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Trap Dike 2017-12-02

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  • Trap Dike 2017-12-02

    I don't post much here, but thought I'd throw out a trip report from our ascent of the Dike this last weekend. Since it's primarily a hiking forum, I'll leave out most of the mumbo-jumbo language. Most ice climbers can fill the gaps anyway. It should be noted, however, that the Trap Dike is a much more serious undertaking in the winter, as it involves dangers that come with technical ice climbing and puts you in serious avalanche terrain, depending on conditions. Many climbers and skiers have been swept down from the Dike in the winter in avalanches, others have fallen to unfortunate demises. It should be attempted by those with proper mountaineering equipment and experience. Anyway...

    Though we initially wanted to go ice climbing closer to the road or get some cold rock climbing in, my partner and I decided to change plans to head for the Trap Dike. We were both excited- this would be my third time on it, but my first in the winter. We are both relatively experienced climbers and hikers, and with WFR and Avy ​​​1 certifications, were comfortable with assessing the risks involved with a backcountry mountaineering route like the Trap Dike. My partner was the stronger ice climber and would take the technical pitches. I'd be more of a trail guide for this one.

    After leaving Potsdam around 5, we made it to the Loj and were headed down the trail at just about 7:00. We booted up to Avalanche Lake, taking only a short break at Marcy Dam. The trail had been beaten down and was fine without spikes, and it was rather warm- this would allow us to move fast and comfortably on the trails. My partner, who had yet to see Avalanche Pass (he's from New Hampshire, it's not his fault) was very impressed, and took note for future ski descents and rock and ice climbs, some of which are among the best in the Adirondacks, yet rarely visited.

    Click image for larger version  Name:	IMG_20171202_193618.jpg Views:	1 Size:	437.3 KB ID:	482213

    We had doubts about the lake ice so we took the trail until we were at the point on the trail after the second Hitch Up Matilda where one can stare directly into the Trap Dike. We evaluated conditions there, and from what we could see, it looked good. The previous week had seen a lot of warm temperatures and ice was said to be rotting in the lower passes and valleys.

    To save some time, we decided to cross the lake at that point, after evaluating the lake ice and seeing that it was strong and thick at that area, whereas at the inlets and outlets it looked more slushy. We reached the bottom of the Dike around 9:25.

    As we started climbing up the debris field and into the Dike, we were instantly slowed by waste deep wind drifts that were filling the gaps between the talus. The uniformity of the snow from above made it difficult to discern whether a step would find a secure rock ankle deep or would send me plunging. I probed with my ice axe (recently purchased from a certain character well known in these parts) to find the best way to a rocky platform beneath the first waterfall.

    For the first waterfall, we geared up with our ice climbing equipment- screws, crampons, etc. After the first waterfall, we made a second half pitch just to clear some minor ice above our belay. From there, a quasi sort of simulclimb up deep snow drifts brought us to the base of the second waterfall. The ice there was weird- somewhat rotten out and reformed again. My partner, while leading this section, had to clear it of poor crust and deep snow drifts- I was not envious. While following on this section, the technical difficulty was fairly easy, but I took a fall when a bulge I was standing in sheared off under my weight! I was glad I was roped in as the follower and not leading or soloing, as a fall there, near the top of the second waterfall, would have been very severe.
    Between the two waterfall pitches
    Between the two waterfall pitches


    With the second waterfall passed, we coiled our ropes and began a slog further up the Trap Dike, venturing out onto easy, low angle ice whenever we could to escape from the arduous snow drifts. We reached the base of the Irene Slide and decided it was too boney to attempt- verglas and thin snow drifts.
    Click image for larger version  Name:	IMG_20171202_193045.jpg Views:	1 Size:	429.2 KB ID:	482215
    Easy snow and ice climbing above the waterfall pitches


    Our alternative was to bushwhack up the forested part of the Trap Dike and into the woods to the col between "Little Colden" and Mount Colden's summit. We removed our harnesses and gear, tightened down our packs, but kept the our helmets and a single ice tool to aid in our wallowing through steep spruce. We began up moss steps with calf-deep snow and spruce sinkholes. After a little bit, however, the going became surprisingly easier, as the spruce thickets had allowed for decent paths. It was still strenuous, of course! By the time we reached the trail, I was exhausted and my legs were cramping, but we took only a second to recover and continued up to the summit of Colden. I imagine we got strange looks, wearing 14 point crampons, helmets and carrying ropes on our packs as we passed dayhikers heading down from the summit. It was my fourth time up there, but it was my partner's first. Unfortunately, we were clouded in when we arrived around 2:00. The trail, incidentally, was packed out nicely, with only a light amount of fluff on it. Not much snow in general but enough to make things pretty!

    I ditched my cumbersome crampons and switched into microspikes. With some food, water, my special hot cocoa (with the addition most primary of a large quantity of butter) and a few conversations with hikers, we took a 20 minute break to recover. Not many views on the summit, so no real reason to stick around much other than to burn daylight - the time for relaxation and reflection would come later. We started our descent and took another rest at Lake Arnold We moved well on the trail now, and made our way back to Marcy Dam. We stopped for a final water and food break, and retrieved headlamps from our packs. Though it was still light, the sun was setting and it would save us the inconvenience of having to stop again, or prevent a "I don't want to stop, lets just finish up in the dark" scenario- a trick I had picked up from mudrat in some of our Panther Gorge trials.

    We made our final push back to the Loj. We passed the ADK ultrahiking legend Neil on the way, who was taking a casual day up Colden with friends. Must've been a few hours ahead of our afternoon arrival on the summit! I wished him luck with the coming winter hundred highest, and we scurried back to the car around 4:45. Our headlamps were on for only about 15 minutes, but we had used every second of daylight for this trip (all 9 hours of it! Ah, the approaching winter solstice!). 9.5 hours car to car was a fine time and meant we would be getting home comfortably.

    We stopped at Wyatt's in Lake Placid and quickly devoured our burgeoning burritos, and coincidentally ran into friends who had been skiing at Whiteface that day- the same ones who had told me about Wyatt's nearly two years ago... When we were finally home at the dark hours of the night (7 o'clock) I ate more food and drank buttered hot chocolate and repeatedly fell asleep on the couch while attempting to stay social with friends. Finally, I pushed myself to climb the stairs to my bed and fell asleep instantly.

  • #2
    Pictures are fantastic. Sounds like a very cool outing.
    Project-100: 100 peaks, one winter. https://project100singlewinter.wordpress.com/

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    • #3
      Cool trip and pics! Thanks for the sit-rep.

      "Many climbers and skiers have been swept down from the Dike in the winter in avalanches, others have fallen to unfortunate demises."

      I know a young man died there after Irene, but I am unaware of fatalities in the Trap dike due to avalanche.

      RonKon told me once that there has only been 1 avy fatality in the ADKs (Angel/Angle Slide). Is that no longer true?
      Tom Rankin - 5444W "In the depths of Summer, I finally learned that there lay within me an invincible Winter"

      Proud Member #0003 of ADKHP Foundation
      Volunteer Balsam Lake Mountain
      Past President Catskill 3500 Club
      CEO Views And Brews!

      Trail maintainer for the Dry Brook Ridge trail from Mill Brook Road to just past the Lean-to

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      • #4
        Thanks Neil!

        Quick add to my trip report- we were on the trail for about 4.5 hours... But took a bit over 5 to reach Colden's summit from Avalanche Lake! Strenuous terrain and proper belaying for the waterfall pitches definitely slowed us down there

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        • #5
          Originally posted by TFR View Post
          RonKon told me once that there has only been 1 avy fatality in the ADKs (Angel/Angle Slide). Is that no longer true?
          Hmmmm. For some reason I believed there were 3 fatalities caused by avalanches? I'm sure Ron Kon knows better than me though! Nevertheless, several parties have been swept out of the Dike, both skiing and climbing. Last time was 2015, if I recall correctly. Incidentally, the party that was swept down was the third one ascending the route that day, at least they weren't the first from what I remember.

          Edit to add: just realized that my wording in the trip report gives the impression that there were avalanche fatalities on route. I know there's been a few burials and injuries, but the only fatalities on route I'm aware of were due to unfortunate falls. Nevertheless, one should always approach slides with caution in the Adirondacks, even easier ones like Bennies and Macomb.

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          • #6
            Glad to see the axe served you well, little bear! Good report and pics as usual. Waterfall looked pretty solid from my last memory
            From my knowledge the most recent death was the student after Irene. There were a few people partially buried and I remember a fall off Colden Slide some years back.
            May your ambition for the goal allow you to be a student of the journey.

            www.adirondackmountaineering.com

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            • #7
              Nice report and pics! I've climbed the dike in that "lean condition" and that one short pitch is a real ice lead, and takes some focus. (Especially with one short axe and one long alpine axe, which is not so good for steeps...) Anymore I climb it later (spring) when it's fat and corny. Some years if you hit it at the right time, that pitch is almost completely packed with neve, with only perhaps a 6 foot section of exposed ice. Then the short axe never comes off of the pack.

              Right about the deaths. One avy death - Angel Slides on Wright Peak. Several avy incidents in the dike, but no avy deaths in the dike. One death in the dike recently (young man after Irene, as discussed above). One death much longer ago (I think maybe 25 years ago) on the older slides above the dike. IIRC, there were slick conditions, a woman fell, was unable to arrest, and hit trees at the base of that section of slide.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by tcd View Post
                Nice report and pics! I've climbed the dike in that "lean condition" and that one short pitch is a real ice lead, and takes some focus. (Especially with one short axe and one long alpine axe, which is not so good for steeps...) Anymore I climb it later (spring) when it's fat and corny. Some years if you hit it at the right time, that pitch is almost completely packed with neve, with only perhaps a 6 foot section of exposed ice. Then the short axe never comes off of the pack.
                Lucky for my partner he was carrying two modern ice tools. Didn't seem to do him many favors for the snow slogging but nice for the ice! Wouldn't mind hitting it up again with better snow support at least.

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