We started towards Mount Colden early Saturday afternoon. It was a sunny day, but ice was still glimmering on the trees and rock faces higher up on the mountain. Would we be able to make it up there? There was only one way to find out.
We left camp, hiked around the lower end of the lake, descended a long ladder, and crossed the dam. There are a lot of campsites on the far side, and they seemed to be very busy. There were tents and people everywhere. We passed a junction and headed north along the east side of the lake. Early on we enjoyed a nice view of frosty Algonquin Peak. Unfortunately, the fall color was long gone around Lake Colden. Apparently it peaks early there. This stretch of trail was rugged, with lots of mud bogs and one icy cliff that was treacherous. Just after that stretch we reached another junction and started up the mountain.
The hike started out as a rugged climb through the woods. That stretch was almost pleasant, aside from the frequent rocks and mud. Then we crossed a small stream and started the real ascent. Most of the trail on the southwest side of Mount Colden ascends low angled rock slabs, with ladders on the steeper sections. I imagine this trail is fun to hike when the rocks are dry (if they ever are?). They were most definitely not dry on Saturday, October 8th. In fact, it quickly became apparent that they had been covered in a glaze of ice shortly before we arrived. In fact, we encountered more ice the higher we climbed. Fortunately most of the “trail” was just wet, and the icy spots were avoidable.
We reached a tall, sketchy ladder ascending a cliff near treeline. The rungs on this ladder were heavily worn, and they looked like they could give out at any moment. Dismounting from the top of the ladder onto an icy rock was exciting, too. Fortunately, the hike was pretty easy from there. The only challenge from there to the top was enduring the icy wind.
The views were spectacular. To the south we gazed out over the Flowed Lands, across a vast wilderness of glimmering lakes and hazy peaks. West across the narrow of defile of Avalanche Lake was a long ridge of mighty summits, capped by Algonquin Peak. North we could see towards Lake Placid and the surrounding mountains. That direction featured the best fall foliage of the trip so far, as entire mountainsides were carpeted in shades of red.
Mount Colden features great views in every direction, but I don’t think we ever touched the proper summit. The top of the mountain is a long, flatish ridge. It looked like the summit was just above where we stopped, surrounded by a thick stand of stunted trees. I briefly started that way, but continuing would’ve required climbing an icy boulder. I didn’t think it would be worth the effort, and I didn’t really care about touching the exact summit anyway.
Originally I thought we might continue north across Mount Colden, descend the northeast ridge to Lake Arnold, and loop back to Lake Colden along the Opalescent River. However, we weren’t sure what those trails were like. It was late afternoon, and we didn’t want to attempt a route that might be longer, harder, and slower. I also feared that the northeast ridge would have more ice. We decided to head back by the same route.
We had started our ascent at the perfect time, and the same was true for our descent. The temperature was dropping, and ice was reforming along stretches of the trail. That made for a sketchy descent, but it could’ve been a lot worse. If we had started the hike earlier we probably would’ve been turned around by the ice. Descending later would’ve been more treacherous, too. I’d love to claim that I planned it this way, but we were really just lucky.
This is actually a trail.
Our luck held out that evening. We made it back to the Lake Colden dam at sunset and enjoyed some subtle color over the lake. We returned to our campsite and started cooking dinner at dusk. A few minutes later a ranger and a pair of backpackers paid us a visit. They had just arrived at Lake Colden, and apparently all of the campsites and shelters were full. The ranger asked us if they could squeeze in. We were fine with that, but there was only one other reasonable tent site, and it had a substantial puddle. They were out of other options, so they started setting up there.
While he was there, the ranger inspected our bear canisters. He informed me that my canister was not an approved model. Technically my canister was actually Larry’s canister, as I had borrowed it from him. However, the one I own is identical. I pointed out that the canister I had was my only option. He told me to carry on, but to get a different model for future trips. Fortunately, it was dark enough that he couldn’t see me roll my eyes.
The ranger left, but he returned a few minutes later. He announced that he had found another spot for the couple that had just arrived. They were halfway through setting up their campsite, but they seemed happy to pack back up and move, as that was probably better than sleeping in a mud puddle.
It started sleeting a few minutes later. We finished up dinner and headed to bed. We had a mixture of sleet, snow, and freezing rain off and on that night, but at least it was light.