Conveniently located in the middle of the High Peaks Wilderness, Mount Colden (4,715 feet) offers great views of New York's highest peaks. Two maintained trails lead to its mostly treeless summit, but in the days before our current extensive trails system, the Trap Dyke was the preferred way up. This adventure takes you hiking and scrambling the old school way to the top of New York’s 11th highest mountain.
The South Meadows Trailhead is an alternative to the High Peaks Information Center parking area. Open from mid-spring to mid-fall, it has limited spots, but parking is free, as are a dozen campsites. On the other hand, the South Meadows Trailhead doesn't offer any services, whereas you can find water, washrooms, showers, rental services, a small store with staff at the HPIC.
The first leg of this outing leads to scenic Marcy Dam, an inevitable stop for several hikes in the High Peaks Wilderness. The dam was destroyed in 2011 by hurricane Irene, but most of it is still there. It will never be replaced, and a bridge has been built to the north to allow for an easier crossing when the pond is ice and snow free.
From Marcy Dam, head south to the Avalanche Camp lean-tos (free-camping that is first-come, first-served) and Avalanche Pass. The trail eventually comes out on Avalanche Lake, one of the most beautiful areas of the Adirondacks. It skirts the lake and on occasion is no more than a narrow wooden footbridge over the water and along the steep rock walls. This lake alone is worth the effort.
While skirting the lake, the Trap Dyke is easily identified on the other bank. It is a fairly wide opening in the side of the mountain with a small field of talus at its entrance. To reach it you must get to the end of Avalanche Lake and backtrack on its eastern bank. From this point the trail is not maintained, but the bushwhack is short and the herdpath is easy to find.
The Dyke is a mix of hike and scramble. There are two quite steep and exposed sections that require caution. Other than that, enjoy this unique way of ascending one of the finest Adirondacks 46ers. Technical gear is not required. Bringing rope and harnesses might create a false sense of security if one doesn’t know how to use them properly. However, you could bring a helmet.
The Dyke ends and makes way for a long slide to the hiker’s right. The slide gets fairly steep in sections, but requires no technical gear. The rock is actually quite coarse when dry. Remember to turn around occasionally because the view of the photogenic McIntyre Range is simply stunning. The slide leads straight to the summit of Mount Colden after a short bushwhack of a dozen feet through brush at the very end.
Colden offers fantastic 360-degree views, most notably toward the McIntyre Range to the west and mounts Marcy, Skylight and Haystack, as well as Lake Colden and Flowed Lands to the south. You can also feast on wild blueberries in late July and early August.
The trail to the south descends to Colden and Avalanche lakes (an extra 3 miles), but the loop described uses the shorter option through the north trail. It takes you to Mount Colden’s false summit, where views are still excellent. It enters tree line and shortly thereafter and intersects with the main trail at Lake Arnold. The trail then briefly follows a small brook before diverting toward the Avalanche Camps seen earlier in the day. From there it’s a mostly flat walk back to South Meadows.
Note that this route is not recommended when the rock is wet. Also, while this route is passable in winter, it requires crampons, ice axes and rope.