Posted on May 25th, 2012 9 comments Add a comment >>
An article on Backpacker Magazine’s website lists “America’s 10 Most Dangerous Hikes.” The one closest to the Adirondacks is Mount Washington in New Hampshire.
The mountain is infamous for its fickle and sometimes extreme weather.
“Known as the most dangerous small mountain in the world,” Backpacker says, “6,288-foot Mt. Washington boasts some scary stats: The highest wind velocity ever recorded at any surface weather station (231 mph) was logged here on April 12, 1934. And 137 fatalities have occurred since 1849. No surprise: Most are due to hypothermia—and not only in winter. ‘They call them the White Mountains for a reason,’ says Lieutenant Todd Bogardus, SAR team leader for New Hampshire’s Fish & Game Department. ‘We see snow right on through the year.’”
Other hikes that made the list include the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon, the Barr Trail on Pikes Peak in Colorado, the Mist Trail on Half Dome in California, and the Muir Snowfield on Mount Rainer in Washington. Click here for the complete list.
So if you were to choose the most dangerous hike in the Adirondack Park what would it be?
Topping my list would be the Trap Dike and the adjacent slides on Mount Colden. A hiker was killed in the dike last year, and several others have been injured on this route over the years. Another candidate would be the Eagle Slide on Giant Mountain. A fall in the wrong place could be disastrous.
Both of these are off-trail excursions. Any thoughts on the most dangerous trail in the Adirondacks?
Posted on February 22nd, 2012 Add a comment >>
When I skied to Avalanche Lake a week ago, the bottom of the Trap Dike in Mount Colden didn’t have much snow. Evidently, there is enough snow higher up to ski the dike and the upper slide. The video below is from Drew Haas’s website Adirondack Backcountry Skiing. The site has a number of other videos worth checking out.
Posted on October 11th, 2011 4 comments Add a comment >>
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 or approach 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.
Posted on October 5th, 2011 Add a comment >>
The death of Matthew Potel, who fell in the Trap Dike on Mount Colden last week, has led to an outpouring of sympathy for a personable young man who loved the outdoors.
Potel, 22, of Croton-on-Hudson, slipped in the dike while leading a group of fellow students from Binghamton University. He expected to graduate in December with a major in environmental studies and a minor in comparative literature.
“The outdoors was the world to Matt, the Adirondacks especially,” his father, Mark Potel, said this morning. “He was never as happy as when he was in the North Country.”
On Tuesday, hundreds of people attended a memorial service at Temple Israel of North Westchester. You can read about the service by clicking here.
Potel lived last summer in Saranac Lake and worked for the Adirondack Watershed Institute of Paul Smith’s College, warning boaters about aquatic invasive species. The Adirondack Daily Enterprise spoke with people who knew him in Saranac Lake and published their remembrances today.
Potel, who climbed all forty-six of the High Peaks, was a former camper and counselor at Poke-O-MacCready Camps in Willsboro. His family asks that memorial contributions be sent to the camps’ Adirondack Scholarship Foundation.
Posted on October 2nd, 2011 9 comments Add a comment >>
A student at Binghamton University died Friday morning in a fall in the Trap Dike, a classic mountaineering route on Mount Colden.
Matthew Potel, 22, of Croton-on-Hudson was climbing the Trap Dike with seven other members of the school’s outdoors club. Although details are sketchy, sources say he fell on the dike’s second waterfall, the crux section of the climb.
Forest rangers, with the help of local rock climbers, recovered the body.
State Police Investigator Steve Ansari said the coroner ruled that Potel died of a cerebral hemorrhage.
Potel’s was the third climbing death in the Adirondacks in four years. Last year, Dennis Murphy died in a fall at Upper Washbowl Cliff. In 2007, Dennis Luther died in a rappeling accident at Poke-o-Moonshine Mountain.
The Trap Dike, a long gash in the northwest flank of Mount Colden, was first climbed in 1850. It is ranked as a fourth-class climb in the Yosemite Decimal System. Although falls on fourth-class terrain can be fatal, the climbs are easy enough that ropes are regarded as optional.
Don Mellor, a veteran climber from Lake Placid, believes this was the first rock-climbing fatality in the Trap Dike, but he said he has taken part in several rescues in the dike over the years.
“It’s in that space between hiking and technical climbing,” Mellor said of the Trap Dike. “People get in trouble on those kinds of routes.”
Potel was not using a rope or wearing a helmet, according to Ansari.
In August, Tropical Storm Irene swept away most of the trees in the Trap Dike. Ron Konowitz, a climber from Keene, said the storm did not alter the holds on the crux of route.
“The waterfall section is basically the same,” Konowitz said, “but higher up there is a lot of loose stuff, and people need to be careful.”
The victim’s father, Mark Potel, said his son slipped while trying to help a fellow student up the dike, according to a Gannett website. “This was his love, his passion–what he wanted to do with his life,” he said. The victim’s mother called him a hero for risking his life to help another.
Potel, a former counselor at Camp Pok-o-Moonshine in Willsboro, was the co-president of the university’s outdoors club. He planned to graduate in December with a degree in environmental studies and a minor in comparative literature. He frequently made the dean’s list.
University President C. Peter Magrath called Potel’s death “a shocking tragedy.”
“He will be missed by our entire campus community,” Magrath said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to his friends and family.”
Click here for more information about the Trap Dike.
Posted on February 16th, 2010 2 comments Add a comment >>
The trip to Avalanche Lake from Adirondak Loj is one of the most popular ski tours in the Adirondacks, and justifiably so. You’re treated to a variety of spectacular scenery along the way, culminating in the lake itself, a frozen sliver of white immured between the cliffs of Mount Colden and Avalanche Mountain. On the return, you enjoy a half-mile descent from the pass on one of the few trails in the High Peaks designed for skiing.
A few weeks ago, I posted a video on Adirondack Almanack of my descent from Avalanche Pass. But I actually took several short videos that day, and now I’ve stitched them together to create an eight-minute movie. It features some of the highlights of the tour: Marcy Dam, the slide on Little Colden, the rock walls of the pass, the Trap Dike, and the lake itself. And, of course, the descent from the pass on my return (with the camera strapped to my chest).
I apologize for the crude production. I’m new to this happy medium.