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Monday, July 1, 2019

Trap Dike is an exhilarating, potentially risky scramble

Will Roth

Will Roth ascends the Trap Dike, a potentially risky cross between a hike and a climb that demands adequate experience. Photo by Phil Brown.

I had a great alpine adventure the other day when I climbed the Trap Dike and a slide to the summit of Mount Colden. I try to do this at least once a year as it’s one of the most exhilarating outings in the Adirondacks.

It’s more than a hike. Some might call it a scramble, but that seems to undersell the risks. On the other hand, calling it a rock climb makes it seem more difficult than it is.

Technical rock climbs, where ropes and other paraphernalia are used, are designated Class 5 climbs. The guidebook Adirondack Rock designates the Trap Dike as a Class 4 climb. Essentially, that means ropes are optional, but a fall in the wrong place could result in injuries or death.

Indeed, a Binghamton University student died in 2011 when he fell while climbing one of the waterfalls in the dike. He was not roped up or wearing a helmet.

The Trap Dike is rated Class 4 because the climbing is relatively easy. Much of it is nothing more than a rugged hike. There are two waterfalls where the climbing is steep and dangerous. Yet the holds are plentiful and large. Much of the time you’re moving up from one comfortable ledge to another.

Nevertheless, I would not recommend free-soloing the Trap Dike (that is, climbing without a rope) unless you’ve had experience climbing cliffs and slides. You need to be comfortable with exposure—the air under your feet—and to have acquired some basic techniques for climbing vertical rock and steep slabs.

Trap Dike hiking

Philip Brittan nears the top of the slide above the Trap Dike during a 2018 outing. Photo by Phil Brown.

One big caveat is that the difficulty varies with the amount of water flowing down the dike. When I climbed it a few weeks ago the flow was substantial, forcing me at times onto wet rock or into harder positions to avoid wet rock. In one spot, I made some Class 5 moves rather than go up a slippery slab. If you climb the dike after a dry spell it will be easier.

If you think you’re ready for the Trap Dike, I recommend wearing sticky-soled approach shoes, which are designed to grip rock. Another option is to stuff a pair of rock-climbing shoes in your pack and put them on when you reach the dike. Keep them on while climbing the exit slide leading to the summit. Created by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, this is one of the most beautiful slides in the High Peaks—a long, wide swath of white anorthosite. It’s also quite steep in places, especially at the bottom and top. A fall on the slide would be dangerous.

If you’re not ready to free-solo the dike, you might want to hire a guide and do a roped climb.

Will Roth guides clients up the Trap Dike two or three times a year (not including ice climbs in winter). He brings a 30-meter rope, two long slings, and five camming devices. The cams are placed in cracks to build anchors for belaying his client or to keep the rope pointing in the desired direction. He belays the client on three pitches in the dike. The rest of the time, on the easier sections, he is “short roping,” that is hiking with the client on a short tether to guard against a slip. He usually short-ropes on the slide as well, but if he decides to belay, he’ll create an anchor by slinging a tree on the edge of the slide.

Whether you climb by yourself or with a guide, be prepared for a long day. From Adirondak Loj, it’s about five miles to the base of the dike on Avalanche Lake. From the lake to the Colden summit, you climb over rugged terrain for about a mile—lots of boulders, stepped bedrock and slab. The return to the Loj via the Lake Arnold Trail is about six miles. In all, it’s a 12-mile hike with a strenuous ascent.

“You should be very experienced hiking long days with a small pack that still contains everything you need,” Roth says.

He warns against attempting the climb unless you are sure about your ability and about the day’s weather. “Retreat involves a lots of down-climbing and can be more difficult than going up,” he said.

He also advises climbers to test holds to make sure they’re not loose. “It is a mountain route, and the rock quality should be evaluated before you fully commit to any holds,” he said. “This is especially true in the spring after the freeze/thaw cycle has just passed. The second waterfall is a spot where a broken hold would be very bad.”

My trip in June took about eight hours, though I was not pushing myself. Roth usually does it in eight to 10 hours with a client. He has soloed the route in three and a half hours, start to finish, but that is exceptionally fast.

Phil Brown

Contributor Phil Brown was editor of the Adirondack Explorer from 1999-2018. When he isn't at his desk, he's usually out hiking, paddling, skiing, or doing something else important.

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One Response

  1. Alex says:

    Hi Phil, I have a couple concerns about promoting this route. One is the dangerous crux, which you describe well (however, I wish you would note that the route cannot be easily downclimbed once beyond the crux, an important consideration for the inexperienced/timid). The other is related to the informal approach and exit to and from the dike/slide. The approach is difficult to follow and increased traffic would lead to more social trails and resource damage. The exit from the dike is also informal and goes through sensitive alpine vegetation. There is a pretty well-defined social trail there but the potential exists for expansion/additional impacts.

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