty quick.” With raised eyebrows, Israel and I agreed to give it a shot.
At first, the going was easy as we climbed over the jumbled pile of roots and rocks. Then it got increasingly more difficult as we approached the waterfall section. Thankfully there was a modest amount of water coming down over the rocks and ledges. We barely got our hiking boots wet. Then we reached the point of the climb they call the “crux,” a nearly vertical pitch of about 30 feet. This is an area where one has to seriously stretch to find finger and toe holds. It is also called the crux because once you get up over it, there really isn’t a safe way down without ropes and climbing gear. At the top of the waterfall, Israel and I paused for another snack and bottle of water as we peered back down through the Trap Dike to the minuscule Avalanche Lake, several thousand feet below.
Back on our feet, we began the daunting task of ascending the quarter-mile rock slab … the same one that can be seen from miles away. Parts of it were so steep that we had to crawl on our hands and toes. Our calf muscles burned and our backs ached. Like a scene out of a movie, torn wisps of cloud raced across the face of the slide. Thankfully the surface of the slab was coarse and gripped the soles of our hiking boots. The cloud bank at the summit was so thick, we couldn’t tell if we had a few more feet or another quarter mile to climb. Finally the scrub-capped peak of the mountain came into sight. We struggled through 100 or so feet of snarled shrubs, deep black mud and stunted spruce, finally arriving at the small brass marker embedded into a boulder at the peak.
We paused, cheered, snapped pictures, gazed at the surrounding mountain tops, snacked, drank more water, rested, marveled at the amazing view … and began our descent, which took longer than our ascent. We followed the trail markers to Lake Palmer, then Marcy Dam, our vehicle and finally … the nearest pizza joint.
After 12 miles and about seven hours, I returned from our Trap Dike adventure with a camera full of proofs and a memory I will cherish for the rest of life.
— Daniel Green is a third grade teacher at Gorham Elementary School