On Sunday I climbed the Trap Dike for the first time since Tropical Storm Irene triggered a landslide above and inside the dike. The slide swept away nearly all of the trees inside the canyon and created a new exit, a slab of clean white rock that can be followed to the top of Mount Colden.
Before Irene, the guidebook Adirondack Rock awarded the Trap Dike five stars, its highest rating for the overall quality of the climb. Since Irene, the climb is even better.
The Trap Dike must be approached with caution: it’s considered a third- or fourth-class climb in the Yosemite Decimal System, so a slip at the wrong time can result in death or serious injury. Sadly, this was proven when Matthew Potel, an experienced hiker, was killed in a fall on September 30.
People debate whether parties should carry a rope and other rock-climbing gear. Whether or not you carry a rope, I suggest you wear sticky-soled shoes: either rock-climbing shoes orapproach shoes (some trail-running shoes also have sticky rubber). You’ll appreciate the stickiness on the steep sections, which are often wet, and on the finishing slab.
The dike has two waterfalls. The second is considered the crux of the climb. It’s steep and about forty feet high. Potel fell here after helping two companions up the falls.
The climb from Avalanche Lake to the new slide is 0.8 miles. The base of the slide is steep. I started up from the right side, following a left-rising ramp. Two companions, Josh Wilson and Matt McNamara, chose to start up the left side, ascending some cracks.
Once on the slide, we stayed more or less in the middle, following whatever features we could find to give us a foothold or handhold. Much of the slab is pocked with sharp-edged dimples, which also aid traction.
Depending on the slope, we either walked upright, more or less, or scrambled on all fours. I measured the slope in spots at more than forty degrees—steep enough for a long fall. In winter, this should be considered avalanche terrain.
At the headwall, the slide gets even steeper. Matt and I bailed left into the trees just before the top. Josh managed to stay on the rock all the way to the end. All told, the slide is about 0.4 miles long. From the top, it’s a very short bushwhack (20 or 30 yards) to Colden’s summit trail.
To my mind, the slide is just as dangerous as the waterfalls—especially if you’re not wearing sticky rubber.
Before Irene, hikers would exit the Trap Dike onto an older slide. You can still do this, of course, but if you exit the dike too early, you’ll find yourself on a part of the old slide that is as steep as the new one. Some hikers who exited early have become frozen with fear, too scared to continue climbing or retreat.
The Trap Dike may be a five-star climb, but it’s no fun if you find yourself in over your head.