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We woke up in the morning surprisingly refreshed, jumping back quickly from our 20 hour day filled with 18 hours of hiking. After cooking up a quick breakfast, we left our belongings at the camp and scurried over to the nearby cairn, marking the beginning of the ascent up Tabletop Mountain.
Apart from some interesting maneuvers that were required in order to bring the 6-foot cardboard cutout up the mountain, the hike went by without a hitch and, following the departure of a hiker just as we reached the summit, we were greeted with our sixth, but not final, empty summit in a row. After Tabletop, we put on our packs, which is when I felt some of the soreness from yesterday’s marathon rear its head. En route to Mount Colden, our final peak, we took a quick stop to enjoy the sights at Indian Falls and Lake Arnold.
As we neared the base of the Mount Colden Summit, thunder clouds were rolling over nearby mountains, and thunder boomed in the air. It seemed, however, that the storm would hopefully pass around Colden, or at least hold off long enough for us to make a rush for the top before the assumed downpour ensued.That was my belief, although I was possibly swayed by my quest to be a 46er.Kevin, on the other hand, was slightly less optimistic, and understandably so; the thunder seemed to be getting closer and closer with every step we took up the mountain. Perhaps our luck of dodging the storms had finally run out, and at the worst possible time: on top of an exposed mountain.
All these thoughts ran through my head as we approached near summit. The group of hikers coming off, surprised we were now going on, said we better hurry if we were going to miss the storm.
Determined to crest the peak before the storm hit, we pressed on, reaching summit just as the warning drops of a storm began to fall.
Although the sky was somewhat murky, the view around the other mountains was still clear, providing us with an unforgettable experience. We picked up our pace as we crossed the mountaintop, eager to get back below the cover of the tree line, which would at least serve as something taller than us to absorb any potential stray lightning bolts.At this point, my trekking poles (which at that moment seemed more like meter-long lightning rods) were stored tightly away in my pack, hopefully discouraging any electric charge from settings its sights on me as its next target.
As we made it down to the taller tree line, we were given brief respite. This was short-lived, however, as we soon realized just how steep the climb down would be, laden with massive rock slabs, precariously angled and covered by a new coat of water thanks to the light drizzle that had taken hold of the mountain side. It was painfully slow going, sandals struggling for purchase on the slick rock and knees inflamed from the constant braking required on a downhill descent. Two thousand feet and 1.6 miles later (most of the elevation drop coming in the first half of the mile and a half down) we arrived at the bottom of Colden, and now stood on Lake Colden opposite the location of our lean-to.
It was undoubtedly a powerful experience to summit Colden; I had been sitting beneath its presence at different locations all week and saw the top from all different angles on nearby mountaintops. I think it was only fitting that Colden was the mountain upon which I finished my week in the woods and most epic trek. The final section of trail around the lake was relieving both physically and mentally. I knew that before long I would be able to feed my now starving body that had little to eat in the past two days and was finally down from a painfully slow descent down the precarious, slab-covered mountainside.
We arrived back to the lean-to with visitors taking refuge beneath its roof and all our other gear safely stowed in the corner where we left it. (That’s the amazing thing about backpacking. There is little worry about someone taking your belongings. You can leave your things outdoors, within your lean-to, under no one’s protection but the pesky chipmunks, and return how you left it.) As I scarfed down what food I had left, we both prepared ourselves for the 7 mile hike back out to the car, through a technically challenging (especially with a 60 to 80 pound pack) but also one of the most rewarding and one of the most beautiful trails I have set foot on so far: Avalanche Pass.
Avalanche Pass was one of the most divisive mixes of type one fun and type two fun that I have ever experienced.
If you are not aware, type one fun is the type of fun you enjoy in the moment whereas type two fun is the type of fun experienced when you challenge yourself to such an extent that at the moment it isn’t always fun, but looking back it was an amazing time. In this case, I was lugging along an (again I kid you not) 60 to 80-pound pack (assisted in its mass by a slack-line brick). That would have been bad enough, and in fact was what I did traveling 6.5 miles from Upper Works to the Dam. But here’s the difference: Avalanche Pass was a near boulder field along its way. So with tired legs from already summitting 2 peaks that day and 5 the previous during our 18-hour adventure, I would have to crawl and hoist myself up these boulders, shimmy between them, and sometimes use pre-installed ladders along the path. The type one fun (although part of the lugging was type one just because of the sheer goofiness of what I was doing) came in during the breaks. But these weren’t just any normal breaks; these breaks were filled with some of the most amazing views I had ever witnessed, definitely making Avalanche pass my favorite trail in the Adirondacks so far. Crossing wooden planks, attached to the wall face, hanging over the water was an experience like no other. And it was only fitting that yet again,
Colden was there to watch us on our way out, and once again I got to see the mountain in a completely different point of view. Avalanche Pass recharged me to conquer another 5 miles of trail, still tortuous from the bag however once on flat ground I was able to maintain a more normal pace.
As we rolled into the parking place, I dropped my bag and gave Kevin a giant hug and collapsed into the chair of the car. I was in disbelief of what we were able to conquer that weekend, feeling somehow different from 8 days straight in the woods, and looking forward to what my next 15 days would bring. That night we christened our accomplishments like any Upstate New York Hiker would do: stuffing our faces with food from Stewart’s.