She My Trap Dike
The Trap Dike is a mild to moderate ice climb in the Adirondack Mountains of New York. It’s a classic low angle semi-alpine route consisting of about 1000 feet of WI2- ice. Following a gully starting at Avalanche Lake, it eventually tops out at 4715’ at the summit of Mount Colden. During winter, the Trap Dike is typically filled with copious amounts of snow, making it an easy snow climb and a popular spot for ski mountaineers. In the shoulder season, however, the snow is almost entirely gone, making way for beautiful low angle ice slabs with a few near-vertical sections to spice things up.
The date is Friday, March 4, 2016 around 330 pm.
I step out of my Organic Chemistry lab and immediately text my friend Megan to let her know I’m on my way. Megan is letting me and my friend John borrow her car to take it to do a quick Trap Dike ascent. I walk to her house with my gear: ice tools, boots, crampons, two bags of Uncle Ben’s jambalaya, and what would be our only sleeping bag (more on this later).
Megan hands me her keys with a skeptical look on her face.
“Don’t worry, I promise not to crash it. I’ll see you tomorrow,” I reassure her.
I get in the Rusty Turd (the endearing name of Megan’s red 2007 Ford Focus wagon) and pick up John. Once we’re on the road, I ask what CDs we’ve got.
“I’ve got a surprise for you” says John as he pulls out a copy of Dr. Dre’s 1999 album “2001” (filled with such hits as “The Next Episode” and “Forgot About Dre”). We listen to the dulcet tones of Mr. Dre as we glide to the northern reaches of the Adirondacks for our glorious adventure.
We roll into the Loj parking lot around 8, gear up and book it down the trail towards Marcy Dam. It’s icy as all hell but we are cruising. In a short hour we get to the Avalanche Lake lean-to. It’s full. Luckily, there were two more lean-tos we could stay at. We settle for Kegel (hah) lean-to, only about a half mile in the wrong direction from the one at Avalanche Lake. We start setting up our sleeping system.
So, remember how I said we had one sleeping bag? A few months earlier John and I had watched Reel Rock 10. One of the shorts is a recounting of Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell’s amazing Fitz Roy traverse, in which they brought one sleeping bag. The two geniuses that we are, John and I decide to copy them. Our only test consisted of roughly 15 seconds zipped in the biggest 0 degree bag we could find in the Syracuse University Outing Club (SUOC) Equipment Room, calling it good and moving on.
Anyways, it’s a cold night in the single digits and we start getting our bag ready. All of a sudden our single sleeping bag is looking a whole lot smaller and a whole lot less comfortable. We zip ourselves up, me aggressively spooning John, and we are locked in place with no movement. We do this for roughly 3 hours before settling for using it as a blanket. Needless to say, little sleep was had by either of us that night.
We wake up the next morning ready to go, both brushing off the previous night as not the worst we’ve had. We cook our Uncle Ben’s, scarf it down and start up the trail. When we reach Avalanche Lake an hour later, the sun is still low in the sky and the lake is in almost complete shadow, but as it rises, we marvel at its beauty as we walk across the frozen lake. We reach the base of the dike, where we put out crampons on, pull out our tools and start climbing.
Conditions are perfect. The gully is about thirty feet across and almost all ice, and we are feeling strong. We decide not to rope up for our ascent, as it would slow us down. The lower part of the dike is defined by two 40 foot sections of near vertical ice. I am in the lead and feeling good. The weather is perfect; the sun rises behind us, bathing the dike in warm light.
After cresting the second pillar we come to a long section of low angle ice and neve. This section is almost walkable but only with significant assistance. The snow is almost waist deep and it is quite the slog. As we navigate the ice field I hear running water underneath me, but think nothing of it. My next kick goes straight through the neve and snow, right into a small crevasse. My left leg is now buried to my hip. I look back at John and laugh for a second before the icy cold shock of water in my boot starts me and I quickly pull it out. My boot is slightly slushy but I’ve had worse. I keep climbing.
A few hundred feet up we look up to see a gorgeous rainbow arching above the rising sun. We break and marvel at it. A fortune cookie from a Chinese restaurant had warned us to savor the rain for the rainbow. We’ve found the rainbow, but where’s the rain?
After the ice field, the next segment of the climb reveals itself––an ice slab angled at about 50 degrees. The ice is thin and this is by far the sketchiest part yet. Careful footwork and tool placements allow us to clear the slab, which gives way to endless slabby neve to the summit at about the same angle. We crawl our way through the neve. At the summit we take a few pictures and share a packet of beef jerky and the gorgeous view of a snow covered Algonquin Peak.
Across from us we see a steep icy gully that we make note of for a future date when our skills are more adept. On our hike down from the summit we encounter many hikers who shower us with congratulations on our climb. The day is beautiful and sunny and all are in good spirits. We make it back to our car and start the drive back to Syracuse. Our mood is good but we are both tired.
I’m driving. The time is roughly 4:30 pm, Childish Gambino is in the CD player.
“Otto! What are you doing?”
The sound of John’s voice wakes me with a start. I look up to see I am drifting hard to the right side of the road. I cut the wheel. The car hits a patch of ice and cuts hard to the right. We hit an embankment on the side of the road, and all 4 wheels lift off the ground. We have taken flight and we are headed right into someone’s yard 10 feet from their living room. You know how people always say time moves in slow motion when something like this happens? It’s true. It does. I only have time to say “Oh Shit!” Before we hit a clothesline pole in the front yard, the airbags deploy and the windshield grows a spider-web crack right before our eyes. We skid to a halt out in the front yard, barely missing a stone wall. Childish Gambino has stopped, and there are pretzels everywhere. I exchange glances with John.
I shakily say, “Fuck are you okay?”
“Yeah,” he responds. I force the crumpled door open as a woman comes running out of the house. She tells me to stay in the car but I don’t listen.
“It’s okay. I’m not hurt,” I say. The rest is boring: flashing lights, tow trucks, sheepish calls to friends, self pitying, run-of-the-mill car crash shit. No one got hurt and life goes on. To top it off, Sunday night I step out of the shower to find someone’s shit in a wonton soup container on my front porch. The perfect end.
They say the most dangerous part of a climb is the descent; adrenaline is down, so you get careless lazy, and tired. It’s important to remember reaching the summit is optional; getting down is mandatory. Hell, at least it makes a good story.