Thursday, February 18, 2016

Frostbite Follows High Peaks Excursion During Extreme Cold

trap dike in winterTwo ice climbers forced to spend a frigid night on Mount Colden after climbing the Trap Dike showed up more than a day later at the Lake Colden outpost with signs of frostbite.

The pair ascended the Trap Dike last Thursday with ice axes and crampons and continued over Colden’s summit via a slide created in 2011, but they were overtaken by darkness and lost the hiking trail, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. They did have headlamps.

DEC spokeswoman Emily Kilburn said the climbers, a 49-year-old man from Denver, Colorado, and a 51-year-old woman from Gardiner, New York, spent the night somewhere on Colden. Kilburn did not know if they had a shelter.

The next morning, on Friday, the two followed hiking trails to their campsite. They spent that night at the Beaver Point lean-to on Lake Colden.

The couple awoke Saturday morning with signs of frostbite on their extremities and hiked to the Lake Colden outpost, arriving at 1 p.m. The Colden caretaker reported the incident at 2:30 p.m. Forest rangers met the couple at Marcy Dam at 4:45 p.m. and transported them by snowmobile back to the trailhead. They were then taken to Adirondack Medical Center in Lake Placid.

Temperatures in the High Peaks fell far below zero over the weekend. Just how cold no doubt varied a bit from place to place, but data recorded by the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center on the summit of Whiteface Mountain gives a good indication of the temperatures in the mountains.

On the couple’s first night out, the temperature recorded at the Whiteface weather station was 18 degrees below zero at midnight and 11 below at 7 a.m. The temperature rose to 3 degrees at 5 p.m. Friday, then fell to 2 below at midnight. By 7 a.m. Saturday, the temperature had plummeted to 17 below. By the time couple reached the Colden outpost, it had fallen further to 35 below.

Richard Brandt, science manager at the research center, said the temperatures at the summits of Colden and Whiteface would have been similar. The temperature at Lake Colden, though, would have been roughly seven degrees warmer. Thus, it would have been about 28 below when the two reached the outpost.

Kilburn said it’s unclear on which night the couple first suffered frostbite.

DEC declined to identify the two hikers.

The Trap Dike, a canyon-like gash in the northwest face of Colden, is a popular ice climb in winter. Climbers use crampons and ice axes to ascend its two frozen waterfalls. In 2011, Tropical Storm Irene created a slide that leads from the top of the dike to Colden’s summit.

Photo by Phil Brown: Trap Dike on Mount Colden.


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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.

6 Responses

  1. Cranberry Bill says:

    This pair may have had some bad luck on their outing, but they must have had good outdoor skills to have survived. Anybody can be a victim of bad luck (or even bad judgement), but surviving these winter conditions takes more than luck. Good judgement, skills, and experience come to mind. I think this story should be told in detail.

    I often camp for two week periods at temps that usually bottom out around 20 above. I cannot imagine 28 below, a 48 degree difference. That is like the difference between 68 above and my 20.

    Thank you Phil for this article, and thank you John Warren for editing these pages which help me get through the times I am not in the woods.

    • John Warren says:

      Thank you Bill. I’m glad you find the Almanack useful.


    • Boreas says:

      Yes – it would be nice to have more details to see what they did right as well as what they did wrong. It would seem they underestimated how long it would take to ascend the slides. I would think the frostbite occurred either on the slides or when they lost the trail the first night, as they likely had winter bags back at their camp.

  2. Amy Hildreth says:

    I sure pray they will fully recover

  3. katie says:

    Unfortunately, they did not have snowshoes so when they reached the summit, they postholed and got too tired doing that. And they didn’t set out on the trap dike until one pm, which was too late, which they knew after the fact. Getting to the top, in that late of the day, running out of light and having no snowshoes, were all contributing factors to getting caught out. Thank god they were strong, and hiked out in good time on Saturday.

  4. Ron Konowitz says:

    What Lake Colden Interior Outpost Caretaker Katie Tyler didn’t mention was that she escorted the pair across Avalanche Lake to Marcy Dam and then had to return back through Avalanche Pass to the Lake Colden Cabin in -60 Wind Chill Conditions . NYS Forest Ranger Jim Giglinto also had to brave those rediculously cold temperatures to complete the Evacuation of the Injured Climbers.
    Those two DEC Employees are the Real Heroes!
    Another Job Well Done!

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