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Thread: Mt Colden loop advice needed

  1. #1
    Senior Member hikerbrian's Avatar
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    Mt Colden loop advice needed

    Hola amigos, I'm heading to the Dacks over Labor day weekend. I've never been to the Dacks, and it's interesting to plan a hike that feels a lot like a New England hike, but which nonetheless I know basically nothing about.

    Anywho... We've got reservations for 4 nights at Heart Lake and were thinking about doing a 2-night backcountry trip right from the campground. Mt. Holden? Camp at Avalanche lake or Lake Arnold?

    For you NY folks, do these back country sites fill up early? Is there overflow camping? Can you give me the skinny? Thanks in advance!! Btw, we'll have kids with us - age 7-11. They're rugged and experienced, but it might be nice to have the option for the youngest to stay in camp on the second day while others do a loop with light packs, and then we all pack it out on day 3. So maybe we hike into Marcy Dam or Avalanche Lake (bad idea with overnight packs? Sounds rugged). Day two do the loop over Colden. Day 3 hike out.
    Sure. Why not.

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    Colden is really a day trip from the Loj so unless you are intent on camping out one night you don't have to. Marcy Dam can get crowded and is only a mile or two from the Loj (actually 2.3 mi.), so again unless you want to spend the night in a lean-to or tent I'm not sure it will be a rewarding trip. You can reserve lean-tos at the Loj if that is your goal.

    There are a number of opportunities around Avalanche Camp and the area isn't as crowded as Marcy Dam. You can even leave your gear and do a counterclockwise loop over Colden via Avalanche Lake and Lake Colden. Dragging a backpack up to Lake Arnold would suck in my opinion, plus you'd have to take your gear with you unless you did an up-and-back to Colden's summit.

    There's a campsite between Avalanche Lake and Lake Colden, but the nicer ones are farther south near Flowed Lands. Plus carrying all your gear over Avalanche Pass and back would not be fun.

    I've also camped at Feldspar and Uphill which are a mile or so past the Colden turn-off at Lake Arnold, they are beautiful, remote spots that aren't usually crowded.

    I hope this is useful.
    Last edited by Daniel Eagan; 08-26-2020 at 03:49 PM.

  3. #3
    Senior Member hikerbrian's Avatar
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    Thank you! We WOULD like to get into the backcountry but aren't set on any itinerary. We do have a reservation at Heart Lake campground though and consequently would strongly prefer to leave directly from there. I also was thinking the climb up to Avalanche Pass would be tough with overnight gear, which is why I was thinking a tent site closer to the trailhead might make more sense. But then we're probably in more crowded areas. We're willing to suffer a bit to get to a pretty spot. And considering some part of the group may stay close to camp on day 2, it's best if we're camped some place scenic with something to do not too far away - Avalanche Lake and Lake Colden look like they'd be good destinations for kids? Some part of the group may hoof it over to Marcy at some point too. Anyway, thanks for the response, I appreciate it!
    Sure. Why not.

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    Avalanche Lake is certainly scenic but there's not much to do there, it might make more sense to continue to Lake Colden and Flowed Lands as there are many more camping opportunities there and more places to see and relax. It's a long haul from there back to the Loj, so climbing might be curtailed. And there is a lot of bear activity in that area. You are required to have a bear canister which you can rent at the Loj.

    If you are intent on climbing it might be easiest to stay around Avalanche Camp before the trail gets too tough. It will be easier in terms of gear too. However, Avalanche Camp is not very scenic.

  5. #5
    Senior Member maineguy's Avatar
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    It's been more than a decade since I hiked in that area, but I can tell you one thing: It is one crowded area. On a Labor Day weekend, during this virus, I wouldn't attempt to camp anywhere near the areas you are interested in unless you are able to get there a couple of days in advance. There are plenty of nice day trips out of the LOJ area. Peaks as close as Phelps and as far as Marcy are all good day trips. I just can't imagine how crowded the area will be with campers during that weekend. I would look at maybe heading out to the Indian Pass area on the Red Trail, even going as far as Henderson Lake for camping possibilities. You can do this from the LOJ. In case you don't know this, the Heart Lake area is kind of like the Pinkham Notch of the Adirondacks. Big parking lot, store, lodging, and...lots and lots of people.
    Last edited by maineguy; 08-26-2020 at 10:54 PM.

  6. #6
    Senior Member TCD's Avatar
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    As Daniel said, Colden is a fine day trip from the Loj.

    Agree with others; avoid popular areas like Lake Colden on Labor Day. They will be super busy.

    Avoid camping at Lake Arnold; it's a wet area, and often stinky.

    Since you have a little time, consider separating the "Peak" experience and the "Camping" experience.

    Colden is a SUPER peak, with spectacular views and steep sides; you can work the kids up about the idea of coming back in a few years and climbing the Trap Dike, so there's lot's of excitement. Include Avalanche Pass in the trip (either on the way in or on the way out) and let them see what may be the most impressive scenery in the Adirondacks.

    For camping, go away from the crowds. A couple options. Hike up the Indian Pass trail, camp at Rocky Falls, then go up to "summit rock" and get a look at Wallface (our largest cliff; bigger than Cannon). Or, in the other direction, hike out to Klondike Notch Lean to, climb Phelps via the (illegal and unofficial) path from the back of the Lean to, and then descend the state trail back to the Loj (short and easy).

    One more idea: Hike to and camp at the South Meadow Leanto, then hike Mount Van Hoevenberg. Either return the way you came, or if you have two vehicles, spot one at the big XC ski center and hike out that way from the summit of Mount Van.

    Enjoy the visit, and welcome! (You've posted on VFTT for years; I'm surprised you've never been over here. Come have fun! We love to share the Adirondacks!

  7. #7
    Senior Member skiguy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TCD View Post
    As Daniel said, Colden is a fine day trip from the Loj.

    Agree with others; avoid popular areas like Lake Colden on Labor Day. They will be super busy.

    Avoid camping at Lake Arnold; it's a wet area, and often stinky.

    Since you have a little time, consider separating the "Peak" experience and the "Camping" experience.

    Colden is a SUPER peak, with spectacular views and steep sides; you can work the kids up about the idea of coming back in a few years and climbing the Trap Dike, so there's lot's of excitement. Include Avalanche Pass in the trip (either on the way in or on the way out) and let them see what may be the most impressive scenery in the Adirondacks.

    For camping, go away from the crowds. A couple options. Hike up the Indian Pass trail, camp at Rocky Falls, then go up to "summit rock" and get a look at Wallface (our largest cliff; bigger than Cannon). Or, in the other direction, hike out to Klondike Notch Lean to, climb Phelps via the (illegal and unofficial) path from the back of the Lean to, and then descend the state trail back to the Loj (short and easy).

    One more idea: Hike to and camp at the South Meadow Leanto, then hike Mount Van Hoevenberg. Either return the way you came, or if you have two vehicles, spot one at the big XC ski center and hike out that way from the summit of Mount Van.

    Enjoy the visit, and welcome! (You've posted on VFTT for years; I'm surprised you've never been over here. Come have fun! We love to share the Adirondacks!
    Bigger is in the eye of the beholder. https://www.adirondackexplorer.org/o...allface-cannon
    "I'm getting up and going to work everyday and I am stoked. That does not suck!"__Shane McConkey

  8. #8
    Senior Member hikerbrian's Avatar
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    This is all super useful, thanks so much guys. It is kind of funny to think I haven't made it out that way - life has had lots of turns the past 15 years, with some time on the west coast and then a pair of kids, which made longer travel less desirable for a stretch. I’m excited to explore a new spot! Although I think I broke my toe this morning, so the hiking may be curtailed. Whatever the case, we’ll make the most of it! Side note: how can one lousy toe create so much pain?!
    Sure. Why not.

  9. #9
    Senior Member Mike P.'s Avatar
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    We did a day hike in June of Cliff and went past the Lake Colden sites and they have been crowded this year just as NH has been. I hope the toe is okay. If you can at least hobble, from Heart Lake, you can hobble up the short distance up Mt. Jo. (Short but pretty steep, a steeper hike than Willard or Middle Sugarloaf but offering great views of the area, maybe more like Potash or the Imp.) The walk to Marcy Dam is a lot of small PUD's on a trail that if you were 100% you and the kids could do in less than an hour.

    If you can hike, I'd do Colden as a Day Trip via Lake Arnold and take the Crossover trail to get the additional scenic view.

    If the foot is unbearable, Grab your camera and head out onto Heart Lake in a canoe (I believe you have access to them staying in the campground or in the Loj) and take pictures from the center of the lake. Stop at the beginning of the Loj Road for a photo op. I'd also try and bring home a pie from the Noonmark Diner also.
    Have fun & be safe
    Mike P.

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    I had to cancel my backpacking plans into Lake Colden next week because all of the information I got was that crowds are totally unreal this year. Mid week days are as crowded as the weekends usually are, and weekends............I'm driving 14 hours to get up to Unknown Pond in NH. The thought of the area being over run, many of which don't know what they are doing, would just sicken me. It adds four hours to my drive, but I stand a great chance of very few people where I am headed to.

  11. #11
    Senior Member hikerbrian's Avatar
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    Ok, here are my brief notes. First, amazingly, my toe healed enough to be basically 100% in time for the trip. I can't believe how much pain I was in, for what ultimately was a sprain, and likely a fairly minor one. Wow.

    The trip:

    Not fond of the welcoming committee on I-87 who called themselves NY's Finest. The flashing red lights were really pretty, but yeah, could have done without the rest of it. Noted.

    Overall, the Daks felt a lot like the Whites to me. Subtle differences - more back country lakes, and a bit more slab, at least where we were. Maybe slightly more remote feeling. But largely similar, as one would expect I suppose. Having to rent bear canisters and practice bear country technique is also a hassle. For those reasons, I probably won't spend the 6 hrs of driving each way again to get back there. It is a long, long drive with little or no additional reward beyond what I can get in a 2 hr drive. That said, TCD and Daniel Eagan (and maineguy), your advice and thoughts were spot on. Unfortunately, I didn't have complete control over the itinerary, and Colden and some back country camping in that area were the decisions that were made.

    You can't enter the back country from the Loj without first passing through a gauntlet of mini-rangers eager to tell you all about back country regulations. We were informed in no uncertain terms that our group of 9 was too big for a back country trip, and that any 'affiliated' groups over 8 needed to be separated by at least 1 mile at all times. This point was drilled into me sufficiently strongly over a 5-10 minute lecture, replete with an expectation of ranger visits and associated fines, that we split our 3 families up, camping at different spots and hiking largely different itineraries. We'd figured we'd be ok since we'd sent early morning hikers out to get 2 different campsites, but the mini-rangers let us know this was not ok at all. This was a bummer and really changed the nature of the trip, but I understand the spirit of the regulation, and as a rule I don't disrespect local customs when I'm traveling. 'No groups larger than 8' was clearly written on the sign as you enter the back country.

    Also written on the sign was 'up to three tents per campsite.' So it was surprising to see >5 tents at EVERY campsite, including sites we'd passed over early in the morning because they were 'full.' Really lovely sights with little signs showing a red line through a tent were all filled with multiple tents. I'm confident rangers came through (read below), so I'm not sure what the rangers did, if anything, to enforce that particular rule. But the selective enforcement of rules was bothersome. It's a weird year though, and perhaps rangers are just doing the best they can.

    The mini-rangers also asked us not only whether we were carrying bear canisters, but exactly how many, and what we were storing in there. So it was surprising to see, at Marcy Dam, several bags of food 'hung' in a tree next to a lean to. More surprising still was the gigantic raccoon actively pawing at the bag when we walked by. But the kicker was seeing a large group of people on their way to that lean to - when I let them know a raccoon was trying to get their food, one guy responded, 'He's back already? He got all my food last night and dragged it away...' I'm not sure how they got past the gauntlet of mini-rangers.

    We did find a decent, quiet campsite off to the east side of Lake Colden. We set up before dark, as advised by the mini-rangers, and we were the only ones there. Great! Finished dinner, packed everything into cans, marched them well away from camp, and settled in at dark to sleep. Around 9:00, having been asleep for half an hour or so, a REALLY noisy group of hikers, along with what must have been 300 lumen headlamps, showed up, stomping right next to our tent and literally yelling to each other. Finally, I poked my head out and asked, please, could they keep it down a little bit so we could get some sleep. No response. Until about 90 seconds later when a voice materialized right outside my tent, just as I was settling in again, 'Park rangers, how are you doing tonight.' They inquired with some rigor about where and how we were storing our food. Felt more than a little intrusive. Truthfully, I wouldn't have been so bothered by it, except for the blatant disregard of the other 'rules', especially after we'd altered our trip significantly to follow them! Sigh. When we woke up in the morning, there were 4 other tents right in our little campsite. We'd planned to stay in that spot 2 nights but opted to add 6 miles onto our Colden summit day to get out of the back country. At least at our car camp sight we had our own space and wouldn't be woken by rangers.

    Avalanche lake was gorgeous, and we stared at Trap Dike the whole time. I was remarking to the boys what a great ice climb that must be; I didn't realize you could climb in the summer too, but that must be a GREAT climb in just about any season except mud season. Nice.

    I haven't been up to the Whites this year. I'm sure it's chaos everywhere, and I'm done hiking until the craziness subsides. Not worth it. The scenery was nice, but (as is probably the case with the Whites right now too) not at all what I want out of a backpacking trip. If I'm back in the Daks again, I'll be targeting the remote lakes and smaller peaks. I get the feeling Colden and Marcy are Franconia Ridge and Washington transplanted.

    Thanks again for the accurate advice! Even if I was unfortunately not able to follow it. In NH, everyone has to hike Washington and Franconia ridge once. Get it out of the system. I believe I've now done the 'Daks equivalent. :-)
    Sure. Why not.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by hikerbrian View Post
    You can't enter the back country from the Loj without first passing through a gauntlet of mini-rangers eager to tell you all about back country regulations.)
    Hi,

    I am curious about the hostility towards the "mini-rangers". This group sounds very similar to the WMNF Trailhead Stewards Program

    Was it only after the enforcement visit & selective enforcement of rules? or did it start at the TH? What could they have done differently at the TH and at the campsite?

    Thanks for the trip report!
    Last edited by Tom_Murphy; 09-08-2020 at 01:00 PM.

  13. #13
    Senior Member hikerbrian's Avatar
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    Tom, it was definitely the selective enforcement and the intrusive visit from the rangers. I understand the mini-rangers' purpose and don't really even have a problem with it - aside from feeling like I was being scolded for not coloring within the lines. Notably, the sign also said all groups must possess a back country permit to stay out overnight. This is false (I asked). So it's impossible to know which rules actually have meaning; and even though we thought we were following the rules, even going above and beyond by getting two campsites to split our group, we were assured we should expect ranger visits and fines if we didn't make changes. It spooked my kids a little, to be honest. They're rule-followers and not accustomed to being treated like delinquents. I'm not accustomed to it either.

    The problem, I think, is that it's difficult to impact the people you actually need to impact - the groups camping in every available inch, including right next to the streams and lakes; the groups basically serving up their food to the raccoons and bears. We made major changes on the fly to our itinerary to accommodate the rules, and in the end all we got was a crowded campsite and an intrusive and loud wake up from the rangers. It's not an easy situation to manage, and I don't mean to poop on the mini-rangers. But clearly they're ineffective, and both their intrusiveness and ineffectiveness negatively impacted my experience. As for the actual rangers - I'm not fond of being woken up by loud voices and lights right outside my tent, especially when I've got my wife and kids right next to me. It's unnerving. THAT would also have bothered me less if it felt like they were effective.
    Sure. Why not.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by hikerbrian View Post
    Tom, it was definitely the selective enforcement and the intrusive visit from the rangers.
    Thank you for taking the time to expand on your trip report. It is so easy to "misread a tone" into a post or email; so please know I completely agree that with your reaction to the experience.

    I imagine most of us would have a strong "fight or flight" response to a night time campsite Ranger visit if their family was with them. My interactions with the Rangers would have likely had a very poor outcome.

    Thanks again.

  15. #15
    Senior Member Tom Rankin's Avatar
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    I'm not sure if you are talking about Assistant Forest Rangers, who have little authority (on their own), or NYS Forest Rangers, which have all the authority of the State Police (carry guns, write tickets, makes arrests, etc.), and are some of the best people you will ever meet in the woods. Either way, I'm a little offended by your mini-rangers verbiage.

    I agree there seems to be a lack of enforcement and consistency in your trip report (not your writing, your experiences), but as you now know, the ADKs are being SLAMMED by tourists this summer, many of whom are first timers, or who lack the skills and respect for the rules you seem to have. The Rangers and many other groups have been pleading for years for more staffing. The State just keeps saying they are broke. Meanwhile, the Rangers are essentially going from one rescue to another...
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