For those who climb, Accidents in North American Climbing, issued annually by the American Alpine Club, should be required reading—not because climbers are morbid, but because they can learn from others’ mistakes, too many of which are fatal.
The 2016 edition, which was published recently, describes dozens of rock-climbing and mountaineering accidents from the previous year. Most occurred out west or in Alaska. The only incident in the Adirondacks involved a climber who fell on Wallface, a large and remote cliff in the High Peaks Wilderness.
I wrote about the Wallface accident on the Almanack soon after it happened. The climber, a 23-year-old man from Carmel, NY, plummeted 60 to 80 feet after his protection failed to hold on a popular route known as the Diagonal. State forest rangers and volunteer climbers carried out a complicated rescue and managed to get the victim to a hospital that night. He was knocked unconscious in the fall and suffered a deep head gash, but he was able to leave the hospital early the next day.
Two 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. » Continue Reading.
The May issue of Climbing magazine contains a section on alpine treks, including one in the Adirondacks. They all combine hiking with rock climbing or scrambling.
The other treks are in the Sierras, the Grand Tetons, and the North Cascades, so we’re in good company. The authors, however, evidently struggled a bit to come up with an alpine adventure to rival those in the big mountains out west. » Continue Reading.
It’s springtime! Well, according to the calendar. The snow may be slowly disappearing from the lower elevations, but there were full-on winter conditions during a climb up Mt. Colden’s Wine Bottle Slide on Saturday.
The slide lies 800 feet southwest of the Trap Dike and overlooks both Avalanche Lake and Lake Colden. As the name implies, its shape resembles a bottle of wine. The appeal of the slide lies in its location as well as the technical footwall and cliffs about halfway up the 2,000 foot long swath. If you want to test your winter mountaineering skills, this is a good place. » Continue Reading.
Trap 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.
If you’re rock climbing, you use a rope and wear a helmet (though not everyone does). If you’re hiking, you don’t.
That seems simple enough, but the distinction between a rock climb and a hike isn’t so straightforward. Sadly, this was demonstrated when a hiker died in a fall in the Trap Dike last week. » Continue Reading.
Dozens of new landslides have been reported in the High Peaks following heavy rains and winds from the remnants of Hurricane Irene which reached the Eastern Adirondacks as a Tropical Storm on Sunday.
Regular Alamanack contributor and Adirondack Explorer editor Phil Brown snapped a photo of a new slide on Wright Peak, near Angel Slide. Formally two adjoining scars, Angel Slide is a well-known destination for expert backcountry skiers named in honor of Toma Vracarich who was killed in an avalanche there in 2000. The slide now includes a third route, longer than the rest. » Continue Reading.
A number of notable avalanches have occurred over the last month in the Adirondacks. Whiteface Mountain Ski Center officials have told the Adirondack Daily Enterprise that two avalanches have occurred this season on the Slides area of the mountain. Officials said both events were triggered by one or more skiers. The most recent (Tuesday morning) is believed to have been caused by someone who entered the Slides area from Whiteface Veterans Memorial Highway. The Slides are not accessible by chairlifts, but can be accessed by a traverse from the top of the summit chairlift. The previous Whiteface avalanche occurred at the Slides on February 26th. About five avalanches are reported to have occurred at Whiteface over the past ten years. » Continue Reading.
After skiing into Bushnell Falls that March of ’69, our intention was always to move to the Adirondacks as permanently and as soon as we could. Keene and the high peaks were the grail. Soon, however, my college friend, the actress Ellen Parker, told me that her parents, Joe and Sophie, who had been looking for a place in the Adirondacks to start a restaurant, had bought a local bar along the Sacandaga River in Hadley and might need some help.
Joe Parker was a sculptor and painter, and Sophie, who was French, a chef. I had been to their house in Dobb’s Ferry and been treated to the best food and wine of my college-kid life, in an atmosphere of garlic and red wine and art conversation with a French accent. » Continue Reading.
Many people say it’s the Eagle Slide in the west cirque of Giant Mountain. If you look at the cirque from the Ausable Club, the slide resembles an eagle with its wings outstretched.
The guidebook Adirondack Rock gives the Eagle five stars, its highest rating for the overall climbing experience. It offers 1,300 feet of open rock, with ever-expanding views of the High Peaks. In the Yosemite Decimal System, the Eagle is a fourth-class climb. Wikipedia defines a fourth-class climb as follows: “Simple climbing, with exposure. A rope is often used. Natural protection can be easily found. Falls may well be fatal.”
So an ascent of the Eagle should not be undertaken lightly. I’ve climbed it in hiking boots and in rock-climbing shoes. I recommend the latter.
Is the Eagle better than the Trap Dike, another fourth-class route that rates five stars? That’s a tough question that’s best evaded: although the Trap Dike climb finishes on a slide on the northwest side of Mount Colden, the dike itself is not a slide. So it’s in a different category.
Most of the popular slides in the Adirondacks are third-class climbs. Wikipedia defines third class as: “Scrambling with increased exposure. A rope can be carried but is usually not required. Falls are not always fatal.”
I suspect one reason the Eagle Slide has a five-star rating is precisely that it’s more dangerous and therefore more exciting. If you’re new to slide climbing, you’d be smart to start off on something easier. Some of my favorites are the slides on Dix, Nippletop, and Whiteface (bearing in mind that a fall in the wrong spot on any slide can have consequences). If there are any slide aficianados reading this, what are your suggestions?
By the way, I can attest to the perils of the Eagle. A few months ago, I slipped on a steep section and started sliding down the rock. Fortunately, a ledge prevented me from tumbling to the bottom (I landed standing up). The rock scraped the skin off most of my fingertips, but I was able to continue climbing.
I wrote an article about this trip for the November/December issue of the Adirondack Explorer. Accompanying me were the photographer Carl Heilman II and Eli Bickford, a twelve-year-old kid with a passion for slide climbing.
Carl took some spectacular photos. We used one of them for our cover. He also shot two short videos: one of me climbing, the other of Eli expounding on the allure of slide climbing.
You can find the story and videos on our website by clicking here.
Photo: Carl Heilman on the approach to the Eagle Slide, by Phil Brown.
Rain usually accompanied our hikes out of YMCA camp at Pilot Knob, on Lake George, in the late fifties and sixties, sometimes hard rain. We camped without tents, lying on the bare ground under the sky if the lean-to were occupied or none availed. Often we got wet. Mosquitoes and no-see-ems dined on us at their will. It gave me both a taste for and an aversion to discomfort.
The camp transported us, cattle-like, to Crane Mountain, Sleeping Beauty, the High Peaks, Pharoah Lake, the Fulton Chain and points as distant as the White Mountains, in the back of an ancient Ford ton-and-a-half rack-bed truck with benches on the sides that looked like something out of a WWII movie. We loved that truck, the open-air freedom and daring of it, its antique cantankerousness, though as often as not we huddled together in ponchos against the cab out of the wind and the cold rain or sleet biting our cheeks. » Continue Reading.
A few weeks ago, I posted a video of my ski descent from Avalanche Pass. In the post, I mentioned that I had taken several short clips of my ski tour to Avalanche Lake and planned to piece them together to make a movie. Well, I’ve done that. It’s eight minutes long, including the descent posted earlier, and features such scenic highlights as Marcy Dam, the slide on Little Colden, the rock walls of the pass, the Trap Dyke, and of course the lake itself. You can watch the movie on my Adirondack Explorer blog.
One of my favorite winter trips is what one might call “extreme cross-country skiing.” That is, skiing on routes that aren’t generally considered by the cross-country community. Routes you won’t find in Tony Goodwin’s Classic Adirondack Ski Tours.
Some of these routes are long and committing. Others require the use of snowshoes or skins (unless you’re a member of the Ski-To-Die Club, a group of locals who took extreme skiing to a new height by taking wooden cross-country skis in the 1970s down mountain descents that would give most people on modern alpine gear pause). » Continue Reading.
The other day I skied the Jackrabbit Trail from end to end, a twenty-four-mile journey starting in Saranac Lake and ending at the Rock and River lodge in Keene. When I got to Rock and River, I told owner Ed Palen of my heroic feat. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “I do that every year.”
OK, I’m a far cry from Herman “Jackrabbit” Johannsen, the legendary skier for whom the trail is named. But for me, it was an epic day. And it got me thinking about other epic adventures in the Adirondacks.
What’s an epic adventure? First off, it must be long, arduous, and exciting. The best give you a quintessential Adirondack experience—one that can’t be topped.
The Jackrabbit qualifies as there’s no other ski trail like it in the Adirondacks. It traverses wild landscapes while connecting human communities. Tony Goodwin and the Adirondack Ski Touring Council deserve our thanks for creating and maintaining it.
Following are a half-dozen other Adirondack epic adventures that can be done in a day. If you have other suggestions or comments, please let us know.
Mount Marcy Ski. If you’re a backcountry skier, it’s hard to beat schussing down the state’s highest mountain. Of course, you have to climb seven and a half miles before the descent begins.
Eagle Slide. A number of High Peaks are scarred by bedrock slide paths. Many climbers regard the Eagle on Giant Mountain as the best. It’s wide and steep. I’ve done it in hiking boots and rock-climbing shoes. I felt much more comfortable in rock shoes.
Trap Dike. The deep gash in the side of Mount Colden, first climbed in 1850, is a classic mountaineering route. It’s steep enough in spots that some people bring ropes. After exiting the dike, you climb a broad slide to the summit.
Wallface. The largest cliff in the Adirondacks. To get there, you must hike several miles to Indian Pass in the High Peaks Wilderness. You don’t have to be an expert climber to scale the cliff—if you have a good guide. The Diagonal is the most popular route to start on.
Hudson Gorge. Several outfitters offer rafting trips through this wild, scenic canyon, but if you have the whitewater skills to canoe or kayak, go for it!
Great Range. Backpacker magazine describes a trek over the entire Great Range as “possibly the hardest classic day hike in the East.” Starting in Keene Valley, you summit seven High Peaks, ending on Marcy. Total ascent: 9,000 feet. Distance: 25 miles. You’ll need lots of daylight, water, and stamina.
I crossed paths with a group of hikers on September 27, 2003 while traversing the High Peaks of the Dix Range near Keene Valley. The cloud ceiling that day was hanging at about 3500’ which put it well below the altitude of the herd paths and the rain was blowing sideways under heavy winds. There were no views, but the enthusiastic hikers were focused on a different goal. They were students from St. Lawrence University and comprised one of many groups scattered throughout the Adirondacks at that time.
Each was playing a role in a collaborative effort to put at least one St. Lawrence student on the summit of all forty-six High Peaks over the course of three days. The annual tradition called Peak Weekend was initiated by the university’s Outing Club in 1982. and coincides closely with autumn’s foliage peak, either the last week of September or the first week of October (though their first effort was attempted in the spring of 1982). An Outing Club meeting held the week prior enables all the participants to choose their objective, meet the group leaders and discuss logistics.
While autumn’s peak foliage hadn’t quite reached its full spectrum, September 25th marked the beginning of this year’s St. Lawrence University Peak Weekend. The weather during the end of last week made for the perfect autumn hiking conditions with most of the adventure taking place on Saturday. Crisp Adirondack blue skies free of summer’s humidity enunciated the splendor of autumn’s colors. Group sizes this year ranged from two to the DEC limit of sixteen, including some staff and faculty. The total participation was roughly 260 including three St. Lawrence athletic teams. Several groups camped Friday night in conditions below freezing while others met early Saturday morning to day-hike their objectives. Routes included both maintained trails and some less traveled routes including Mt. Colden’s Trap Dike which was ascended by a large group of first-year students. The coordinated effort has not always achieved its goal, though according to the Outing Club’s website, 2009 marked success for the fifth consecutive year.
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