Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Phil Brown: The Best Trek In The Adirondacks

Will high in dikeTrap Dike or Eagle Slide? Like many hikers, I long wavered as to which is the better adventure. After climbing the dike last week, though, I’d rate it the best hike/scramble in the Adirondacks.

For me, the question was settled by Tropical Storm Irene. In August 2011, Irene’s deluge triggered a new slide that leads from the Trap Dike to the summit of Mount Colden and scoured the dike itself clean of vegetation and rubble.

As a result, from Avalanche Lake, hikers climb roughly three-quarters of a mile over clean rock, ascending 1,850 feet.

“In my opinion, post Irene, the Trap Dike is now THE best alpine adventure in the Park,” Jim Lawyer, the co-author of Adirondack Rock, told me in an email.

Adirondack Rock gives both the dike and the Eagle Slide five stars, the book’s highest rating for the overall quality of a climb.

But while the Trap Dike has improved, the Eagle Slide has not, according to Lawyer. He no longer regards it even as the best slide climb on Giant Mountain.

“The Eagle Slide is growing in,” he said. “This used to be a great scramble, but I think the Bottle Slide is now a better adventure, especially with the Bottleneck finish.”

Phil at cruxThe Bottleneck is a short, technical climb (rated 5.5 in the Yosemite Decimal System) on a cliff at the end of the Bottle.

The Eagle and Trap Dike are both fourth-class climbs. That means the climbing is fairly simple and, depending on your confidence and skill level, you may or may not rope up.

Simple does not mean without risk. A fall in the wrong place on the Eagle or in the Trap Dike could result in death or serious injury. In 2011, 22-year-old hiker died in the dike after falling on the crux, or hardest part–the steep, blocky rock next to a waterfall. Lawyer recommends that people without rock-climbing experience use ropes in the Trap Dike.

Why do I say the Trap Dike surpasses the Eagle?

First, the approach. If you start at Adirondak Loj or South Meadow Road, you hike through Avalanche Pass, where you skirt the bases of two other slides, and along the edge of Avalanche Lake, walled in by precipices on both sides. The lake is one of the iconic scenes of the Adirondacks.

Second, the climb itself. There are dozens of slides in the Adirondacks, but only one Trap Dike. Most slides are open rock. The Trap Dike is a canyon. Most slides are a steep walk, with some scrambling on all fours. In the dike, the hard parts are fairly vertical, requiring careful foot and hand placements; it feels more like real climbing.

Phil on slideThird, the new exit slide. The rock is beautiful—white, clean, and dimpled—and steep enough to test even experienced slide climbers. It is a worthy objective in itself, but in this case it’s just the icing on the cake.

Fourth, the views. The summits of Giant and Colden both have spectacular views, but on Colden you are immersed in wilderness. You feel close to the highest of the High Peaks, while looking down on Avalanche Lake, Lake Colden, and the Flowed Lands. And then there’s the view of the ever-diminishing Avalanche Lake as you ascend the Trap Dike.

On either the Trap Dike or Eagle, I’d recommend wearing sticky-soled shoes. When I climbed the dike on Friday, I carried a pair of rock-climbing shoes in my pack and put them on at the base of the climb. These shoes are roomy enough that I can wear them with thin socks and comfortable enough that I don’t mind wearing them for a few hours. Another good option is approach shoes, which are low-cut hiking shoes with sticky soles. These are what Will Roth, an EMS guide, was wearing when we met in the Trap Dike on Friday. Of course, people climb the Eagle and the dike in hiking shoes, but sticky soles will give you extra security and confidence.

Wherever you go, whatever you wear, be safe.

And if you think you know a better hike than the Trap Dike, let us know.

Finally, click the following links to read full-length articles on the Eagle and Trap Dike that appeared in the Adirondack Explorer newsmagazine:

The Eagle’s domain

Climbing the ‘new’ Trap Dike

Photos by Phil Brown and Will Roth: (1) Will  in the Trap Dike, far above Avalanche Lake. (2) Phil near the top of the second waterfall, the crux of the Trap Dike. (3) Phil on the slide above the Trap Dike. Click on the photos to enlarge them.


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Phil Brown is the former Editor of Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack. Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing. He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.

10 Responses

  1. Scott van Laer says:

    Totally agree. Trap Dike is the best. I don’t think the Bottle is the best slide climb though. Are you differentiating slabs and slides? Chapel Pond slab and North Face of Gothics would rank near the top if you are considering them. Bennys should rank high for slides if you consider length of slide and ease of approach but I know some would say it’s too easy.

    • Phil Brown says:

      Scott, Jim was saying the Bottle Slide is better than the Eagle, not that it is the best of all slides. However, if it is better than the Eagle, it would rank pretty high. Also, he is partial to the Bottle because of the short technical climb at the end, which is not part of the slide per se. There are lots of good slides out there. Most people would consider Chapel Pond Slab and North Face of Gothics to be a step up from slides. They are fifth-class climbs.

  2. I have to agree as well. It’s an Adirondack classic. Where else can you walk in the footstep of some of the first Adirondack explorers with views that are to die for? Mix in the new alterations from Irene and you can’t go wrong.The ascent also positions you for numerous creative descents if the dike just isn’t enough. I love it!

  3. Phil Brown says:

    I found it interesting that Jim Lawyer thinks the Bottle Slide is better than the Eagle now. Since I just did the Bottle with you, Mudrat, I will have to go up the Eagle soon to compare.

  4. Shawn "RockaholicJ" says:

    I have a special love for the approach of Grace Peak especially if you commit to the exposed rock on the upper portion of the slide. Saddleback post-Irene is one of my favorite winter back-country skiing destination along with Bennies and no other slide in the ADK mirrors the loose pile as found on the Macomb Slide… Each one is an experience worth to be had, but it sure does look like a great week to scramble up the Trap Dyke on hump day!

  5. Justin says:

    Curious, Phil, any info on K-9 ascents of semi technical Adirondack climbs. Both my dogs have done Eagle and the Trap Dike, as well as multiple other slides.

    As for my opinion, Eagle up the center and via the hardest lines is, imo (as a pretty good slab and slide climber) equal to the first few pitches of Chapel Pond Slab, so unless Chapel Pond is misstated as 5th class (5.3 for the 3rd pitch, correct?), Eagle pushes 5.0 if you go direct. .

    As far as Eagle vs bottle…eagle is a 4th to 5th class slide, while bottle is a 3rd, If you count bottle top, the 5.6 finish it now requires gear for a half pitch of 5.6 climbing. Thus, for slide climbers, I see no way Bottle is better than Eagle. And if you are good enough to solo a wet sandbagged 5.6 bottle top, bottle will bite you to death.

    I believe if you want to be challenged and scared, Whiteface 3 and 4 are money climbs, followed by maybe the east face of Giant. If you want some exposure, Eagle or Basin. If you want something unique, Trap Dike with a 400m amphibious approach to the base hauling your pack. And when you get bored of that, hit the technical slabs on Big Slide or just start bringing your dog. 😉

    • Phil Brown says:

      Don’t forget “Teddy’s Trauma” on Gothics. It’s a 5.7 route that the climber’s dog could not handle. Apparently, Teddy was good up to 5.6

  6. Justin says:

    Should say *bottle will bore you to death.

  7. Justin says:

    yeah, I think mellors book joked 5.6 must have been his limit. 5.6 is pretty bad ass, my last dog was a freak and spitefully climbed to the open book belay in CP just to show us he could, which isn’t anywhere near 5.6.

    good point, though, Rainbow Slide on Gothics has to be included in any conversation on quality slides.

    What shouldn’t is the North Face, grown in and wet, it’s just another fear factor slide without many redeeming positives. last time we attempted it in 2003 I swore never again. yet people still speak of it like it’s a worthy objective. Weird!