- Jul 1, 2004
- Reaction score
- Lake Placid Area
Background photo taken in 2011.
Adirondack Almanack Article
With big days on technical ice in Panther Gorge and Gothics as the last couple outings, I wanted something a bit more relaxing. After eyeing the Wine Bottle Slide (name derived from QAM1’s list from 2005) for several years, I decided to give it a try. (Thanks to several people on ADKHighPeaks for the beta photos regarding general conditions of the west side of Colden). See also Nangaparbat's post when he traversed a portion of this slide and others in perfect conditions during April of 2013.
The slide lies 800 feet southwest of the Trap Dike and overlooks both Avalanche Lake and Lake Colden. As the name implies, its shape resembles a bottle of wine. With a technical footwall and mid slide cliff band, it was sure to be challenging and beautiful at the same time. The wildcard lied in the conditions. Would it be icy or loaded with snow? Only one way to find out...
Dan Plumley of Adirondack Wild accompanied me on the trip; we had hopes of topping out on Colden’s summit, though exploring the details of the slide was the primary focus. We began the approach from the Adirondack Loj at 8:00 a.m. Nearly six miles and three hours later, we reached the south end of Avalanche Lake at the base of Mt. Colden. Light winds from the south blew the snow up the great pass, a sign of things to come. We knew the forecast called for increasing winds and snow; we were prepared for the worst.
Looking at Lake Colden across the base of the slide.
The bushwhack to the base of the slide was only a few hundred feet, but involved wading through deep unconsolidated snow. Dan brought a 70 meter rope to keep us safe during the climb. After gearing up—donning harnesses, crampons etc. –we climbed below a large cliff before traversing up and left along its base. The snow continued to be deep, but a small field of avalanche debris near the top gave us a firm base on which to walk. Anchored to a birch tree, I watched spindrift circle off the delicate snow cornices while belaying Dan.
Above, Dan at the bottom of a left-rising cliff. Below, top of the cliff under cornices.
A short climb from the birches led to the low-angle section of the slide about 300 feet above the lake. As expected the wind increased beyond the protection of the cliff. The snow became semi supportive, but climbing was still a slow process as I worked south toward the more exposed slab. Dan belayed as I reached more icy terrain.
Exposed rock scoured clean by the wind dominated the center so we climbed near the edge where our crampons had more purchase. The slope gradually increased as we continued up and a couple rope lengths higher, we found some short pitches of vertical ice on the cliffs.
When you fight for each step, time passes quickly. It was nearly 3:00 p.m. when we reached the cliff bands and set up an anchor in the ice. We spent some of the time in near whiteout conditions, others with breaks in the precipitation. I could occasionally see skiers passing below. A person with binoculars also spotted us and spent some time watching; I wondered if it was Azimuth en route to the Colden Outpost and later found that he'd passed below during one of the whiteouts. I’d cleared a platform in waist deep snow so we could put our packs down, have a snack and re-assess our itinerary.
Above, heading up toward the left side of the cliff band on the Wine Bottle. Below, Dan with Avalanche Lake/Gully in background during a break in the weather. Two skiers can be seen on the left-hand side of the lake.
The weather had worsened. Heavier snows driven by ever increasing winds pelted us continually. Don’t get me wrong, I love climbing in this, but the summit was 1,200 feet higher in elevation and the temperatures were supposed to drop later in the evening; wind chills were forecast to be -40 Fahrenheit or lower. I had no desire to deal with navigating in a whiteout in subzero temperatures. It was doubtful that we would have time to accomplish our original goals.
We played on a more sustained pitch of vertical ice for about thirty minutes before I made the call to retreat. Instead of rappelling back down the first pitch, we opted to follow an overhanging cliff north toward the Colden Slide (and Trap Dike). Long pillars of yellow ice hung from the top. Most were fractured near the base or partially rotten—perhaps spring was in the air!
Above, traversing left toward the Colden Slide. Below, continuing the traverse.
We began our descent after finding a small snowfield running adjacent to the Wine Bottle. One hundred feet lower and a quick bushwhack south placed us back on our original track. The storm intensified as we down-climbed. Looking far below, I saw the clouds and snow ripping through the pass. Sights like that are why I love to climb in the winter. We arrived at the bottom at 5:00 p.m. after five hours of climbing and exploring. I’d garnered precious information that would be helpful for a future climb of the slide.
I never second guess decisions that I make in the name of safety, but reflection is a wonderful learning tool. The trek out gave us ample time to contemplate the endeavor. Could we have done anything different? In hindsight, I’d have only added to the gear we brought by packing a few cams and chocks (used in rock climbing). They would have allowed us to take a more direct line from the base instead of wading through snow along the cliff. An earlier start would have also given us more time to work our way up the top without having to be concerned about the temperature dropping later in the evening.
We reached the trailhead at around 7:00 p.m., eleven hours after starting. Another day in the backcountry, another glorious day in the Adirondacks! Will I be going back? -- Yes, once the ice clears.
Thanks to Dan Plumley for a fun day out!
Ice along the cliff.
Close up of the cornices near the base.