November 5, 2011
12.6 Miles, 4,715 feet
Mt. Colden (left), seen from the broken Marcy Lake Dam and destroyed bridge
(Lake is partly drained)
Mt. Colden – a day with Odysseus
Early November marks the practical end to the fall climbing season – things get frozen up pretty hard in the mountains, and it’s time to start thinking about hunting and skiing. A high pressure system parked over the Northeast for several days and completion of a major project at work on Friday, however, provided a delightful and unexpected open escape hatch into the heart of the Adirondacks and up Mt. Colden. Colden is a 4,700 foot bleb of anorthosite sandwiched between Mt. Marcy and the McIntyre Ridge (including Algonquin and Iroquois). Mt. Colden was named in 1836 for one David Colden, an otherwise unremarkable investor in the McIntyre Iron Works across the Valley.
Pete the Greek, a modern Odysseus, preparing for his mountain Odyssey
With me on this adventure was my old friend Pete (The Greek) Volanakis, recently recovering from 30 years of indentured servitude in Corning NY. Pete played the role of Odysseus in our adventure for the day, which I suppose leaves me the role of Gilgamesh, or perhaps the unfortunate Enkidu.
We hit the trail from Hanover about 5:30 and caught the 7:00 ferry across Champlain. I knew that we were in trouble when Pete started to mutter about escaping from Calypso and Circe while we watched sun rise astern across the mountains in Vermont. It took me a while to figure it out, but we were entering the twilight zone of a modern Greek Odyssey written across the mountains of Northern New York.
Geese landing near the Adirondack Loj
Odysseus begins his voyage back to Ithaca via Mt. Colden
Crossing Lake Champlain via the Charlotte Ferry
“Rosy fingered dawn across the wine dark sea”
Homer, The Odyssey
We arrived at the Loj and began hiking in on the trip up to Marcy Lake around 9:00. The crowd was principally Canadian, and the language mostly French. The dam at the Lake was broken and the bridge washed out by Hurricane Irene. The trail was routed across the stream and the going was a little perilous as the temperature was in the mid-teens, and where the rocks were wet, they were covered with black ice. We were moving fast, trying to cover some ground when we met one unfortunate and large fellow trying to get his life back together by hiking in these mountains. He offered up his tale of woe, he had recently given up drinking and smoking, and was keeping it all together by busting it into the mountains rain or shine. He had just taken a header into the stream when we came upon him, and was slowly recovering his gear, wits and dignity.
We walked with him for about a quarter mile, helping him get along and making sure that he was OK, and all the while Pete kept whispering (watch out – Circe got him – and he’s only half done). I had no idea what he was talking about, and only upon reflection – and a little subsequent research – that I came to understand that Circe was a mythical witch in the Odyssey who turned men into pigs. Pete was losing it, and he was mine for the entire day.
A victim of Circe?
We took the trail up to the Avalanche shelters, the left up to Arnold Lake and then the right up to the summit of Colden. We clearly were not the first hikers up the trail that day, and the trail was an icy mess – bearing long scrape marks and a few spots of blood. It was around 10 degrees, and the trail was frozen solid for the 1.4 miles to the summit – it looked like a luge run. We both had micro-spikes with us (perhaps the best product ever made for mountaineering applications not needing front points). It was slow going, and Pete and I gradually separated, with Pete taking a more measured pace and pulling up the rear. The trail is a series of false summits, culminating in a beautiful, grassy false summit about a quarter mile from the actual summit.
The false summit of Colden (seen from the summit), home of the Sirens of Montreal
I was on a role, and hit the short, steep and icy descent before the last push to the summit. The last 400 yards were deep and steep ice and proved pretty sporting. I got to the top, to enjoy some terrific views of Macy on one side, and Algonquin on the other. There were three fellow travelers on top, with no spikes and lots of cuts and bruises. After about 15 minutes, I started to worry about Pete, and looked down to see him among a bunch of other climbers sunning on the false summit. After a quick lunch, I headed down the luge run to re-connect with Pete – and that is when the twilight zone of the Odyssey returned full force.
Mt. Marcy from the summit of Colden
Coming down onto the false summit, there was a no one there, and no message in the mud. It was as if Pete had vanished with the other group – and none had bothered to come to the actual summit. Something very strange was afoot – it was as if he had answered the Sirens call and vanished.
I headed down the Hill at flank speed, questioning everyone that I met – had they seen my friend Pete – but he had vanished into thin air. I wandered around the trails that he might have taken out, but found no sign of him. After about 2 hours of seemingly pointless meandering I ended up back at the meadow at the Avalanche shelters. Lacking anything better to do, I lay down and took a short but fabulous nap – with the sun shining on my face. There is absolutely nothing like it. I woke up feeling like a Lotus eater – groggy, but ready to go.
The Land of the Happy Lotus Nappers
Pete meets the Sirens of Montreal
When I finally returned to the parking lot, gradually coming out of my stupor, I found Pete, sitting in the Loj, with his earphone jammed in and the music blaring. When I finally got him disconnected, he admitted to being transfixed by the people from Montreal that joined him on the false summit – and he followed them off the mountain. Simple as that – he answered the Sirens song and barely escaped thanks to later-day beeswax.
These are tough hills any time of year, and are really tough with ice and no snow. We had great weather and picked one of the easiest climbs in the Park, and still didn’t get up Phelps as we had hoped. We’ll be back to do Phelps in the winter on skis – I’d really like to see this place with about 5 feet of snow.
Iroquois, Algonquin and Wright from Colden