Colden via Arnold Lake Trail and the Marcy Brook Lean-to

Colden from its North Summit

Trailhead: ADKs Adirondack Loj, near Lake Placid, NY
Distance: Total 13.5 miles or so
Peaks: Colden (#11, 4,714 ft.)
Difficulty: This is a long hike for a day, but an easy hike for 2 or 3 days.  The climb to Colden is easy as ADK peaks go
Date: 7/25/2016-7/26/2016

Colden is one of the most recognizable, and visible peaks in the ADK high peaks.  It sits between the McIntyre Range and the Great Range, and its large and numerous slides on its west side make it stand out.  Because of its location, it can be seen from most of the other high peaks.  This also means, that from its summit, one can see nearly all of the high peaks region.  I have wanted to summit Colden for years, but have always been scared off by the steep Lake Colden trail to the top.  The Lake Arnold trail, on the mountain's Eastern side is much is less steep, but offers the same rewards.

With my 8 and 12 year old boys, I am always looking for accessible high peaks to conquer, and Colden fits the bill.  We planned a 2-3 day trip, staying at the Avalanche Lean-to, with the attempt on Colden's summit scheduled for the second day. My oldest conquered his first backpacking trip last year and was excited for another.  My younger son was less sure about backpacking, but agreed to go along and test it out.  When we left the trailhead at the Adirondack Loj at 9:30 on Monday morning, spirits were high.

At the ADK Loj Trailhead
View of Marcy Dam, looking South

The weather forecast was calling for afternoon thunderstorms, and the radar in the AM was looking menacing.  So, we tried to get an early start and move relatively quickly. The trail from the Loj to Marcy Dam is mostly flat and well-maintained. We made it to Marcy Dam around 11 and as we crossed the bridge below the dam, the rain began to fall.

The new bridge below Marcy Dam

We ducked into the Marcy Dam lean-to #2 to eat our lunch and waited out that first rain shower. As the rain slowed down, we got moving and headed up the trail towards the Avalanche lean-to.  We got there around Noon, only to find that at least two people were already staying there and, against regulations, had set up their tent inside the lean-to.  We debated trying to crash with them before deciding to head back down the trail towards one of the 3 or 4 other lean-tos further back towards the dam.

The next lean-to we came to was the Marcy Brook lean-to, about a tenth or two of a mile down from the Avalanche Lean-to.  There were too women there, but they were planning to leave, so we squatted in the lean-to out of the rain and settled in.  We spent the afternoon reading, napping, and playing cards, so, frankly, time well spent. Then we prepared our freeze-dried dinner to eat by the shore of Marcy Brook and finished with Freeze-dried Ice Cream Sandwiches (tasted good, but with the consistency of cardboard).

The next morning, we got going with our traditional breakfast of instant oatmeal and were on the trail by 7:30.  The trail from Marcy Brook lean-to starts gently, but gradually increases in difficulty as the eroded trail becomes more and more an adventure of rock-hopping. It is still a pretty easy 1.7 miles up to Lake Arnold, which made for a great place for a scenic snack break.

Snacks on Lake Arnold

From there, the trail gets steeper as it climbs up to Colden's ridge and eventually to the North Summit.  As ADK high peaks trails go, however, it is not a particularly challenging climb.  There are only a few places where one needs to scramble or climb over rocks, and there are several sections where it flattens out for a little rest. The trail opens up at the North Summit as you ascend above treeline, and you get beautiful views of Lake Placid, the McIntyre Range, and Colden itself.  From here, the trail descends to a col before beginning the ascent to the true summit.  The trail itself has gotten a lot of trail work in recent years, and is in excellent condition with ladders over most of the rocky stretches, making for a very easy final ascent.

A long ladder climbs at least 3 stories

Just below the summit, there is a neat little area where the trail goes under an overhanging boulder through something resembling a small cave.  This is a great landmark indicating that you are near the top, and great fun for kids.

A "cave" just below the summit ridge

After that, you reach the summit ridge itself.  In the case of Colden, the best views are found along rock ledges that surround the actual summit, as the summit itself is surrounded by small trees that limit the views.  But, as I mentioned above, these ledges allow views of nearly every peak and region in the High Peaks.  I was able to identify Marcy, Gray, Skylight, Algonquin, Iroquois, Wright, Marshall, Big Slide, Giant, the Wolfjaws, and Gothics.  It was great to see the mountains layered upon each other with low clouds hanging over the scene.

The south end of the McIntyre Range

Flowed Lands and Lake Colden
Marcy, Gray, and Skylight (in the clouds)
The actual summit, helpfully labeled
Algonquin, emerging from the clouds
Erik and me, literally on the summit

After thoroughly enjoying the summit views, we headed down, grabbed a snack in the cave, and then headed down the mountain in earnest.  We then stopped again at Lake Arnold for lunch and a quick refill on our water bottles.  The hike down went a little slower than hoped as we negotiated the rocks (with the exception of Erik, who loved the natural obstacle course and occasionally had to be reined in).  We finally got back to the lean-to around 2:15.  We took a 45 minute break, including soaking our feet in the brook, before making the decision to make it a 2-day trip rather than 3 and begin our hike out to the Loj.  After packing up, we hit the trail at 3:50, and arrived back at the Loj by 5:35, chanting our mantra as we went, "Pizza, Donnelly's (Ice Cream), Chocolate Cake."  That is, pizza at Little Italy in Saranac Lake, Red Raspberry Twist soft ice cream at Donnelly's, and a homemade chocolate cake that my wife had made to tempt us home.  Quite the incentive!  At the end of the day, we had hiked 10 miles, and were feeling it.  Nonetheless, we were all proud, and were able to smile as we held up our Mt. Colden patches!

View of Marcy Dam from below

All in all, Colden is a beautiful mountain, relatively easy to climb, and a great adventure for adults and kids alike.  It is my favorite mountain so far in the high peaks (I've now climbed 19 of the 46), and I look forward to climbing it again in the future!

1 comment:

Dave said...

Congrats to the boys on what looked to be a great and successful hike!