Spencer Morrissey
Corenne makes her way to the summit of Colden.
View similar articles:
By Location:
Keene/Keene ValleyLake Placid
By Category:

Mount Colden is one the 46 High Peaks that just doesn't get old, and the winter seems to be the best time to climb it.

I have lost count of how many times I've summited Colden in the winter, but I'm sure that I am running out of fingers. However, I had never done a ski-and-snowshoe combo on this peak before this trip.

Corenne at the time wasn't clear if she had ever done Colden in the winter or if it was just winter conditions; you know how they can blend together at times.

We didn't suppose too long a day would be ahead of us, but honestly when it comes to the High Peaks you can never bet on the assumption of ease. We knew we would be skiing, which typically makes for good time, but an early start was still in the cards.

We made the challenging choice to start along South Meadow Road in order to avoid the heavy traffic area of the Marcy Dam trail on a weekend. This is always a hard choice to make, but the snow conditions are typically much nicer along the truck road, even though it's less interesting of a ski. This is a much longer approach to Marcy Dam, especially since South Meadow Road is closed during the season, adding two more -- at times -- agonizing miles to the round trip.

Much of the ski was rather uneventful with the long kick and glide of the truck trail. I was growing a sizable hot spot on the bottom of my foot which I tried to ignore with song, but by the time I got to the dam I was kicking myself for the neglect.

It was definite now that I had to adjust my boots by tightening them in key areas, none of which really closed the door that was already open. It didn't help a bit. I had to break down soon thereafter and get out the padded moleskin, tape and a second sock.

I now had to suck it up, grin and bear it -- or whatever other cliche you want to use -- and continue on the way to Avalanche Camps.

We continued our ski from Marcy Dam to just past Avalanche Camps, where the ski trail to Avalanche Pass intersects the Lake Arnold trail. From here it starts to get pretty steep and beyond my upright skiing ability.

We took off our skis, locked them to a tree off the trail, strapped on our snowshoes and proceeded our way higher up the trail toward Lake Arnold.

The conditions were fantastic and the snow continued to get deeper and deeper. The trail had been heavily traveled over the course of the weekend and the new powder that fell just three days before was completely packed down and sluffed off.

We arrived at Lake Arnold in a fraction of the time we figured it would take us. That meant we could slow down the pace and enjoy the climb.

We snapped a few pictures of the cloud-covered Lake Arnold and continued our relentless assault on Mr. Colden.

I have to say, this section of trail is one of my favorites in the High Peaks Wilderness. The feel of elevation, seclusion and consistent views add up to my love of the peak.

We did notice that whoever broke it out last may have had a few navigational issues, which we did not follow, but eventually it looked as though they made it back to the trail.

Atop the false summit of Colden, we were welcomed by some fierce wind gusts and a wind chill that was expected but not yet prepared for. The air had a damp feel as though a freezing fog were coming through and creating rime ice on our person.

Even with our ample wind and waterproof layers, the chill seemed to still penetrate. We quickly descended to the trees in the col and changed into a dry shirt to help remove some of the chill.

We also put on mittens, which for me works best to keep my digits comfortable. It seemed to work, because once we got to the summit of Colden, the wind stopped as if it knew we were ready for it.

Unfortunately, the clouds still covered our views and all we could really see was the top portion of the Trap Dike. We were really hoping for an inversion but that is a rare feed in the High Peaks, and these conditions really didn't warrant that.

Now here is where it got really fun and what most winter mountaineers look forward to: the winter descent. Corenne and I bought those small spoon/shovel sleds a few days prior to this trip and we were dying to try them out.

I know they are dangerous and probably shouldn't be used in the backcountry, but they looked like such fun. In short, it didn't take too much of a slope for them to give us a thrill ride. I felt like Chevy Chase in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

But, it does take some serious steering practice, practice for which I was getting a "crash course." It is very difficult to turn on those guys without a serious lean. I have found that many trees have no give or forgiveness.

It wasn't the trees on this day, though. It was the fresh powder that lined the trails edges and went halfway down the back of my pants.

It was ridiculously hard to get up after barreling off trail head first and feet up with a heavy pack hitting me in the back of head. Epic landing.

But that didn't stop us from doing it as much as we could until we reached our stashed skis. From there we could slide downhill on our feet.

The conditions were perfect for skiing and there was even a bit of powder on the trail from the day's weather activity. I got my fall out of the way early and I wasn't even back at Avalanche Camps yet.

From here on out, it was an easy ride to Marcy Dam, mostly downhill at a gentle pace.

The truck trail was a different story. This 3.6-mile section felt like what I call a "death march." That's a hiker's term, but I can also see it used for cross-country skiing. Especially on a trail with few features at the end of a day, where all you want is a hot cup of joe and heated leather seats.