Algonquin and Colden Camping Trip

 View of Sunset from the peak of Mount Colden, elevation 4,715ft.  

View of Sunset from the peak of Mount Colden, elevation 4,715ft.  

I spent the last two days hiking and camping in the Adirondacks doing winter ascents of Algonquin and Colden peaks with my friend, Jeff Berry.  As Jeff will tell you, this was the best and most miserable adventure.  After about 3-hours in, it became a constant test of your will.  Your will to carry heavy weight, deal with severely cold temps, and put up with the misery of carrying a heavy backpack mile after long mile.  

Nearing the peak of Algonquin.  Photo by Jeff Berry.

After getting off to a bit of a later start, we started our journey from the ADK Loj and made the 4.7-mile hike to the top of Algonquin.   With breaks, 55+ lbs packs, and the steep ascent of the last 2-miles, we made the summit in just under four hours.  And that, believe it or not, was one of the easiest parts of our trip.  The summit of Algonquin was cold and windy - with a wind chill that would easily be at least 10 below.  The peak was stuck in the clouds and so visibility was only a couple hundred meters and it prevented us from being able to see Wrights or Iroquois Peaks.  We were, however, able to see the what we were pretty sure was the draw that the path down to Colden would follow.    

Decent from Algonquin.  The draw we went down follows the draw that can be seen on the left where the slope meets the trees (its bigger than it looks).  Photo by Jeff Berry.

Getting down to Lake Colden was treacherous.  The 2.6-mile decent follows a cut between Algonquin and Iroquois peaks that is steep, rocky, and is clearly the path less traveled.  Where direct route ascents from the Loj to Algonquin and Colden are so packed down from foot traffic that one usually doesn’t really need snowshoes.  But even with snowshoes I was up to my knees in untouched powder (up to my waist before I put snow shoes on).  As darkness settled, finding the trail became a battle in of itself.  From top to bottom, it took us about 3-hours to make it down to Lake Colden.

We camped out at the Beaver Point Lean-To right on Lake Colden.  Temps fell to around 0 degrees that night.  I was certainly warm enough in my Mountain Hardware 0 degree bag and Bibler Bivy.  However, this trip was a stark reminder of how my winter fieldcraft has degraded over the last year.  While not critical on this trip, I brought a number of things that froze and became useless, like my baby wipes, peanut butter, block of cheese, logs of summer sausage.  I didn’t bring spare gloves which could have been issue when my outer shells froze from the sweat build-up inside.  While I was able to rely on Jeff for a few minor fixes, I was clearly out of practice.  

I slept great, partly from sheer exhaustion and partly from not wanting to get out of my sleeping bag.  Jeff and I woke to a bitter cold, cloudless day with the sun shining on the surrounding peaks.  Fortunately the trail around Lake Colden has seen recent snowshoers so following the trail was easy and quick.  That is, until we reached the trail for Mount Colden...

This is another trail that probably hasn’t seen any use since the summer.  The snow on this steep ascent was deep and lacked any type of base from being packed down by previous travelers.  What we thought would be a three hour climbed, turned into about five hours.  We consistently hit sections that were steep giving the crampons on our MSR snowshoes a real challenge to get traction.  There was just a consistent theme of two steps up one sliding back.  With our heavy packs, I probably burned a solid three thousand calories on this part of the journey alone.  

Backside Ascent up Colden.  Photo by Jeff Berry.

Despite its physical demands, the scenery was beautiful.  The snow covered pines framed a backdrop of the Adirondacks during an incredibly sunny day.  Upon nearing the summit, we broke out from the forested mountain side to a baron peak fraught with steep, icy slopes that just begged for a slip to thwart a weary climber off the side.  While I had joked about wanting to hang out at the top for sunset picture, because it took an extra two hours to make it to the top, we had timed it about perfect for some amazing pictures of the orange cast skies over the mountains.    

The hike out was the easiest part of the journey, but was also another test of sheer will.  Fighting hunger, dropping temps, light dehydration, and exhaustion we decided to push back to the Loj stopping only once for a quick bathroom and food break.  Unlike our ascent, the downhill back to the car was practically paved from tramped-down foot traffic.  

Lessons learned from this trip were plentiful.  I was able to evaluate the use of some gear and field food choices that will make the next trip that much better.  We had originally planned on this being a three day trip that was also going to include an ascent of Mount Marcy.  But after realizing how taxed we were from breaking powder on the steep and treacherous decent of Algonquin and ascent of Colden, we didn’t have the juice for third day, which I am sure would have been similar in terms of difficulty.  (people just typically don’t go up the back sides of these mountains.  With the significant snow fall in the forecast for that third day, I think we made the safe choice.   

Carl SanfordComment