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The Monster of Avalanche Lake-Colden Wine Bottle Slide 2015 June 7

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  • The Monster of Avalanche Lake-Colden Wine Bottle Slide 2015 June 7

    Click photo for high resolution.


    As a tiny seed grows into a tree, a comment spoken years ago sometimes grows into a plan that matures during a later date. So it was with Mt. Colden’s Wine Bottle slide, an intimidating scar one slide south of the Trap Dike (Colden Slide). Thanks to NP for planting the seed. The slide appears technical from below, like ropes are absolutely necessary. Thus I avoided it until recently when I explored it in March with Dan Plumley (of Adirondack Wild).

    We made it about halfway up before a vertical curtain of ice when an incoming storm forced our retreat. I garnered enough information to realize that it seemed like a reasonable solo climb—this is a VERY subjective comment and many will want to use a rope. Friends Matt Dobbs and NP joined me on Sunday June 7 to attempt this monster of Avalanche Lake. I’ll remember this outing as one of the most interesting and difficult slides climbs in my repertoire.

    We met at South Meadows and began the 6 mile trek to its base at 8:30 am under clear skies. Before I knew it we were at the north end of Avalanche Lake crunching on power bars and discussing the attack plan. Matt brought a 70 meter rope and small alpine rack to protect if necessary. The plan wasn’t to pitch it out and belay at anchor points so much as simul-climb it when necessary. This would save time and still protect against a fall. I hoped to solo the route entirely and felt confident that I could find enough holds to remain safely within my comfort zone. I’d use the rope if necessary.

    The boulder at south end of Avalanche Lake marked our departure to the base of Mt. Colden via a 250 foot bushwhack up to the southeast. We intersected a drainage which led directly to the lowest section of anorthosite. Cliffs on the footwall loomed above, my excitement peaked.

    We put on harnesses in case we needed to use a rope and readied ourselves. I studied the rock that I’d seen poking through the ice and snow months earlier. The face was covered with divots, cracks and small rails that led upward. Featured or not, the footwall was tall and steep for a traditional slide climb. Ascending with a moderately heavy pack offsets balance—yet another concern.

    Photos: 1-View from 100' up footwall, 2-NP on a 'crimpy' section about 175 feet up.

    Matt took a line up the center as I stepped left onto the steepest slab I could find to get a feel while still low on the slope. Thereafter I followed Matt’s line for a distance. NP already had the camera out. The divots in the face were deep and as technical climbing goes, it wasn’t difficult. There was never a time that we couldn’t find a hold for both hands and feet. That said, an unprotected fall would probably end up in death so it wasn’t an area to be complacent or lose focus.

    The view of Lake Colden to the south and Avalanche Lake below was simply breathtaking. It didn’t take long to climb above the treetops for the views. Small cliffs on the face made photographs all that much more dramatic. About 150 feet up, Matt found a ramp and walked off to a large terrace below a cliff to wait for NP and me.

    I was enthralled with both the stone underfoot as well as the panorama. Much like the West Ramp Slide to the south, this quickly became exciting. Unlike the West Ramp, the stone was very clean. NP began to hoot...a sure sign that he was having a good time. We took a short break on the terrace with Matt. A small cliff above was riddled with cracks; its edge was decorated with snow cornices back in March. Below was a gully that Dan and I climbed to circumvent the footwall we were now climbing.

    Stepping off the terrace led to the final 50’ of steep slab. We climbed and broke left up onto another terrace below a 450 foot stretch of lower angle slab (between 35-40 degrees). The climbing turned from technical (around 5.2 YDS on the footwall) to scrambling and the view got even more expansive. The slab above the footwall is over 400 feet wide.

    I struck a line directly up the center to a steeper bulge (really an overlap). Lichen and moss covered the bulge, but a few small spots of stone gave me enough real estate on which to climb. I continued to solo while Matt set up an anchor to belay NP. I scrambled up to shoot photographs, stopping near a 4 foot overlap where the low angle stone ended. NP and Matt looked like two ants on a sea of stone as they climbed—Avalanche Lake and Avalanche Gully (a good winter climbing route) sat in the background. The hitchup matildas on the lake’s edge were barely discernable from this height.

    Matt Dobbs leads from an overlap on the 450 foot long section above the footwall.

    The next area was made of steeper ledges that were a bit chossy. We angled left along a small tree island. Narrow edges in the stone made the short (but nearly vertical) sections easy to climb.

    Two central cliffs, part of the slide’s allure, were getting close at hand. They split the slide about halfway up. The first looked menacing; this is what stopped Dan and I as we floundered in deep snow back in March. Dan and I tried to climb the ice covered stone on the left side of the slide as the winter storm moved in.

    This time, we looked for a weakness toward the right-hand side. We traversed below a tree island growing down from the cliff and climbed along the far right-hand side of the slide. This led to the cliff and an amenable route up the wall.

    An obvious left rising ramp with several cracks (should one want to place gear) transformed what would have been a technical climb it into a fourth class scramble. We easily walked up onto a spacious terrace. Matt followed the cliff to the north and entered a small crevasse. He crawled through, climbed up the other side and emerged on a second terrace 10 feet above our position. Bonus! This isn’t as large as the crevasse on Upper Wolfjaw’s Skinny slide, but it made the climb even more interesting.

    Continuing upward another 50 feet led to the crux of the route, an overhanging cliff about 15 feet tall. We followed left and climbed several cracks (5.7 YDS move). It was a bit like bouldering and protected from below by the trees so, while technical, it wasn’t exposed. Above, we found the reason for the cracks—a large segment of the slab had slid forward.
    Small ledges led upward to more scrambling. The remainder was typical slide climbing where one can walk up the face to its top some 2,150 ground feet from the start of the footwall. It was a magnificent technical slide route and one that I’m bound to repeat over and again.

    Photos: 1-NP gets ready to ascend the cracks/ramp in the first cliff,
    2-Kevin on the same section,
    3-NP in the crevasse,
    4-Matt on the 5.7 move that breaches the 2nd cliff,
    5-Matt belaying NP above the crack.

    We bushwhacked north (left) on contour for about 250 feet to a narrow mossy slide with a view of the balancing boulder on Colden’s summit ridge. Twenty minutes later we were on the summit swatting blackflies and eating lunch. It was my fourteenth climb of Colden, but the mountain never gets old with exciting routes like this.

    In summary, the slide begins with a 200 foot high footwall we rated 5.2 on the Yosemite Decimal System. Low angle slide rules for another 450 feet to chossy ledges preceding two dominant cliffs. The second cliff, though lower, contains a bouldery 5.7 YDS move that leads to more low angle slab. It’s undoubtedly one of the best slides in the Adirondacks if you’re ready for the challenge.
    Last edited by mudrat; 11-28-2020, 11:44 AM.
    May your ambition for the goal allow you to be a student of the journey.