Two spans of catwalks, known as “Hitch-Up Matildas,” are anchored along the cliff walls of Avalanche Mountain to allow hikers to safely traverse the edge of Avalanche Lake. They offer dry footing, a breathtaking view of the Trap Dyke, and of the expanse of water sandwiched between Mount Colden and Avalanche Mountain.
The “Hitch-Up Matildas” got their name from a story about Bill Nye – for whom Mount Nye is named – guiding a hike for Matilda Fielding, her husband, and their niece, back in 1868. The story was first published by Seneca Ray Stoddard in The Adirondacks Illustrated (1874), which I encourage folks to read here.
In 1868, the Hitch-Up Matildas were not in place, and since he didn’t mention them, it appears they were not in place when Stoddard’s book came out six years later. In 1921, The Adirondack Record-Elizabethtown Post ran a story that referenced the trail through Avalanche Pass to Lake Colden and on to the Flowed Lands, but did not mention the Hitch-Up Matildas.
The earliest account I could find is in a 1926 article on Nye Mountain in High Spots magazine by noted Adirondack trail and mountain historian Russell Carson, in which he describes them as a floating raft of logs chained to Avalanche Mountain. In 1928, Carson said they were “long, narrow rafes of logs, fastened to the shore at each end, carrying the trail.”
According to Keene Resident and Adirondack Mountain Club High Peaks trail guide author and editor Tony Goodwin, the floating raft Matildas were replaced in the 1960s by bridges on rock-filled cribs. These apparently suffered from fluctuations in the water level of Avalanche Lake which occasionally made them impassable.
In the mid-1970s, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation replaced the Matildas with the current design. They drilled about a foot into the rock face of Avalanche Mountain and anchored a metal beam with a facade of wood in thirty-six places. Wooden planks were then laid across the metal beams to form a bridge about four feet above the water line.
Although some of the wooden planks to become dislodged during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, they have since been repaired.
Photos of Hitch-up Matildas on Avalanche Mountain courtesy John Sasso.