Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Peak Experience in the Adirondacks

Growing up in the New Jersey suburbs and living in Manhattan, I've lived with an inconvenient ambition: to climb a mountain in classic alpine style--roped up, with ice axe and crampons, surrounded by ice and rock and snow. But even though I've done a lot of hiking, including a trek to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, I never realized my ambitions for mountaineering until a recent trip to the High Peaks of the Adirondacks.

Saint Patrick's Day of 2011 was the date. Goal: the summit of Mount Colden.

The weather was bright, conditions were great, and my guide--Chad Kennedy of Adirondack Rock and River--was tops. Around 7:30 am we left the Adirondack Loj parking lot on skis, carrying climbing harnesses, crampons, snowshoes, and ice axes. (Chad carried our rope, carabiners and other climbing gear.) We skied to Avalanche Camp, stashed our skis, then trekked over the pass to Avalanche Lake and the foot of the Trap Dyke. The Dyke is essentially a steep gully that forms the first part of the ascent of Mount Colden.

There was lots of snow in the Dyke, but it was fairly firm underfoot and there was no need for crampons and roping up until we reached the first of two ice faces. The first went by quickly; the second took a little more work to climb. (My ice axe was an absolute necessity by this point.) Soon we were up on the slab, an open rock face covered with ice and snow.

We ascended the slab at a steady pace. I paid little attention to the scenery; most of the time I was looking for the best way to plant my crampons in Chad's footsteps.

My alpine form is far from perfect, and at moments I wished I'd put in a few more weeks of running stairs before making the climb. But I kept on plodding as Chad set a good course and a good pace. We reached the summit by around 1 pm and I whooped with joy: ice, snow, and spectacular Adirondack scenery, all under a glorious blue and sunlit sky.

We descended the mountain on snowshoes, put on our skis again at Avalanche Camp, and skied out to the Adirondack Loj. On this stage of the trip, gravity was our friend: we glided through the last few miles of the trek and finished around 6 pm. I was pleasantly tired, very happy, and glad to have taken my passion for mountains and hiking to a new level.

Mount Colden in winter is a good introduction to winter mountaineering. You need basic skills with ice axe and crampons and you need to be in shape. With a good guide--and Chad, like other guides at Rock and River, is first rate--Mount Colden can be a great trip. It certainly was for me.

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