I expected to feel differently when my alarm went off at 4:45 on Saturday morning at the Keene Valley Hostel, an early rise to hike my 46th and final high peak – Colden. I had a couple of moments on Friday afternoon where I felt like a kid on Christmas Eve about the beautiful weekend weather forecast (sunny and 0% chance of rain), the fall colors just starting to pop, and the realization of my goal, all to be converging the following day. On Saturday I felt like I was getting up for just another hike, though I was looking forward to hiking with a great group of gals and starting from the Loj trailhead for the first time this year. I love the view as you turn onto the Adirondack Loj Road from Route 73, and dawn was just beginning to lighten the dark sky as we made the turn, illuminating puffs of fog against the monochrome backdrop of peaks and forest.
We arrived at the trailhead sometime before 6:30 and the main lots were already nearly full; looked like word had gotten out about the glorious weekend of sunny fall weather for which we were in store. It took me awhile to tape up my feet, as my boot issues continue on, and we signed the register on the old Marcy Dam trail near the Loj campground at about 7:15 a.m. We strolled to Marcy Dam along the old trail from the Loj campground, which was mostly level through a bed of colorful autumn leaves – an easy warm up for a day in the woods.
The walk in to Lake Arnold from the dam was easy to moderate with a thousand or so feet of elevation gain over mostly rock. There was mud on this hike, mostly in the second half beginning near Lake Arnold, but it wasn’t nearly as sloggy as I’d expected. Turning onto the trail toward Colden’s summit at Lake Arnold I fondly remembered my hike last year to Marcy, Skylight and Gray, and wished we could have continued on the Feldspar trail for awhile longer. That stretch between Lake Arnold and the Feldspar Brook is one of my favorite places.
The L. Morgan Porter trail to Colden, the Lake Arnold approach to the summit, is lovely. It begins in a birch stand near the lake and continues up, alternating flat sections with steep sections. There was minimal scrambling as you approached the false summit. I’ve heard many tales of folks having to re-hike Colden to count it toward their 46 thinking they’d summited when reaching the false summit, and I could easily see how that could happen. It’s near the top of the list in terms of beautiful Adirondack summits, with fabulous views of Marcy and the Macs, parts of the Great Range… even Heart Lake gleaming at us from the Loj, miles in the distance. We lingered for awhile there before finally moving along.
At approximately 11:40 a.m. I stepped onto the true summit of Colden to friendly cheers from my companions. We celebrated on a ledge near the summit rock with a Jameson toast and enjoyed delicious fudgey brownies, cranberry bread and other treats offered by my hiking mates. We offered celebratory shots to a handful of others who stumbled upon our “party”, and instead of meeting folks from upstate NY or Canada, per the norm, I met two parties from Boston and two from VT – a coincidence I found serendipitous. We lingered for a good hour and a half, relaxing and soaking in the views.
Eventually we decided to get a move-on. Despite the summit celebration, I knew I hadn’t officially completed my 46th climb until reaching the bottom, and wouldn’t consider it done until I was signing out of the register. Initially I had wanted to approach this climb from the steep Lake Colden side, which would have taken us through Avalanche Pass and up a very eroded, steep ledgy trail to the summit, with a descent down the more gradual Lake Arnold side. In the end, though, I decided that what I wanted most of all for my finish was an easy, shorter day in contrast to the majority of my climbs this year. The realization of my 46er goal does not mean an end to hiking for me; only an end to planning my hikes around a list. I’ll be back to see this route, and will see Avalanche Pass even sooner when I visit the lean-to I adopted near Flowed Lands.
We kept a good pace on the return and reached the Loj before 5:30. My hiking buddies very kindly bought me mementos at the HPIC while I had stepped into the restroom, presenting me with a Mt. Colden patch and a shot glass featuring a view of Heart Lake.
When I set out to climb the high peaks, I didn’t even know for sure that it was within my means to achieve. It seemed more like an overly ambitious pipe dream, but gave me something challenging and enjoyable to focus on and work toward while I dealt with job-hunting in a lousy market and relocating from Boston. When I completed my first long hike of the Marcy-Skylight-Gray loop, at around 18 miles, I started to finally believe that I could actually do it. And now that I’ve hiked all 46, I can reflect fondly back on the past 1 1/2 years and recognize all of the ways that aspiring to hike the 46 has enriched my life: the reconnection with nature and sense of peacefulness the woods bestow on all who spend time in them; the sense of community I’ve discovered and friends I’ve made via High Peaks Meetups, the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the ADKHighPeaks online forum; the opportunity to face and overcome challenges that would make me a stronger hiker and outdoorswoman; the rediscovery of these particular mountains that I admired so much from a distance as a child, and have grown to love so deeply and personally as an adult. Succeeding in climbing them has gifted me with confidence and a certain sense of freedom and self-reliance that I’m pretty sure I didn’t possess a couple of years ago.
One of the most surprising things I’ve learned through this experience is that climbing the Adirondack High Peaks is as much of a mental challenge as it is a physical one. When you’ve been walking on painful blisters over many miles for hours, or if facing a 6-mile hike out at the end of a long day when you’re certain you cannot take another step, it becomes a test of perseverance and determination over athletic ability. To climb mountains regularly you need to possess both a certain level of fitness and the ability to persevere in the face of adversity or challenge, or be willing to develop and refine these skills as you gain experience. I have learned these things and much more, along the way.
Haystack, Rocky Peak, Marcy
Cliff, Allen, Couch
Looking back at Saddleback, from the Gothics cable route;
climbing up the steep side of Marcy, seeing the summit above you;
the sight of Rocky through the trees as you are descending Giant;
Thanks for reading. ❤